Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get the Atari Advantage

Sorry for the radio silence, folks: wrapping up my scanning spree, after which there will literally be nothing left for me to do with the scans but post them up here (or somewhere at least -- it's come to my attention that however high-quality my source scans, these invariably display at some heinously degraded resolution. Would it be that way on Wordpress? I'll be exploring some options, but will keep you posted, my presumably faithful and silent masses.)
What this ad isn't telling you is that this apparently spontaneous demonstration of brand celebration is running on a collision course with the contemporary explosive US launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System (itself fuelled by the Atari veterans at Worlds of Wonder, of Lazer Tag / Teddy Ruxpin fame). Silly Atari, you can't use the Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong to fight Nintendo! I do, however, appreciate some of the surreal mash-ups this collectible poster results in: basketball player takes on Millipede with the only weapon at his disposal, where rockets fail; Centipede chases Joust knight out of Dodge (right behind a radio-controlled Red Baron model airplane); Mobster arrives at concordance with Pete Rose, as Robin Hood officiates.

Collect Games * Win Prizes
Buy Atari game cartridges for your Atari system and become eligible to win valuable prizes.
COLLECT 5 GAMES - Get a Free Atari T-shirt
COLLECT 15 GAMES - Get a Free Atari Game Cartridge
COLLECT 25 GAMES* - Get an Atari 7800 system for only $25 or get an Atari XE system or disc drive for only $50.
* Collect 25 game cartridges and you will also become eligible to enter an essay writing contest to win the Grand Prize - An expense-paid trip for you and a guest to California, including a visit to Atari headquarters to see how Atari games are designed.
See your Atari Retailer for Details and Get Your FREE Collector Poster - Today!
I don't know how nice the T-shirt was, but at this point in time and for quite a while afterwards the Atari Game Cartridges and the 7800 system would be entering or already firmly entrenched in what Jason Scott coined as the Trough of Zero Value, from which it would only emerge relatively recently for collectors and weirdos such as (cough) your humble narrator. The computer hardware discount sounds good, but I'm wary of the "system OR disc drive" distinction, supposing that they may not be of much use without each other, and getting discounts on both would involve buying 50 cartridges -- presumably not all essential items for a discriminating library.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Gargoyle's Quest", Game Boy, 1990

Not a lot to say here, except that it may be the only occasion upon which the Game Boy has been accused of having graphics that are "so real". A world where the Game Boy's greatest graphics were the pinnacle of reality would be an Orwellian nightmare where everything was chunky and tinted Soylent Green.

Dazzling graphics and excellent sound bring a whole new dimension to the Game Boy! Enchantment and excitement await you in Gargoyle's Quest.
Prepare to do battle as Firebrand, the last Guardian Gargoyle of the Ghoul Realm. You must act quickly to defend your world against an invading army of Destroyers.
Fight your way through enemy forces to reach the dimensional portal that leads to your home world. Once there, the true nature of the quest begins.
The King of the Ghoul Realm has been kidnapped and it's up to you to save him. Blast the attackers with fiery breath as you fly through their defenses. Unravel the mysteries of this multilevel universe to succeed in conquering the Destroyers and freeing the captive King.
  • Highly-detailed artwork sets new standards for the Game Boy!
  • Advanced playability, highlighted with 360 degree scrolling.
  • Hours of entertainment await you in this diverse adventure.
Others have written (hm, quite recently!) on the other relative merits of the game, relatively untouched-upon by this breathless advertising copy. It was certainly interesting as an early demonstration of the "last game's villain is this game's hero" trope (not to the extent where the baddies are human knights, though), recalling protagonist Firebrand's prior appearance in Ghosts 'n Goblins -- where his skin was red, not green. Many bored bloggers have wasted many keystrokes bemoaning how this game's cover artist had clearly never played the G'n'G games and hence had no idea what colour our hero's skin was supposed to be. But surely he played the heck out of it on the GB, where everything was tinted pea-soup green!
Three closing remarks: first, that the game-player's right hand in this ad does look more than a little wonky, and second, that the cover art (better view here) appears to suggest that the greatest (or surely at least most satisfying to deploy) weapon in Firebrand's arsenal was in fact hidden beneath his loin cloth. Look at the way that pink triangle thing is visibly recoiling! (The horned crab-toad, conversely, appears intrigued, as though it wants to get a closer look.) Finally, have you heard my story about the origin of the word "gargoyle"?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Columbia Video Game Club

