Saturday, July 28, 2018

Gaming Ads: Micro Sports and MicroLeague

I've been posting ads in alphabetical order by publisher but I see I messed up last week. Micro Sports should be ahead of Microillusions which I believe I originally had as two words and didn't realize when I switched it to one that my order got changed. I'll often have 4-5 of these posts written in advance and wasn't paying close enough attention. Today's two companies do fit together nicely in one post though so it's not too bad of a mix up.

Despite the similar names of this week's companies and the fact both focused on sports management titles, the two were initially not related. Micro Sports was based in Chattanooga, Tennessee and released its first game in 1991. It only released a handful of games, most of which were about managing college and professional football teams, before being acquired by MicroLeague in 1996.

Based in Delaware, MicroLeague was originally known as Micro League Sports Association (the space in Micro League is intentional) when it released its first game, MicroLeague Baseball, in 1984 for most home computers. The game is about managing baseball teams and it does feature the Major League Baseball license so all of the official teams and players are included which helped it stand out. MicroLeague followed it up with a few sequels and also developed management games about wrestling and football.

I'm a little unclear of the exact company history; a MicroLeague Multimedia was founded in 1989 and it would seem that was likely created to help the developer expand beyond sports software. MicroLeague Multimedia published software, books, and other media under the brands MicroLeague Interactive Software, AbleSoft, KidSoft, General Admission, Rabbit Ears, and APBA. In December 1997 MicroLeague Multimedia filed for bankruptcy and although the aforementioned AbleSoft survived, that was the end of the MicroLeague name.

Flickr album: Micro Sports
Flickr album: MicroLeague

Friday, July 27, 2018

[YouTube] Let's Play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge [Intellivision]


Today would be the 80th birthday of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), who passed away in 2008. Along with Dave Arneson, Gygax released the pen and paper role-playing game (RPG) in 1971. He also co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) in 1973 with Don Kaye and in 1977 began work on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). I've actually only played the pen and paper game one time which was back in the early '80s with my neighbor who was a big fan of D&D and had many of the action figures as well. However, being a gamer I've certainly experienced D&D through many computer and video games, including but not limited to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge (Intellivision), Pool of Radiance (C64), Warriors of the Eternal Sun (Genesis), Dark Sun (PC), Baldur's Gate (PC), and Neverwinter Nights (PC).

GamePro - November 1992 (the Dangerous
Journeys video game discussed in the
interview never released)

I chose to highlight the Intellivision game, which I'll abbreviate as AD&DC, in this post because it's the first AD&D game I played, though it is an action game rather than a RPG. As I mention in the video,  "cartridge" is actually part of the game's title and was likely added to help differentiate the video game from the pen and paper game products as it was required by TSR. TSR required ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS to be in all caps as well but I'm not going to write it that way, at least not outside of this sentence! Also, the subtitle "Cloudy Mountain" was later added to the title after a second AD&D game was developed for the Intellivision called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Cartridge.

Developed by APh Consulting and published by Mattel Electronics, AD&DC is one of my favorites and arguably one of the best games for the Intellivision and of its generation. In AD&DC the player is required to navigate through mountain caves to acquire an ax, boat, and key that allows them to cross the map and reach the Cloudy Mountain. Inside the final mountain are two pieces of the Crown of Kings guarded by winged dragons; once both pieces are acquired the game ends.


Each mountain features a random maze that is unveiled as players move and there is no telling which direction the path will twist and turn. This is important as the only weapon is a bow and arrow, and the arrows bounce off of walls and can easily fly back into the player's face injuring them. It's a risk to fire an arrow into a part of the map not yet uncovered but it can also be a life saver in order to avoid getting too close to enemies. Sound is where AD&DC shines as some enemies can be heard in the distance which builds tension and that's what may lead to firing arrows without knowing what's ahead. Arrows are limited, however, so depending on the situation it might be best not to waste them.


Although there is only one character, a second player can join the game since both controllers work at the same time. I'd often play with my neighbor with one of us controlling the movement and the other firing the arrows which is done using eight of the numbers on the keypad. The game has four difficulty settings and eight enemy types: bat, spider, rat, snake, blob, demon, dragon, and winged dragon. On the hardest difficulty the enemies are very fast so players have to react quickly. While the game has no scoring and thus no high scores to beat, the replay value is quite high due to the randomness of the mazes, the challenge presented on the higher difficulties, and the option to add a second player. Of course, it also helps that it's fun to play, plus it can be completed as quickly as 20 minutes or players can spend hours exploring all of the mountains littered across the map.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Year 2: July Update

Although it does not seem like it, it's already been about a month since the last update. I mentioned last time I wanted to make a LEGO video and I have been working on that this past week. I'm still missing a piece and mini-figures of what I want to show but the structure is 99% built. One key piece is a winch that I do have, it's just so tangled I'm struggling to get it unraveled. I may have to cut the string and replace it as there is no way I can even tell what's what since a second winch is involved. My recording room is a big mess right now too with LEGO toys all over the place as I'm trying to sort through them.

