Tag Archives: video games

Vintage Electronics Art and a Contest!

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the cool electronic gadgets from the late 70s and early 80s, stuff like Simon, Speak & Spells, and those neat mini table-top versions of games like Galaga and Pac-Man.  It seems like I keep coming back to them, whether it’s after spotting them in the Awesome Bedrooms I’ve been dissecting lately (like the Speak & Spell in Poltergeist, the Super Simon in E.T. or the table-top Pac-Man in Flight of the Navigator), or after getting my very first Simon as a gift from my girlfriend’s parents this past Christmas.  So I was pretty stoked when I stumbled upon this rad series of screen printed posters from Boiling Point Creative called *Batteries Not Included…

Boiling Point 4

Highlighting such great games like Parker Brother’s Merlin, Texas Instruments’ Little Professor, Mattel’s Electronic Football, Coleco’s Galaga, and Milton Bradley’s Simon, this series of three prints is packed with nostalgic eye candy.  Though I never had most of these as a kid (I had a damaged Speak & Spell that I got in a trade for a bit before it stopped working), I used to drool over and covet the few my friends had.  In particular I remember I was always finding an excuse to being up math questions at my friend Ajay’s house so that he’d let me use his Litter Professor to find the answer.

Boiling Point 1

My favorite in this series is the table-top arcade games though.  I think I’d actually love a single print highlighting just that Galaga game as it’s probably my favorite video game of all time…

Boiling Point 2

This series is also available as a series of hand-printed greeting cards too which would be an awesome way of keeping in touch with your vintage-minded gaming friends…

Boiling Point 5

Contest!

So, I’ve partnered with the nice folks at Boiling Point for a little contest.  They’ve agreed to give a lucky Branded reader one print of their choice from this series!  To enter all you have to do is, like the Branded in the 80s Facebook page and then E-Mail me a picture of yourself with your favorite vintage handheld or table top electric game (it can be a picture from when you were a kid getting them for a birthday or Christmas, or a picture of you with your favorite piece(s) from your vintage collection.)  I’ll do a followup post showcasing all the images sent in and I’ll pick one lucky entry at random on Wednesday the 26th of February.  So get digging though your childhood pictures, break out your phone and take a selfie with your vintage game and good luck!

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

8-bit christmas

First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

8-bit christmas 2

Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…

Filed Under, “WTF, why didn’t I know this!”

After writing about some of my favorite arcade games on Monday and talking with you guys about some of yours it came to my attention that there are a lot of pretty radical games that I missed out on over the years.  One in particular made my jaw drop though as I’d never even realized it existed.  Thanks to Tom Krohne for pointing me to the fact that a multiplayer Real Ghostbusters Arcade Game actually exists!

RGBAG Small

Also, while I’m on the subject, I love these dealer ads meant for the various arcades and pizza joints.  “3-Player Simultaneous Play for increased earning power!”  “The Real Ghostbusters Logo increases initial attraction to game play!”  You can read that last factoid as: “By the way, the actual game play barely features Ghostbusters-esque characters, none of which are wearing cartoon accurate colors, so at least the logo will get kids popping quarters in!”

Anyway, thanks again Tom, now I have to track one of these bad boys down…

I’ve rigged all the cabinets so you won’t need tokens…

Getting back into the swing of things around here and as luck would have it this week’s League assignment is a real peach!  Submitted by Jason over at Rediscover the 80s (who just started a pretty rad podcast that I totally am way behind in pimping), the topic is all about building a dream arcade in our homes.  Though I’m not much of a gamer these days, I did spend a decent amount of time playing the stand-up cabinets at the local pizza joints, mall arcades, Showbiz and Chuck E. Cheese’s, and even in the converted utility closet of the 7-Eleven that was in my neighborhood growing up.  That being said, my dream arcade would probably fit in a utility closet now that I think about it…

So what would be in my dream arcade closet?  Only four cabinets.  Well, three cabinets and one cocktail table unit.  First up, the classic (at least for me), Galaga…

Galaga Small

This is my go-to game when I’m in the mood for a truly old school arcade experience.  It’s also the game I judge most pizza places on.  Sure, if a place makes a good NY style pizza, that’s good, but if there are arcade cabinets in the joint and Galaga is missing, so too will be my patronage.  For my money (and I will drop a considerable amount of coinage in a Galaga cabinet when I have a belly full of pizza) there no better combination than securing that double spaceship with the taste of sausage and onion in my mouth that was just recently washed down with coke sipped out of a clear red plastic cup.  Just a bit of heaven if you ask me.

