I Bought Stuff! 11/7/2018: Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2018 (and more!)

Alright, finally got to this. A few weeks late, but I was never known to be prompt on things like these.

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So a while back, the Portland Retro Gaming Expo happened. On its twelfth year, it’s a convention that has retro arcade games, pinball machines, loads of booths to buy merchandise of various kinds, and panels about retro video games in some fashion.

Regrettably the past few years I’ve missed out on a handful of panels, but I’m grateful for at least checking out the Nintendo History Museum by the cool peeps at the Video Game History Foundation. I also bumped into my friends Weasel and Cassidy while during my roaming of the show floor, while also spotting a fair share of notable personalities here and there. (Weasel told me I was “right next to The Gaming Historian” at one point and I didn’t even notice.)

I’m at that point where I don’t really need many video games at this point, considering my burgeoning backlog. Yet against my better judgment, I did buy games for super cheap, trying to fill up my original Xbox collection and snagging a few cheap deals. But I also grabbed a few tech-based things during and after the expo, so let’s get to recapping.


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$15:

– A component video cable for an original Xbox ($10)

– Xbox: Medal of Honor: European Assault ($5)

Okay, these were after the expo. On Sunday I had put a goal to find some video cables for some of my consoles because I felt they needed an upgrade. I didn’t find one of them, so I had eventually went to Video Game Wizards (the closest mom’n’pop game shop to me) and snagged some cables, as well as an Xbox game for good measure.

At this point, now I am able to play all of the early-to-mid 2000s game consoles in component video quality. I have component cables for the PS2 and Xbox, and I have a Wii with Gamecube backwards compatibility, which I also run through component.

I know there’s solutions now to get those systems to output in HDMI, but I feel that’s a bit excessive. Though, EON had a booth for an HDMI adapter for the Gamecube, which might be cheaper than trying to get the very expensive component cables for the system. If you’re going that route, check them out here, perhaps that’s a better option for those who have more recent TVs where it’s HDMI only with no other video inputs.

As for Medal of Honor: European Assault? Well, we’ll get back to that one in a bit.

(UPDATE 11/8/2018: The cables in question refused to show any video on my television regardless of resolution, so I exchanged them for different cables. While those actually showed video in component, the signal occasionally flickers out and doesn’t work in 720p. Sadly, I think my TV is slowly dying, which I’m not surprised considering how old it is.)

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$10: Xbox: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x

Now to cover stuff I actually got at the expo, starting with probably the most expensive thing I bought.

The Tony Hawk games were a franchise that passed me by. I played the first two, but tapped out not long after. I snagged Pro Skater 3 on disc for PS2 a long while back, and I thought now’s the time to start getting into the series proper while they’re still easy to get.

A launch title for the original Xbox, this was a spit-shine “HD” version of Pro Skater 2 by Treyarch, before they became 1/3rd of the Call of Duty Cerberus. In addition to prettifying the original game’s levels, there’s a few levels exclusive to this port as well as the original Pro Skater stuff in there.

In my head, this is probably a better way to start playing the franchise in order than hunting down fairly pricey copies of Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 for older systems. Though, I wouldn’t mind finding any of the Pro Skater games for the Nintendo 64, as those are interesting technical marvels. Well, that and the N64 version of Pro Skater is how I got introduced to the franchise back in the day.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the chopped up music loops they used because of cartridge space limitations, and Pro Skater 3‘s soundtrack pretty much makes them outright remixes.

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Mods and maps: Half-Payne.

When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.

So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.

I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I read about this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.

This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time on Black Mesa.

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“I was in a game modification. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.”

Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.

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I remember when this sequence was pretty cool. A shame that every time I see it it looks out-of-sync…

Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?

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Steam Stoplight: Half-Life Before.

I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.

Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.

On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.

Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.

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is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world?

Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.

Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.

The thrilling introduction.

The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.

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One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.

So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.

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Guess the creator didn’t like the Beretta from the HD pack. I can’t blame him, really.

Before is definitely in the “level pack” category. Short of changing the default pistol to some P226 model presumably taken off the internet, the rest are all stock assets from Half-Life, Opposing Force, Counter-Strike, even from Gearbox’s “HD pack” originally made for Blue Shift. Even the scientist model seen below is just a reskin with no moving mouth. It all comes off as extremely cheap.

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artifact. artifact. the word is spelled “artifact.” also why aren’t your lips moving

Before was originally made in 2009 according to the store page, so 11+ years of amazing single player level packs had come out since. There isn’t a lot of effort put into the customization, and the mod maker probably would’ve been just fine leaving the models alone.

This uses the “Spirit of Half-Life” technology that modders made to make the GoldSource engine do things that it couldn’t do previously, but if the mod maker used it, I don’t really see it being used here, short of the boss fight on the second level.