An impossible entanglement.
Mini-figures from the '80s!

It's been a full year since I launched the YouTube channel and I'm actually still going which is kind of surprising. Hopefully I'll have two videos up in the next eight days as I aim to post an Intellivision game video next week too with a brief blog post to accompany that. I don't usually do blog posts with "Let's Play" videos but I want to tie a few related things together with that video. The last gaming video I posted has no commentary; it's for Splashdown on the original Xbox where I try a variety of courses with most of the characters and then show one ending to the game. Splashdown is a game I played a lot on PlayStation 2 and then acquired a copy (with a shirt) from the publisher for Xbox so I played it again. Developed by racing specialists Rainbow Studios, it is one of the best Jet Ski titles and is still fun today.

Wrinkled Splashdown shirt for members of the press.
Published by Infogrames under the Atari brand.

As far as modern games, I've played a couple of smaller digital PC games over the past few weeks in Mini Metro and Letter Quest Remastered. Mini Metro doesn't end though I did go through all of the maps which are very simplistic as is the game but it's charming. I did complete Letter Quest which unfortunately doesn't have much of a story. It is similar to a combination of Boggle and Scrabble without a board. Players spell words to defeat enemies and do that over and over and over until the game ends. On PlayStation 4 I completed God of War though there is a lot of content in the game and I did not see it all as I'm under 50% completion. I've been messing around in Yakuza Kiwami lately. Back on PlayStation 2 I did finish the original Yakuza and I hadn't planned on playing the story a second time though I've been hooked as there is a decent amount of new content, most notably the pocket circuit racing that can also be found in Yakuza 0, more Majima, and fighting stances.

You might have noticed the site ads are gone. There were only ever three displayed and I don't think they were intrusive. However, they weren't generating any income so I disabled them. For the game ads, those continue to go well and I probably have another year's worth of publishers to get through, plus some extra stuff after that. I'm estimating it will be about six months before I post Sega's ads which will be a week dedicated to Sega, possibly one of two next year as the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Dreamcast is a little over a year away. The 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast's Japan release is this year so I could do something then though I'll likely wait until 9/9/19 for a bunch of Dreamcast coverage.

7/29/18 UPDATE: I'm going to delay the LEGO video a week though I did actually film it once thus far and it is close to being ready. I need to retake some photos and film it again to tighten it up, and just don't have too much time left today. I'm not sure how great the video will turn out but I think the blog post will have some good photos to check out.

-Jonathan

Gaming Ads: Merit Software, MGM Interactive, and Microillusions

Merit Software was a Texas-based publisher that was active from 1989 to 1996. In 1994 it changed its name to Merit Studios and opened a branch in Europe. The European location not only published games though, it also developed a few with the best known game being the Super NES port of Codemasters' Micro Machines.

Founded in 1924, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, is best known for its production and distribution of films and television shows. In 1994 it entered the video game industry with the founding of MGM Interactive, a division that primarily distributed games and worked with game publishers to leverage its properties. The MGM Interactive logo may also appear on the packaging of games based on Orion properties as MGM acquired Orion Pictures and its game division Orion Interactive in 1997. MGM dropped the "Interactive" branding in 2007.

Microillusions was founded in the late '80s by Jim Steinert and published computer games, as well as multimedia software for the Amiga, from 1987-1989. It's most popular game was likely The Faery Tale Adventure which was programmed by David Joiner who did contract work for the company. That game was also released on the Sega Genesis by Electronic Arts.

Flickr album: Merit Software
Flickr album: MGM Interactive
Flickr album: Microillusions

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gaming Ads: Melbourne House and Meldac of America

Melbourne House was founded in 1977 by Naomi Besen and Alfred Milgrom, and as the name suggests, was based in Melbourne, Australia. It started as a book publisher but quickly got into games distribution and created the subsidiary Beam Software in 1980. While Melbourne House concentrated on computer software, Beam got into console development in the late '80s. I'm not too familiar with the company's computer games though one thing that stands out in its library of 300+ games is that it did publish games based Tolkien's writings, such as The Hobbit (1982), The Fellowship of the Ring (1986), and War in Middle-Earth (1989), and Beam developed Riders of Rohan (1991).

In 1987 Mastertronic, which later joined Virgin Games, acquired Melbourne House's publishing division with Beam Software continuing as an independent developer. Virgin let the Melbourne House name go in 1996 and Beam revived it as a publishing brand, and then Infogrames purchased it from Beam in 1999 renaming it Infogrames Melbourne House. Beam Software changed its name in 2000 to Blaze International with a shift from games to other software applications. As I've discussed in previous ad posts, Infogrames took the Atari name and thus Infogrames Melbourne House eventually became Atari Melbourne House. Due to financial difficulties Atari sold off many divisions; Melbourne House was purchased by Krome Studios in 2006 before being closed in 2010.

Meldac is a Japanese company founded in 1990 that released around six games, though the U.S. division only published three games in North America: Heiankyo Alien (GB), Mercenary Force (GB), and Zombie Nation (NES). The company did advertise a fair amount as I actually have seven different ads covering those three games. Today Meldac appears to still be active as a music label for a company called Tri-M.