Plucking some similar pizza place-centric nostalgia heart strings would be securing a Mrs. Pac-Man cocktail sit-down table.  Faux wood grain trim would be essential too…

Mrs Pacman Cocktail

Can’t count the number of times I played a unit that looked just like this while waiting for my personal pan pizza at my local Orlando area Pizza Hut as a kid.  Did I mention that the personal pan pizza in question would have invariable been free based on my appetite for reading and the Pizza Hut Book It program…

Now the next cabinet is not an arcade game in the strictest sense, but it did provide an arcade experience, and that’s the Nintendo PlayChoice-10…

PlayChoice-10

This unit was basically a way for Nintendo to “advertise” for the NES system by housing it and 10 games into one arcade cabinet.  We had one in my local 7-Eleven when I was growing up and it’s where I spent a good deal of time playing games like Ducktales, Goonies II, and more importantly Lifeforce.  I also learned a neat trick where if you could pull both of the joysticks to the right and mash down all the buttons you’d get free timed play on a handful of the games in the cabinet.  I used this method to play a shitton of Lifeforce before breaking down and begging my mom for an at-home copy of the game.  In other words, mission accomplished Nintendo.

Rounding out my dream arcade would be my favorite arcade game ever, a 6-player X-Men game cabinet…

X-Men Small

Not only was this game based on Pryde of the X-Men, my favorite X-Men cartoon of all time (the one-shot failed pilot produced by the wonderful folks over at Sunbow), but it features one of my favorite X-Men characters, the much underrated Dazzler.  My four friends during middle and high school were all X-Men nerds like me, so between the five of us we used to rock the crap out of this game at our local arcade/go cart track called Malibu Grand Prix.  All of us would beg our parents to go there for birthdays just so that we could spend a couple hours plunking quarters into the above machine.  I’m pretty sure we even came close to beating it one or two times.  Hands down some of my favorite arcade experiences surrounded time at the joystick playing either Wolverine or Dazzler.

About 10 years ago I ran across a very reasonably priced 6-Player X-Men cabinet, but was plagued with the ultimate nerd conundrum of how to justify a car payment on something so big and loud that would be next to impossible to move without a professional team and a forklift.  In the end I passed, but there has always been a part of me that regretted it…

So there you have it.  The Branded in the 80s Arcade.  Small, sure.  But for me, arcade heaven.  Pass me a slice of sausage and onion, and don’t worry, I’ve rigged all the cabinets so you don’t need tokens!

If you liked my shenanigans this week, why not check out these other rad League participants…

Pax, Cavalcade of Awesome (and my rad Cult Film Club co-host), lists his top 10 arcade games!

Classick Material, Cold Slither Podcast, goes the extra step and makes a fantasy show about his favorites!

Rich, The Nerd Nook, Moonwalks over to the 7-Eleven to play some Street Fighter II!

Kal, Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, has a bone to pick with Dragon’s Lair!

Being Re-Gifted My childhood, Part 1

I’ll be honest, for a guy who runs a site dedicated to his love of the 80s even I will admit that it’s weird how much of a void there is of personal vintage junk in my collection.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve acquired a bunch of stuff over the years that I cherish, but when I look over everything that I have, very little of it is stuff that survived with me through the decades.  Whether it was from my own collection purging, trading, damage, or stuff “lost” in moves (my parent’s favorite excuse for chucking my toys over the years), I only have a handful of things that have been with me forever.  There are a few kid’s paperbacks (Samantha Slade: Monster Sitter, the Lost boys novelization, and a copy of Which Way Batman), some of my sisters records, my Wicket plush, and this 5″ by 5″ square of what’s left of my original woobie…

I have a lot more of my stuff from my high school years, but I do regret not keeping a tighter grip on the stuff I had when I was a little kid.  Well, this past week I was given a couple of rare gifts by a friend (we’ll call him D) who I’ve known since I we were in the 8th grade together.  Over the years we’ve seen less and less of each other even though we only live about 15 miles apart.  You know, life gets in the way and junk.  D is about to have his second child, little D numero 2, and if I had to guess he is looking to clear out as much space as he can find to make room for the new arrival.  Well, he sent me a facebook message asking me if I wanted to take something off his hands.  That something just happened to be an Atari 2600 video game console and a bucket full of games and peripherals that have been gathering dust in his garage.  The thing is, and he knew this obviously, this particular Atari system (and 8 of those games) used to be mine before I gave them to him back in middle school.

I was never an avid gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but there were two game systems that I played a whole hell of a lot, the NES for the most part, but I, like so many other folks growing up in the 70s and 80s, was weaned on the Atari 2600.  I first bought the exact system, controller and the 8 games you see pictured with it below at a garage sale when I was six.  It was 1983, and we’d just moved to Orlando from Tampa.  I didn’t really have any friends yet, and it was kind of boring and lonely in the new house.  Heck, our cat Smokey who had just made the trip with us immediately ran away, so I was sort of in a funk.  One Saturday I ventured out into the neighborhood though, and there was a guy down the street trying to sell the last bits of stuff at a garage sale.  There was a table with the Atari inside a faux-wood paneled Game Center box.  I’d had plenty of experience with the system playing one that was hooked up to a TV in the rec room of a public pool back in Tampa, and for some reason I never imagined having my own at home.  I asked the guy how much it was and he thoughtfully scratched his chin and squinted at me (at least that’s how I “remember” his expression in my mind) before saying “Ten Bucks Kid.”  I asked him to hold it and I sprinted back home to beg for the money from my dad, who quickly relented.  I ran back, slapped the ten buck on the table (again, probably artistic license with my foggy memory) and stole home with the system held high above my head.