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Never thought I’d have to circle-strafe to fight a boss in 2018…

Much like the rest of the confusing mod, the “boss fight” is a modified Nihilanth from the base game, except he now has a magic tongue like the game’s Barnacles. Alongside a bunch of Alien Controllers, Winner must dump a bunch of ammo, grenades and other assorted things to destroy the weird monster. Get sucked in, Winner dies and the game restarts, forcing the cutscene that shows off this monster to replay. The fight isn’t even that interesting, as circle-strafing while shooting it full of holes is enough to kill it.

This is certainly an awkward credits sequence.

Once finished, there’s an epilogue cutscene doing a pan across a facility as a makeshift credits sequence, followed by a scientist (presumably Winner) finding the yellow crystal, the same one the boss alien monster absorbed for some reason. Presumably, this is meant to be part of the crystal that starts the events of Half-Life, but it certainly isn’t clear.

Half-Life: Before is not that long, in fact my played time was about 15-30 minutes. Even some of the more passable Half-Life level packs at least get a few hours of entertainment, this just feels more like a proof of concept than something ready for prime time.


What baffles me more than anything about this mod is that this was something Valve thought was worthy enough to put on Steam. There were likely so many other projects that possibly got skipped over for this extremely mediocre mod.

This was the main problem I had with Greenlight: There wasn’t much of a vetting process for quality, where several games only got on Steam because they enticed gullible Steam users with free keys for other games just to get their work on the service.

Towards Greenlight’s end there was so much trash that it was impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. It just became a punching bag for Jim Sterling and Twitter accounts like Steam Greenlight Gold, highlighting why Greenlight was more of a trash dumping ground than the place to find hidden gems.

Imagine putting in a lot of effort to make something good only for mediocre trash like Half-Life: Before to get the go-ahead. It would certainly discourage one from making games, that’s for sure.

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A lot of this mod screams “My First Half-Life mod” rather than something really outstanding.

The ratio of good-to-bad games is probably why Valve abandoned Greenlight for Steam Direct, which skipped the voting process entirely, allowing anyone with $100 to publish their own games. Unfortunately, this just skipped the middleman Greenlight had, and now Steam is filled with trash asset flips from other games, games with malicious software in it, even garbage that touted having 5,000 Steam achievements for the explicit purpose of making bank off the trading cards.

One of these games, Abstractism, had items that resembled the most valuable items in games like Team Fortress 2 and DOTA2 for people to swindle unsuspecting traders. Worst, it also had a cryptocurrency miner secretly installed alongside the game. It took a fair share of outrage before Valve removed it from the store. But by then the damage had already been done.

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So. Many. Snarks. They’re all stuck together, too!

Honestly, this makes me want Greenlight back. At worst you would just have mediocre games that would do Steam key giveaways for votes, which is less scummy than cryptocurrency miners and stuff that wouldn’t even pass Newgrounds’ muster in 2001.

As for Creashock Studios, the studio released one more game, the dull-looking Telepathy Zero, which looks like something from the bygone Xbox Indie Games era. However, that’s not the only game the guy has made. Under his real name Andrii Vintsevych, he made a fair share of boring, unremarkable horror games, including Gynophobia, a horror game where the protagonist has a fear of women.

…Now that I think about it, Half-Life: Before is probably the best thing he’s ever put out.

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At least the custom texture work is passable?

Writing about this bad Half-Life mod is a bummer, really. I don’t like being cynical that often, but there was a small amount of potential for this to be good, and it wouldn’t even get coverage in PC Gamer twenty years ago. I wrote about some damn fun mods over the years, like Counter-Life.

There is another Half-Life mod I’ve been playing lately that’s damn good, similar in spirit to Counter-Life. I’ll probably write about that next. Grab your Berettas and painkillers.

(NOTE: When I originally published this, the screenshots I took were accidentally using a field-of-view setting that was too “zoomed in” for 16:9 resolutions, presumably an oversight by Valve. The original screenshots were replaced with ones with correct FOV, though I didn’t get perfect one-to-one recreations.)

James Bond 007 The Duel: The lesser-known Bond video game.

It feels weird these days that there’s no James Bond video games being released. The last major James Bond game was 007: Legends in late 2012, made to advertise the then-new Skyfall film. Activision revoked the James Bond licence the following year, and unfortunately killed off the wonderful Eurocom in the process. Since then, nobody has come up to the plate to bring the titular spy back in a big-budget licensed game. A shame, really.

While most people probably remember the heyday when Nightfire was the in-thing, or even tried to give stuff like 007 Blood Stone a try, James Bond games have been around much, much longer. There’s so many of them, more than you’d expect. Most of these are fairly quick to talk about, except for one that came out in the early ‘90s.

But before Activision, before EA, even before Goldeneye 007 was having people go Slappers Only in The Basement, there was those really awkward years throughout the 80s and 90s.

