Sunday, May 12, 2013

And now for something completely different: a garage sale find!

In the interests of striking while the iron is hot, now that we've left that kathartic LucasArts garment-ripping behind us (and phew! don't we feel better for it now!), here are a couple of neat curios from a garage sale this weekend. First off, we have a dedicated Tetris TV game with two joysticks! If you can have one game in dedicated form, Tetris is a good one, with endless replay value. (Contrast: my Intellivision TV game, which gathers together a dozen titles for which nostalgia is the only motivation to investigate. This one we may actually plug in and play sometime.) Because there are as many versions of Tetris as there are drops of water in the ocean, it's interesting to speculate which version lies behind these joysticks. The ones first to mind are of course the big splash early releases: Spectrum Holobyte's MS-DOS conversion, the version included in the Windows Entertainment Pack, the "killer app" Game Boy port which made the plucky but gutless handheld the longest-in-production console ever (though Pokémon probably helped a bit), the licensed NES one and of course the superior but forbidden Tengen NES port of what you might have seen in the arcade.

(Trivia: while trying to conduct some research into the provenance of the "traditional" Russian melodies present in the game, I was having a hard time determining the source of two songs in Tengen's version, Bradinsky and Logginsky. Then I realised that the game was programmed by Ed Logg (of Asteroids fame) with music by Brad Fuller, who it turns out had come up with two new Old Country tunes (an urge I can sympathise with) and named them in Soviet homage-ski, comrade. They are still good tunes, though better suited to computer rendition than live performance, but well worth dancing the hopak to, as cuckoo-clock Cossacks demonstrate between levels.)

These games (still an enigma, until I dig up some batteries to bring them to life) probably aren't any of these versions, emblazoned as they are with Roger Dean's (of Yes album art and Psygnosis cover art) logo used by Electronic Arts licensed adaptations over the past decade, themselves often different despite flying the same flag, so to speak. We'll find out when I get around to plugging it in, which I understand to many people might be a lower bar to analysing something than blogging about it. (Thanks to my years of archiving and scholarship, however, I possess the uncanny ability to hold forth at great length about games that I haven't even played. I can also intelligently discuss movies I have only experienced in review form. Firsthand experience? Maybe it's overrated.)

The second item is more compelling, and was nearly overlooked completely -- I wouldn't have caught it, but my somewhat less-blindered partner found it among a box of wallpaper (where I would never have been looking in the first place). Now put down your Angry Birds coffee mug and think back to the summer of 1980 and the first great video game franchising success. It's Pac-Man! And now you can decorate an entire wall of your son's rumpus room after his theme! The maze is represented intelligently, depicting a largely possible game (based on pellets eaten thus far, though admittedly how the upper left got the way it is remains a bit of a mystery -- probably just cleaned up for less conflict with the foreground scene), the fruit bonuses are legit, the ghosts are presented in both hunter and prey mode (*love* the way Pac-Man is stowing Inky under his arm -- sorry, too busy chowing down on Pinkie, will attend to you in a moment... I'm convinced that this Carnival role-reversal really is the soul of Pac-Man's appeal), and the copyright notice all checks out. The only head-scratcher is softie Pac-Man on the bottom of the maze. Power Pellet Pac has eyebrows, bare feet, and well-defined gloved fingers, while Softie wears red booties, his gloves have devolved to little clouds, his eyebrows have turned into bangs blowing in the breeze, and overall his face looks caved in, as though some ghost, instead of merely sucking our Pac-Man's soul and draining a few levels with his wraith-like touch, instead punched him in the kisser. A Homesar to Pac-Man's Homestar Runner. A mystery.

The pattern tiles, with the blue ghost's bottom overlapping with the bottom right of the maze and the apple bonus breaking through the top right of the maze, yielding a pleasant ABAB repetition. As to the question of who would use this wallpaper, and to paper what room exactly, we are left somewhat in suspense. The Internet knows very little about this wallpaper -- the one other person who has found a roll optimistically believes it to be worth $60. (It's hard to price unique items, but I appreciate that you don't want to lowball yourself, especially in regards to collectibles.) Now that there are two known specimens, perhaps its value will drop to $30. Our purchase price was $2 negotiated down to $1, a fair price for a fun, kooky curio. (The optimist reminds me of the small-town Saskatchewan bookseller from whom I purchased a half-dozen $1.50 gamebooks. On his shelves I also found an unpriced copy of an Endless Quest gamebook featuring Tarzan, whose fandom I am given to understand have increased the demand on this particular volume. I was expecting the book to be priced similarly to the other ones I picked up, but the bookseller insisted on visiting Amazon to get a baseline impression of what to charge for it. It told him $80 (seems to have dropped somewhat in the meantime), a price he was unable to recount to me without some incredulity, and I wished him luck finding that elusive, delusional (a combination demanding its own portmanteau) Amazon buyer. You see the same phenomenon taking effect on second-hand late-run Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf gamebooks, with what should be $2 paperbacks being priced in the hundreds of dollars range due to smaller print runs and a culture of completionist collectors. But I digress.)

I have a couple of other new acquisitions to parade before you, but maybe I should toss up some quick comic book video game ads interspersed between them so I can claim to be at least 50% on-topic.