As I mentioned, the console had eight games included, Combat, Surround, Berserk, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Chopper Command, and the much maligned E.T. and Atari port of Pac-Man.  For some reason I never acquired any more games, and I was pretty content with these for the next three years until I scored my first Nintendo system.  Back in 1990-91 when I gave the Atari to D, I didn’t think much of it.  Heck, at that point I said had a fair number of my original childhood toys and never thought I’d miss the clunky wood-paneled beauty.  Fast forward 23 years and I can certainly attest to missing the ever-living hell out of it.  I mean, it’s not like I was lying awake at night wondering where it was, but from time to time when I’d see people blog or podcast about their vintage systems I would feel a little pain in my heart.  So when D asked if I wanted the system back after all these years I was pretty damn floored.  When I drove over to pick it up I did everything in my power not to point at it and say something stupid like, “There, there it is, that thing, those beautiful things that I used to have in my house back in Florida, look at it, it’s right there, that thing that I had when I was six!”  Those where statements that I made in the car on the way home though, just saying.

As soon as I got home, I immediately cleaned off a table, took out the system and very gingerly cleaned her up.  There was a massive amount of dirt and grime on it, but with a little warm water and a crap ton of paper towels I was able to get it looking almost like new.  To be honest, I have no idea if the system will even run anymore, and even if it will, if I’ll be able to hook it up to my TV (the vintage R/F switch is looking pretty rough.)  But really, this system isn’t so much about playing it as it is about just having it again, a little reminder of what it was like to be six with my very own copy of Pac-Man, even if it was a super shitty version of the game.  I remember playing Chopper Command, and having to flip a switch on the back of the actual console to change the rate at which my helicopter fired (short bursts or those long laser blasts.)  There was so much joyous frustration trying not to touch the walls in Berserk.  And to this day I still have no idea how the hell you get all the pieces to make the damn phone rig in E.T.

If I ever do get it running there was an included extra surprise of about 50 extra games that D had amassed over the years.  Here’s a few snapshots of what I would call the cream of the crop…

  

 

I can’t thank D enough, and to my amazement, there was another amazing piece of my childhood that came along with the Atari that I’ll be writing about in part two of this article later this week, or next.  Stay tuned.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a place of honor for the Atari in Branded HQ…

Up, Up, Down Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

So this is pretty much just a gimmie entry.  I had a pretty full day; sat at the park and fed the geese (getting a few snips to the fingers in the process, damn hungry Canadian freaking geese), ate at a pretty pricey Japanese buffet, Badayori, and then went out to pick up fixins for some Breakfast Tacos (from Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Cooking School on the Sin City extended DVD), so I didn’t really have a bunch of ideas swimming inmy head to write about.

I decided that this would be a good time to cull the memory banks for the first bit of nostalgia that I could bring up and ↑,↑,↓,↓,?,→,?,→,B,A,Start the fabled and oft used Konami Code. I’m not sure if “start” is officially part of the code, but it’s what I always hit after typing it in, so it’s part of it in my memory.

I guess this entry really isn;t about the code as much as it’s about the NES game system and games in particular. I had an Atari 2600 that I bought from a garage sale growing up, but it never really hooked me like the NES did. Sure I loved Chopper Command, the horrible port of Pac-Man, Bezerk, and Combat, but it was the NES that had me so engulfed that I’d frequently find myself spitting out obsenetites at Koopa Troopas and that damn over-heat function in Excitebike. I remember playing Super Mario so much that I could baically not look at the screen when I played. Getting the 100+ lives was a snap (what the hell did the lives count thing turn into after 99, a key and crown, a melting ice-cube?) And I used the Zapper gun enough that something inside broke and you didn’t have to aim anymore. If you pulled the trigger and pointed at anything the damn ducks would be falling out of the sky in Duck Hunt.

What kills me is that even though I played a fair bit of games on the Nintendo 16-bit system and enough Golden Eye to make my trigger finger bleed on the N64, I pretty much fell out of love with Nintendo over the years. Mostly because the style of games that I love, side scrollers in particular, are a thing of the past. I was a kid at just the right time for the NES, and it pretty much fulfilled my every video game need. I am so not a fan of 1st person shooters, cut scenes and X-Station Play Boxes. I bought a Game Cube, mostly to play the ports of old NES games (my collection of games is pretty much limited to the Mega-Man collection, the Namco Museum and Animal Crossing for all the classic NES games you can get and play.)

I guess I’m sort of looking forward to the Wii, though only because I’ve heard rumors that you can access the entire Nintendo back log of games for free via the internet, but if that’s not the case, I guess this will be the first time I’m not growing with Nintendo. And let me tell you, the Wii system looks mighty scary to me, mainly because the game control looks really wiggy (a remote control and a weird thumb joystick/trigger thing with no wires.) Did Nintendo not learn fromthe Power Glove? Man my arm got so tired from using that thing that I thought I’d cry. It was torture. So now you have to weild the remote like a sword in Zelda? What if I move my hand to scratch my ass with the controller? Is Link going to freak out and try and cut off his pants?