 

Some of the many less-fondly-remembered Bond games, from left to right: James Bond 007 (Atari 2600), A View to a Kill (Apple II) and James Bond: The Stealth Affair/Operation Stealth (Amiga).

Before Nintendo published James Bond 007 and the famous Goldeneye, there wasn’t really a definitive publisher of James Bond games. Parker Brothers put out a passable action game on the Atari 2600 where you play as one of Bond’s fancy cars rather than the character. Mindscape published a few Angelsoft text adventures – written by James Bond historian and later Bond book author Raymond Benson – at one point even Interplay got in on the Bond thing, taking Delphine Software’s Operation Stealth and slapping the James Bond license on it, changing only a few names here and there. But the primary publisher for a lot of Bond games during this period was British publisher Domark.

Domark’s challenging, yet creative takes on The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die and The Living Daylights.

When Domark had the license throughout the late 80s to early 90s, they released many different kinds of games. Often times these were action games inspired by existing games, like the game based on The Spy Who Loved Me being a passable Spy Hunter clone. There were also games based on Licence to Kill, Live and Let Die, and The Living Daylights.

I do not recommend actively seeking out these games. If you’re morbidly curious, find a cracked copy where you can turn on cheats. A lot of these games are stupidly hard, probably to cover up how little there was in overall game content. For example, Licence to Kill can be beaten in less than 15 minutes if you’re skilled enough. Probably wasn’t worth the $50 price tag with that little gameplay value.

While most of these games were on home computers, there was a James Bond game on home console and it was quite an interesting little piece.

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Early ’90s action cartoon personified, all on this box art.

Oh god, no, not that one.

James Bond Jr. is technically a James Bond game, based on the “how did this get made” cartoon series where you play as James Bond’s nephew, rendering the show’s title completely inaccurate. No matter if you’re playing it on the NES or SNES, they’re frustrating, unfun games. Unsurprisingly these are published by THQ, which were infamously known for terrible licensed games throughout the 90s, some rivaling LJN/Acclaim in sheer badness.

No, I’m talking about what ended up being Domark’s final James Bond game: James Bond 007: The Duel.

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Domark really loved using this publicity photo from Licence to Kill, didn’t they?

Released in 1993 for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Game Gear, this is an action-based platformer. Developed by “The Kremlin” – in reality Domark’s in-house development team – this is the only James Bond game to appear on Sega platforms. Surprisingly this is not based on an existing film, but rather an amalgamation of various elements of Bond films up to that point.

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My e-Reader Card Collection: Nintendo’s Last Straw.

I have made a fair share of questionable purchases over the years. Back when I was still a Nintendo apologist, during the heydays of Gamecube puttering along way behind the PS2 and when the Game Boy Advance was king of all portable gaming, I had bought stuff that in hindsight wasn’t that useful. Such as the GBA-GC link cable that connected a GBA to a Gamecube to transfer data, or in the case of games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, have all the action take place on the GBA.

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This looks neat at first glance, doesn’t it? Oh, if only.

But that isn’t nearly as much in terms of questionable purchasing decisions as me buying into Nintendo’s e-Reader. Not to be confused with an eBook reader, the e-Reader was a Game Boy Advance add-on where you could scan cards with codes printed on the side to get cool goodies. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the execution was poor: Games sometimes needed 3-10 codes scanned to play something, you could only hold one thing on the e-Reader’s memory at a time, and you needed a GBA link cable if you wanted to transfer anything from an e-Reader to another system, or the Gamecube.

It was a mess. Needless to say, Nintendo of America wasn’t having more of this and discontinued the thing around 2004. Thus leaving me with a bunch of cards I had acquired that I didn’t really have much use for anymore.

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52 e-reader pickup (digital photography, 2018)

Over 15 years after the e-Reader came out, I still have the damn cards. And I’m gonna show some of them off here. Now, these aren’t the most rare, or the most valuable, these are just cards I find interesting, because they have a story to them. Note I’m only gonna list cards I personally own, as much as it would be interesting to write about Japanese exclusive e-Reader cards, I don’t have those.


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Props to Nintendo for using the original Famicom cover art, at least.

Donkey Kong Jr.-e

One of the two pack-in classic games – the other being Pinball – this was part of the “Classic NES Series” which featured almost nothing but early NES games, the ones you see crop up everywhere on Nintendo platforms: Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, even much-maligned brawler Urban Champion got the e-Reader treatment.

The first card shows how to play the game, with each subsequent card giving some important tips on how to play and eventually master the game. It’s nice considering people even of my generation never grew up on the older NES catalog, but them not being based on more “powerful” NES games like Super Mario Bros. really made this particular series only interesting to diehard Nintendo fans.

It also didn’t help it came on five cards, with one set of two dot codes each. That’s 10 codes I had to scan to play this thing. Worst off, if I wanted to play any other game, I had to remove the game from memory, thus requiring me to scan all ten codes again if I wanted to replay it.