Okay, that last one was more than a little wordy, so let's allow this curio to speak for itself:

when you join the Columbia Video Game Club and agree to buy just 2 more games, at regular club prices, in the coming year.
Just look at the video games offered here... all six of them are available for home enjoyment on your Atari Video Computer System! They retail anywhere from $26.95 to $34.95, yet you can have any one of them for only $4.95 with membership in the Columbia Video Game Club. Just send us $4.95 with the application or call the toll-free number shown here.
Why are we making this offer? To introduce you to the Columbia Video Game Club... an exciting new service that offers you the newest home video games on a convenient shop-at-home basis -- and at great savings.
How the Club works: approximately every 6 weeks (up to 9 times a year) you will receive the Club's colorful Video Game Magazine. It announces the Hit Game Selection... generally, a brand-new arcade winner, just like some of those shown here. In addition, the Magazine will picture and describe many other video games from many of America's leading manufacturers.
And the Magazine features articles of interest to game players -- new game systems, new gadgets to upgrade your own Atari system, helpful hints on how to improve your scores, how games are designed, what's new in the arcades -- fascinating information to keep you up to date on the whole video game scene and even a giant-size full color video game poster.
If you want to play the Hit Game Selection in your own home, you need do nothing -- it will be sent to you automatically. If you want one of the alternate games offered -- or nothing at all -- just tell us so on the response card always provided and mail it by the date indicated. You'll always have ten days to make your decision. If you ever receive a game cartridge without having had ten days to decide, feel free to return it at our expense.
The game cartridges you order will be mailed and billed to you at regular Club prices -- which currently range from $24.95 to $29.95, plus shipping and handling and appropriate sales tax. Remember, you don't have to buy a video game every time you hear from us -- your only membership obligation is to purchase two games during the coming year, and you may cancel membership at any time after doing so. If you decide to continue, you'll be eligible for our generous money-saving bonus plan.
10-Day Free Trial: we'll send complete details of the Club's operation with your introductory cartridge. If you are not satisfied for any reason whatsoever, just return everything within 10 days for a full refund and you will have no further obligation. So be part of the action by mailing your coupon now!
WANT STILL ONE MORE GAME for $4.95? You can have ANY TWO of these video games for only $4.95 each -- if you agree to buy four more (at regular Club prices) in the coming two years! Just check box in application and enclose $9.90 for your two video game cartridges.
An early predecessor of the Humble Bundle? Of course, this business model flourished for records and books, but the video game wing of Columbia's mail-order club empire doesn't appear to have survived the 2600 crash. $5 sounds like a good enough deal for the triple-A titles here -- a decent price for unlimited home play of Donkey Kong, Frogger or Zaxxon -- but the club prices certainly send me time-traveling waves of sticker shock. And that was in 1982 dollars!

In conclusion, I dig the triangles of the stylized explosion.  It's like the ad designer said "you don't seriously expect me to model a fiery blast using only square pixels, do you?  It'll cost extra!"  And the bosses at Columbia said don't sweat it, they had tied up every penny in warehouses full of Gorf carts.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"War Room", Colecovision, 1983

For my first scanned-game-ad-post, I tried to pick one that appeared to belong to one of the earlier home video game consoles, thinking I could "begin at the beginning" and use it to share a little history lesson:

Here's the ad copy:
Play the game the generals play... for real.


Feel the goose bumps on your neck begin to rise as you take your seat in front of the video monitor.  The situation pictured before your eyes is critical.  Actual enemy nuclear attack on your most important cities and natural resources has begun.

Only you can determine the best strategic defense of the nation.  Only you can effectively repel the enemy attack.

But the situation worsens.  As you're attempting to rebuild your cities and keep production of goods and services going, you pick up enemy spies lurking within your midst on your video close-up monitor.  Can you effectively deal with them...even as more enemy missiles are approaching?

Your time is running out.

It's WAR ROOM.  The new high-technology Probe 2000 strategy game for the ColecoVision™ game system.  The game that's so realistic, generals might even play it.

Isn't it time you tested your skills?
PROBE 2000 series
(c) 1983 N.A.P. Consumer Electronics Corp. ODYSSEY, a North American Philips Company
Well, already I'm getting educated.  First post and already I've learned a few things.

First, in this matter, naturally Jason "" Scott has already beaten me to the punch...

Second -- as anyone with two eyes in their head can tell, this isn't a game for the '70s Odyssey home console, but for the '80s ColecoVision (a different story, the tragic cliche of a leather company gone amok).  Why the Odyssey branding?  Apparently parent company Philips (of the later CD-i) felt that rather than make games for their rapidly fading Odyssey consoles (of K.C. Munchkin! fame, the Pac-Man clone so derivatively awesome its sale had to be restricted by law), it could get a piece of the booming video game pie by making games for... successful platforms.  But just so everyone knows the score, let's saddle our Plan B with the deadly association to our defunct and failed brand! Who knows, maybe the laws of marketing are different in the Netherlands...