Funny enough, some of these games later got treatment as part of a brief stint of a different “Classic NES Series,” which was on traditional cartridges. These featured more of the NES classics you’d be familiar with, like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Why scan 10 codes of Ice Climber when you could buy the same thing for a higher price on a traditional cartridge? Nintendo probably didn’t think that one through too well.

I’ve seen some of these Classic NES Series card packs on sale during the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and I sometimes get the temptation to get another one of these. Then I realize I’d have to scan 10 codes, and I could play that game elsewhere with less hassle.

…Have I mentioned I hated having to scan 10 freakin’ codes yet?

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Games I beat in 2018: Medal of Honor (the 2010 reboot)

Hey folks. Sorry that my posting is still somewhat erratic at the moment. Things have been going on in my life, and for a good while I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. I’ve amassed so many junk items over the years that they’re all strewn about in my room, hoping one day they’ll be played and/or written about.

So instead of struggling to think about something, I’m gonna do some posts about some of the games I’ve beaten throughout 2018. Surprisingly it is a small list, as I had fallen into the trap of playing the same quick pick up and play games instead: Killing Floor 2, Payday 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and more recently, Quake Champions.

Despite having a massive backlog, I still did finish a few games throughout the year. This was originally gonna be a post with two reviews, but this particular review got so lengthy that I had to split it up.

So let’s talk about a failed reboot of an iconic franchise, shall we?

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Mr. DudeMcLargebeard getting ready to shoot the evil people.

(Warning: Spoilers for the story of Medal of Honor 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lie within.)

Back around 2014, I had written (but oddly didn’t publish) a thing about Medal of Honor: Airborne, which I had replayed because a friend was streaming the game. It’s one of his personal favorites, and while I liked some elements of it like being able to drop anywhere on the in-game map, or even the creative weapon upgrade system, it just felt like a tired shooter going through the motions, and was going beyond the more historical angle of Medal of Honor, even having Nazi super soldiers wielding MG42s like it was nothing.

At the end I had written something to the effect “It’s not as amazing as Frontline or Allied Assault, but it’s probably better than Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” At the time, I hadn’t played the most recent Medal of Honor games, and 2018 felt like the time to tackle Medal of Honor 2010 – as I’m gonna call it from here on in, to distinguish it from the 1999 original – and I felt disappointed all the way through.

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I finished this back in January, as the very first game I beat in 2018. This was not a good start.

Realizing World War II games were on their way out after a near ten-year period of them constantly coming out, EA was in a bind. Medal of Honor was considered this prestigious franchise, and they didn’t know where to take it. Their solution was to see what their competition already did three years prior and follow suit: Go modern, and see if it stuck.

The problem was that this came out right after the extremely successful Modern Warfare 2, and was out the same year as Call of Duty: Black Ops – probably in my top three favorite Call of Duty games for various reasons – so already EA was climbing a very, very steep hill. With Medal of Honor 2010, EA didn’t get to the top, but instead slipped and started rolling down the hill, giving themselves bruises and broken bones along the way.

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Concentration: A casual adaption of a game show.

Sometimes when you’re like me, sifting through thrift stores and finding unusual stuff, you sometimes find things you remember hearing existed, but didn’t know if it was real.

I’ve written about game show games in the past, from portables to knockoffs. I try my best to keep up with the current game show-related merchandise, and that includes games. Yet, this was one I wasn’t expecting to find.

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Welcome to the Concentration Hellzone, human.

Concentration: The Classic Game of Mix and Match, based off Concentration, a show you might’ve heard of if you’re as old as I am, or know a lot about game shows like I do. Developed by casual game developers Freeze Tag and published by Mumbojumbo, this came out around 2007 for PCs, and is something I honestly forgot existed until I picked this up and talked about it on a recent post.

For those who never saw the game show, I’ll give a brief explanation since there are better places that explain the show in more detail: Concentration was a game show that aired on television throughout the 1950s all the way until the early ‘90s. It first aired on NBC from 1958 until 1973, being a daytime staple for the network. After being canceled, the show was revived two times: Once as a syndicated show from 1973-1978, and once more back on NBC from 1987-1991; this time under the name Classic Concentration and famously hosted by Alex Trebek. Classic’s last new episodes aired in 1991, but it aired in reruns until 1993.

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A sample board, from the later 1970s revival.

A combination of the board game Memory with rebus puzzles, players tried to find matches to earn prizes and eventually win them by solving the mystery rebus puzzle beneath. There were changes and rule adjustments throughout the 35 years the show was on the air, but that’s the general gist of the game.

So why I am surprised this exists? Well, Concentration is slowly becoming one of those shows forgotten by the general populace. The last time it aired anywhere in the US was in 1993, when NBC reran Classic Concentration.

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From Classic Concentration, a player found a red TAKE! and a Wild Card, giving them an opportunity to steal an opponent’s prize.