And finally  -- I figured I might not be the first to scan these, but... are you serious?  really, $10 for a page from an old comic for a failed video game?  Watermarked, to boot, this precious intellectual property!  I suppose if you spend enough of your life trying to claim title over all the garbage you can find (surely this scanner will eventually pay for itself!  Yes, but selling textures on Second Life, not this way!), eventually someone may give you money for one piece of it.

(Also: this game isn't even on Mobygames yet!  If I want to document the ad blurb there, first I have to throw together an entry about the game!  I must work, so I can enjoy my reward of... further work.)

And for anyone curious who heard me fuming on Google+, here is what my "punchier" (dunno about all the punching going on in this post, perhaps I should save it for a boxing game) condensed blog title might have been, executed in a fittingly amateurish mode:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hello, world!

Greetings!  I'm better-known online for my musical endeavours, but who says we can't have more than one nerdy pathology?  Nerd, band nerd, and as it turns out, video game and comic book nerd.

Through my early '20s, I accumulated an enormous quantity (well, six or seven of the vaunted "long boxes") of overstock from Golden Age Collectibles, the last man standing of the Granville Mall's counter-culture row.  For a nominal price of $2 or $5, you could pick up a mystery baggie of seven or eight leftover overstocked comics, of various ages, from various companies, and of wildly varying quality.  ("Mystery" since you could only see the bookend comics in the front and back, and not the filler.)  By and large they were old and of little-to-no commercial value beyond the nominal recouping achieved by dumping them on chumps like me, wholesale.  Still, they made for a compelling cross-section of an industry in flux.  And I accumulated enormous quantities of them on the cheap.

It's true that when you "collect" in this fashion, you end up paying for lots that you wouldn't ordinarily buy (heh, including more than a few duplicates, whose word bubbles were clipped for intended use in comic-collages such as Frank Eric Zeidler's "Eccolage"s of, gosh, a decade ago -- but that's another story), and of course only in accumulating a significant collection of them do you achieve anything remotely resembling the context needed to piece together overarching story arcs from one issue to the next.  But I felt I more than got my money's worth from them -- appreciating finds of works written or penciled by comics professionals "before they got famous" (eg. lots of interesting Sam Kieth cover art before he hit Maxx gold), determining that virtually any Batman title is worth reading, and learning that  when Image comics can't be appreciated for the reasons its creators intended, they can be appreciated for other reasons... and always drew some comfort in knowing that the boxes of pulp were nearby.

Now however we're making room in our house for a baby and all the things it will need and, well, it's not fair to expect to impose MY nostalgia on a rugrat who doesn't even exist yet.  The cream of the collection has been sequestered and the remainder is heading out.  But before it goes...

When I'm not making music and blogging, a lot of my mind is preoccupied with the intangible and out-of-time realm of old video games.  In my formative years I didn't spend so much time playing them, but perhaps worse -- craving to do so.  Not having gotten the crappy games out of my system by playing them into the ground and getting every penny's worth out of them, they always existed somewhat in the realm of my imagination, my conception of them informed not by their crummy gameplay but by evocative cover artwork and especially such advertising as I encountered in my immature world.  Partially in an effort to determine why such games as I loved growing up just aren't made anymore, I've ended up as an amateur video game historian joining all the archivists over at Mobygames, where we glumly catalogue game credits, screen shots and the like: we turn playing games into a kind of work!  But it's all history, and we're some of the only ones who believe that it's history worth documenting, and so we plug away connecting such dots as we can while most of the principle players are still alive and with us.  One thing we document there are transcriptions of ad blurbs for games, and as an indolent youth, my greatest exposure to video game ads was, naturally, in comic books.

To make a long story short, to squeeze the last drop of value out of my comic book collection, I've embarked on a campaign to scan all of the video game ads from their pages before consigning them to their sad fate.  (Apparently I'm not the only one...)  The ultimate fate of these scanned pages will be transcription to Mobygames, but in the meantime, I have all sorts of interesting context to share in association with the ads (and barring that, snarky asides to make about the advertising industry) -- subjective commentary tangential to the project which would never turn up in the historical record.  But I can't stifle it, so I'll maintain this blog to vent the comments that, if I had my druthers, would accompany the ad copy in bright flashing letters in the margins.