Unlike other classic game shows, it never reran on USA Network’s game show block, or even on Game Show Network. This is because NBC bought the rights to Concentration back in 1958 from Barry-Enright Productions, a TV company who was a part of the big quiz show scandals at the time. Even though the later revivals were produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman’s production company – producers of Match Game, Family Feud, and The Price Is Right – the show was still owned by NBC. Presumably NBC was asking too much for rerun rights, hence why the only places you can watch Concentration is YouTube videos of old VHS recordings.

(Update 9/30/2018: It seems pigs are flying and the impossible is now possible, as Buzzr, FremantleMedia’s game show channel, is now airing Classic Concentration on their network daily. For historical purposes, I’ve kept the out-of-date information so people are aware of what once was.)

Through various acquisitions and mergers over the past sixty years, Concentration is now pretty much under the arm of NBCUniversal. Make note of this, as it will come up later.

Now that I’ve given the refresher course about the show, let’s talk about this game, shall we?

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It certainly looks pretty… simple. The logo looks better than other ones I’ve seen for this game, though…

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I Bought Stuff! 4/16/2018 – One place, three cool things.

I don’t go to thrift stores all that often anymore. I’ve bought too many things over the years that I should write about, but haven’t gotten the time to. It also doesn’t help that thrift store hunting is an adventure in and of itself, so I think I can’t just hit one. But I did just hit one, and it was good to me.

I’ve mentioned Deseret Industries down in Portland before. It’s where I found a bunch of old demo discs from the 90s and 2000s for real cheap. I’ve found PC games I’d never expect to find, even stuff like a cardboard long box copy of NFL Gameday fairly recently. For some reason, this store tends to give me the best luck in finding stuff I wouldn’t expect to find otherwise, whereas I could go to the same Goodwill and be lucky to find a single thing I want, let alone several.

But enough about that, what’d I get?

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$1 each:

  • Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold (PC)
  • Chronomaster (PC)
  • Concentration (PC)

Okay, so Mad Dog II is the sequel to Mad Dog McCree, the fairly popular laserdisc-based light gun game. It’s probably American Laser Games’ most iconic game, next to maybe Crime Patrol or Who Shot Johnny Rock. The sequel is however mostly forgotten, however it didn’t stop American Laser Games from porting it to every system known to man after its arcade run had finished.

I honestly bought that more as a lark. These games are fairly simple, easy to memorize, and beatable within 10-30 minutes. It’s just a novelty, through and through.Read More »

Operation Body Count: A little-known FPS reborn.

In the many years I’ve been writing about games, I try my best to broaden my horizons and check out stuff that’s not as well known, or written about. In some cases I just end up writing about obscure first-person shooters from the ‘90s most people don’t know about. Such as Operation: Body Count.

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For those unaware, Operation: Body Count was a first-person shooter released in 1994 by Capstone Software. In it, you play as a nameless commando who has to stop the evil Victor Baloch and rescue world leaders. It had a fair share of interesting features like AI buddies you could control to help you complete floors, semi destructible environments, a map of the area to avoid getting lost, and a semi-realistic environment in the days when things looked pretty abstract.

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I knew I had to get my hands dirty, but I didn’t think they literally meant it…

The game gives a really bad first impression where Our Hero has to fight the dreaded sewer rats under Baloch’s brainwashing for the first several levels. It also doesn’t help the game looks like… well, this.

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This guy couldn’t stop walking into me until I backed up so we could even hit each other. Quality product, right here.

It looks like a bad Wolfenstein 3D clone, doesn’t it? Well, it uses id’s Wolfenstein 3D engine as a base, which looked pretty cool in 1992-93. Many games ended up using the engine for their games, including Apogee’s Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold and Rise of the Triad.

But then Doom happened. Basically any FPS that still had the 90 degree maze-like look of Wolfenstein looked extremely dated, especially by 1994 standards. Even Capstone’s other big FPS of the time, Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, didn’t fare so well either for the same reasons as Operation: Body Count. I wouldn’t be surprised if many FPS developers were swearing their heads off when the shareware episode of Doom hit in 1993, with its open areas, tall floors, and level geometry that went beyond 90 degrees.

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Ah, what could’ve been…

Despite the game’s relative obscurity, a Doom modder by the name of Impie decided to take the fairly maligned DOS game and give it a Doom-style makeover. The result is nothing but amazing. Also called Operation: Body Count, the game is similar to the 1994 Capstone original, but with significant changes that make the gameplay more fun and exciting.

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Fall Out Boy meets Asphalt 8: This ain’t a crossover, it’s a god damn car race.

So I was playing Asphalt 8: Airborne, a fairly fun if grindy racing game, and suddenly this popped up on my screen.

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Is the title *supposed* to look that weird?

Asphalt 8 meets Fall Out Boy, meant to advertise their newest album? Now that’s a crossover I wasn’t expecting to see.

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Like this car? It’s cool, huh?

Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of Fall Out Boy. I know a few of their songs, but I always kept confusing them with My Chemical Romance and similar “emo rock” bands that permeated the landscape in the mid-2000s. From the songs I have heard from them, they seem to be an passably entertaining rock band, and I’m surprised they’re still going in 2018.

You’re probably wondering why this crossover exists. They’re a pop-rock band that hasn’t really mentioned being big racing game fans, so it seems like an ill fit, right? Well, Vivendi, the French mega-conglomerate, owns Island Records, which is Fall Out Boy’s label; as well as Gameloft, the developer behind Asphalt 8. So while it’s not completely random like, oh say, KISS Psycho Circus, it certainly doesn’t feel like a natural crossover.

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The event goes like this: You join a new racing league, the Fall Out Boy World Tour. In it, you must build enough hype to impress the staff and members of the band to win the championship and earn a brand new car, the BMW M2 “Special Edition,” which differs from the standard BMW M2 in game by having rear spoilers and a cool paint job. You’re given a whole week in real time to do this.

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This nerd deserves a swirly.

However, the fight will be tough as you’ll be facing stiff competition, including one from the “ultimate Fall Out Boy fan,” Adam Knowles. He’ll taunt you throughout, saying he has the best tuned-up vehicle and that you’ll never beat him. As you complete challenges and gain fans, you’ll eventually have to defeat multiple AI in head-to-head races to win the championship and the BMW M2.

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Some of the challenges get pretty tough as time goes on.

So how does this work? You gain fans by completing challenges in each race. Most of them are fairly simple challenges – beat the race in the target time, get first place, knockdown more cars than your opponent – others more difficult, such as requiring you to do 6 flat spins off a ramp or drift for 4,000 yards. Successfully pull off the challenge and you’ll earn fan points and build up hype. Hype increases the amount of fan points starting at 1 times the value, to 1.5 times the value, all the way up to 3x the normal value. Every normal race is 200 points, whereas the championship racers increase drastically in value as the story progresses.

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Guess this race was… DEAD! ON! ARRIVAL!

However, failure will kill fan hype, give fewer points, and end the streak. You can try again but you’ll be starting back at a 1x multiplier; or you can buy out and keep the streak at a fairly costly number of tokens, the game’s premium currency.

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Streaming passes, fans, hype… Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?

Oh, and you need “streaming passes” to broadcast these events (i.e.: race). You’re given three to start, a new one is given to you every 2 ½ hours if you have used one already, though you could buy extra passes with tokens if you were super-impatient.

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Lookat all the pretty boxes

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Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku: I’d like 3 big ones…

Over the many years I’ve been collecting games, I’ve always found particularly unusual game show games. Besides the common Jellyvision/Jackbox collective, I’ve found stuff like Outburst, a board game that decided to become a poor man’s You Don’t Know Jack; Another Jack clone that was endorsed by MTV’s TRL… I even have Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters – I’m probably one of the 34 people who bought a physical copy – which I might write about sometime. But this one’s a bit different. It comes from across the pond, and features one of the most notable fad games of the mid-2000s…

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It’s Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku. A somewhat obscure Sudoku game, this came out courtesy of Secret Stash Games, a weird Eidos Interactive imprint. Though Empire Interactive is also credited on the box and in the game itself, which mostly published games in the UK (and were the original distributor there, presumably).

So you’re probably asking: Who the heck is Carol Vorderman, and why is she endorsing a Sudoku game?

I’m going to assume the people reading this post are not from Britain and/or game show nuts, so I’ll give the skinny on who she is: Carol Vorderman is a long-standing television host, being the co-host for a British game show called Countdown.

Countdown is a fairly simple game show where players either try to come up with the longest word from a semi-random pick of letters, or solve a mathematics puzzle by hitting a target number with six randomly chosen set of numbers.

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Carol solving a particularly devious numbers round.

Vorderman was well known especially for the latter, sometimes getting solutions to the math problems that even the players couldn’t figure out. She was on the show for a very long time, from the show’s early beginnings until 2012. She’s almost like Britain’s Vanna White, but with much more to do.

As for Sudoku, it’s a little more complex. A long standing game that got an unusual resurgence around the mid 2000s, the game involves placing the numbers 1 through 9 on a 9×9 grid split into 3×3 subgrids. The goal is to make it so each row, column, and subgrid have one of each number without any duplicates. It’s a nice mental puzzle that gained traction in unusual ways, and it’s one of the mini-games in Nintendo’s then-popular Brain Age games. It’s certainly more enjoyable than Jumble or Crossword puzzles, anyway.

So here’s the first problem I have with this game. Carol Vorderman doesn’t have the name recognition that someone like Gordon Ramsay or James Corden has outside their native England. Had I not told you who Carol Vorderman was, you would probably assume she was a fictitious entity a la Mavis Beacon. But I assure you, she’s a real person who endorsed a Sudoku game, and for some reason somebody thought it was fitting to bring it here without any context of who she is or where she’s from.

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Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland The Soundtrack: Where rock meets punk.

I write about a lot of random junk here. Such as writing about about having a strange collection of video game related albums in the past. Sometimes just simple soundtracks of games, other times stuff like the soundtrack of the the first Tomb Raider film, or even a set of songs featuring the cast of the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? game show. I thought I’d grab one of these and give a fairly quick review to wrap up 2017.

So let’s look at the soundtrack album to the the once-yearly skateboarding franchise: Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Or as the spine calls it, “TONY HAWK’S AMERICAN WASTLAND.”

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An album cover homage nobody asked for.

This is the second (and final) soundtrack album for a Tony Hawk game. The first being a “music from and inspired by” album for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which had weird choices like Outkast, Papa Roach, and Drowning Pool, while omitting stuff like Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.”

This is only a small portion of the 60+ (!) tracks in the entire game, and the 14 songs featured are all covers of songs by punk artists of the ’70s and ’80s like Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits, The Stooges, even Black Flag. So this is a hell of a lot better than the last Tony Hawk soundtrack album.

Here’s the track listing:

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Did you think I was kidding with the typo on the spine?

Some of these are bands I’m familiar with thanks to their appearances in Rock Band or Guitar Hero — My Chemical Romance, Dropkick Murphys, Fall Out Boy, Rise Against — but the rest are fairly unknown (to me) pop-rock, post-punk or emo-rock bands that came and went. A fair share of these bands were modestly popular for the era, but my music knowledge post-1990 is like swiss cheese: lots of gaping holes.

I will admit that some of the covers, like Fall Out Boy’s cover of Gorilla Biscuits’ “Start Today” has that particular sound of the band, but for others like Dropkick Murphys’ “Who is Who” cover really threw me for a loop, especially for a guy like me who’s only familiar with “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”

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The random Big Rock Endings of Rock Band – 10th Anniversary Edition.

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the best damn music game franchise in video game history. I’m talking about the most awesome fake plastic rock game around: Rock Band. Screw your DDRs, your Beatmanias, and all that. Rock Band is where it’s at.

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Sadly I didn’t get into the instrument rhythm genre until 2009, the year Activision totally thought releasing six Guitar Hero games at $60 a pop was a sound business decision. GameStop was already giving away excess Guitar Hero II 360 guitars when bought with Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which was on sale for $10. Needless to say, this gave me an easy way to get into the genre proper, after my previous experience of sucking on Even Flow on Easy in Guitar Hero III. I later snagged the then-recent Rock Band 2 a few months later. Alongside getting The Beatles: Rock Band set for Christmas that year, that was when my Rock Band journey truly started.

The first Rock Band is 10 years old, and I’m gonna celebrate it by pointing out how proud Harmonix was of its new features.

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Rock Band was the first western game to implement not just guitar and bass, but drums and vocals as well. Using their experiences from making tons of Karaoke Revolution games, as well as making drums simple and complex, they made a game that became one of the best damn party games around. Provided you had the room and space to hold all the plastic instruments.

But there was another feature that they were particularly proud of: The Big Rock Ending.

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A Big Rock Ending in action.

 

In older Guitar Hero games, a fair share of songs ended up with a ridiculous flurry of notes, which was an annoying shift after playing something like “Smoke on the Water”. To counter this, Harmonix introduced the Big Rock Ending. In this, you just strum any note, and bang on any drum to amass points, then hit a specific set of notes at the end. Hit them all, you successfully bank the bonus. A single miss, and it goes up in smoke. Literally.

This solved the problem Harmonix had with the Guitar Hero games at this point. Give them the chance to be a rock star while not making a song harder than it needed to be. They were very, very proud of this new feature. Naturally they had to pad part of the 58-song setlist with them.

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I bought stuff!: Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2017 Edition.

Hey, y’all. I’m really sorry about the dearth of updates as of late. For the past few months, I’ve been down in the doldrums. No drive to write, to make videos, to stream. Sometimes, something comes around that seems pretty neat and I’ll write about it. I haven’t missed a single month in the blog’s 5+ year history, and I’m not breaking the chain any time soon, so I felt it was time to write again.

Having a yearly tradition on this site helps a lot too.

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The Portland Retro Gaming Expo happened last weekend (the 20th to the 22nd), and it’s always a hoot to go. The cool deals, the amazing art, walking around the show floor and accidentally bumping into people like MetalJesusRocks and Bob Mackey of Retronauts among other notable people in the gaming internetosphere, the works.

Of course, as you can tell by the subject, I bought a few things.

Admittedly, at this stage in my collection career, I’ve slowed down in my collecting quest considerably. Most of the iconic games or systems that I’d want are just way out of my price range, especially for someone with fairly low income like myself. Though, seeing someone sell stuff like a JVC X’eye – a Genesis/Sega CD hybrid – or even visual novels entirely in Japanese is at least worth a look even if I can’t pony up the cash to own them.
However, I did walk away with a few things of interest, at least to me. Let’s go!


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$2 – Soldier of Fortune: Gold Edition (PS2)

Soldier of Fortune is one of those underrated gems. While on the surface it’s a boilerplate action game with a clunky inventory system, the appeal was cranking the violence factor to 11 and making it so you could literally blow limbs off with a shotgun. This was literally the game’s appeal, as the first level gives you the shotgun real early to show off this GHOUL technology, as Raven Software called it.

Sadly, it may never get a re-release because Activision doesn’t care about older franchises, plus the costs of relicensing the Soldier of Fortune name from the magazine of the same name probably wouldn’t recuperate costs even with frequent GOG and Steam sales. A shame, really.

I own the original on PC – albeit it’s the later Platinum Edition release; and a Dreamcast release oddly published by Crave Entertainment. I didn’t know a PS2 version existed. Surprisingly, this was also not published by Activision, but rather published by a pre-Advent Rising Majesco.

They also touted four player split-screen multiplayer, as well as USB mouse and keyboard support, which puts it in the rare league of PS2 games that support mouse and keyboard for something besides text chat. Other games that use this include the ports of Half-Life and Unreal Tournament, and according to my friend weasel, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, oddly.

The low $2 price tag helped, too.

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$10 – Four PC games:

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
  • Wanted: Weapons of Fate
  • Turning Point: Fall of Liberty
  • Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku

I like collecting what I’ve called “junky” PC games. Ones of dubious quality, or ones that would fit right at home in the bargain bins of any place that sold computer games. At a booth that also had unplayable PC games like Auto Assault (I have a story about that one, ask me about it sometime), was some of this stuff I couldn’t resist picking up.

I think owning the PC GRAW and Wanted is a nice contrast: Both games were made by GRIN, and were during two important periods as a game developer: When they were nearly at the top with GRAW, and when Wanted was one third of the triple whammy that would later shutter the company – the other two games being Terminator: Salvation and the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot. While GRIN has since splintered off into several studios – most notably Overkill, makers of Payday; and Fatshark, makers of Warhammer: The End Times Vermintide – these games are a nice time capsule, as it were. Since these were made before PC games pretty much became “CDs with the Steam client installer and a code to redeem the game”, I get to relive the tail-end of the pre-Steam PC era. Complete with stuff like GRAW having 6 CDs instead of a single DVD. Ugh.

Turning Point is a “what if Germany won World War II” game by Spark Unlimited, the makers of such fine products like Legendary, Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z and Call of Duty: Finest Hour. Basically Wolfenstein: The New Order before TNO and with more suck.

Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku, on the other hand… Well, I might save that for a future blog post. For real. It’s interesting for a “bloody yank” like me, that’s all I’ll say about that.

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Goldfinger 64: The Game with the Midas touch.

It’s been a while since I covered a modification, but that’s because I don’t pay a lot of attention to the various mod scenes. It also doesn’t help that lately I haven’t played anything new, and often getting myself into a rut. But did you think that a Nintendo 64 game from 1997, one of the biggest first-person shooters of that era, would have a mod scene?

No, I’m not talking about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – besides, the mod scene is strictly on PC these days – I’m talking about Goldeneye, Rare’s groundbreaking first-person shooter released on the Nintendo 64.

Goldeneye isn’t my most favorite James Bond game – that’s Nightfire, specifically the console version – but I still respect it as a good game that made a huge impact for first-person shooters on home consoles. So I was surprised to see that the game had a modding scene. Definitely not as big as the ROM hacks of Mario or Sonic, or even the thousands of Doom mods; but significant enough to be noticed.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a “separate the wheat from the chaff” problem, as this video proves:

(video credit: The Kins)

Thus I didn’t pay too much attention to the scene, since it seemed to be fairly amateur. But then a friend brought this mod to my attention, and suddenly my interest in Goldeneye modding scene was piqued.

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Not the real film sequence but an incredible simulation!

Enter Goldfinger 64, a total conversion for Goldeneye that covers the story of the 1964 James Bond classic, Goldfinger. Goldfinger isn’t one of my favorite Bond movies either, but I understood that it was the turning point for the film franchise. A little less grounded in reality, with goofy villains, iconic film quotes (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), and a time where you could have a character named “Pussy Galore” and not it be the butt of a terrible joke.

While I’m more a fan of the latter eras of Bond films – partially because I don’t like Sean Connery as a person, regardless of his acting ability – Goldfinger is a goofy romp and a good starter James Bond film for a new fan. So let’s see how this team of modders took the engine of a 1997 game and based it on a 1964 film, shall we?

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