Flickr album: Melbourne House
Flickr album: Meldac of America

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Gaming Ads: Maxis, Mc O'River, and Medalist International

Founded in 1987 by Will Wright and Jeff Braun, Maxis released its first game SkyChase in 1988. While its first game might not be well remembered, Maxis quickly became a household name with the release of its second game. In 1989 SimCity was self-published by Maxis on some platforms as most publishers didn't expect a game with no defined goals or ending to be so popular. Maxis became synonymous with the simulation genre as it went on to release SimEarth, SimFarm, SimAnt, SimLife, and a few SimCity sequels. It did develop other games as well, and published games by other developers. Despite the SimCity series being a huge hit, the company had a number of failures too and was not in great financial shape when it was acquired in 1997 by Electronic Arts (EA).

As a development studio and publishing brand of Electronic Arts, Maxis created The Sims which would go on to become one of the best selling computer game series of all-time. However, Electronic Arts closed down Maxis branches beginning in 2004 and Will Wright left the company in 2009. The name Maxis is still around but it's more of a collection of other EA studios with The Sims Studio acting as the lead on all games involving The Sims franchise. Will Wright announced this past March that he is working on a mobile game called Proxi. I only have a couple ads from Maxis, in part because it published more computer games than console games and many of my magazines are console focused. Therefore, this post also includes a couple of other companies.

Mc O'River was a publisher and distributor that brought games from its parent company, the Japan-based Video System, to North America, though it did not release many games at all. Its first release was AeroFighters (aka Sonic Wings) in 1993, then Hyper V-ball in 1994, and beyond that I'm not sure. I've got an ad for Super Vollyball (1991) on the Sega Genesis that lists Mc O'River as the distributor but most media sites credit Sega as the publisher so I would think Sega would have distributed it. In any case, the company name changed to Video System USA in 1997 when it released AeroFighters Assault for the Nintendo 64. That appears to be the last game though the ads for that will appear later when I post a separate album for Video System.

Medalist International was a division of MicroProse Software that marketed and distributed games for other publishers, most notably Paragon Software (later acquired by MicroProse), Hewson Consultants, and Firebird Software. The ads could fall under the other companies but I believe Medalist is the one responsible for them since they all say "New From Medalist International" ahead of the publisher's name. There will be many more Paragon ads later when I post a separate album, with most of those placing Medalist International or MicroProse in small print under the Paragon name. The Medalist name also appears in a bunch of ads I'll be posting in a few weeks under MicroPlay, another MicroProse brand.

Flickr album: Maxis
Flickr album: Mc O'River
Flickr album: Medalist International

Sunday, July 1, 2018

[YouTube] Commodore VICMODEM


Commodore released the VICMODEM (Commodore goes all caps so I'll stick with it) in March 1982 for its VIC-20 computer, though it also works on the Commodore 64 (C64) and 128. The VIC-20 launched in 1981 for $299 and the manual states that with the modem the two combined cost under $410 so my best guess is the modem retailed for approximately $110. While other modems certainly existed at the time, it was still new technology for most home computer users. This modem varies from later dial-up modems that would have the phone plug into it and then another cable would run from the modem to the jack. For the VICMODEM, users must disconnect the line from the telephone handset and plug that into the single port. The maximum baud rate of the modem is 300 bps (bits per second). If I understand all of this correctly, a 28.8 Kbps modem -- common in the '90s and what I used when I first played Starsiege: Tribes in 1999 -- is about 100 times faster than a 300 baud modem. Broadband speeds vary but if you aren't familiar with the speeds of modems before broadband, figure a cable modem is 35,000 times faster than the VICMODEM.

 

Packaged with the modem was a cassette tape containing software for the VIC-20 computer on one side and the C64 on the other, and a free subscription to CompuServe. CompuServe was an early online service founded in 1969 and later owned by H&R Block. The free subscription only included one hour on its information service, though apparently using other features, such as Commodore's network, were not part of that hour. I've never used it but I believe it was comparable to America Online which I expect is far better known. I do have a variety of ads for CompuServe that I'll post to Flickr after I get through all of the game ads. There were a number of activities that the service could be used for, all things that can be accomplished on today's Internet: invest, shop, use forums, book flights, read news, etc.

I've mentioned in the past that I inherited my C64 and the modem came with it. Otherwise, I don't expect I would have even known modems existed at the time. What I did with the modem was connect directly to terminals run by other home users. People would essentially host a server, or bulletin board as they are often called, that users would call through their phone line and once connected they could access what the host provided. That could be message boards, software to download, or an online game to play. The only game I can recall was named Empire (I think!) where players attacked and defended a kingdom. It was completely text and turn-based as players would select what to do with their troops, log off, then log back in later to see what happened. So who were these people hosting servers? They could really be anybody but the majority I was calling were probably high school kids using their parent's phone. In fact, sometimes when I'd call an adult would answer rather than a computer and I'd hang up immediately, of course.

 


Since the modem worked like a phone, calling far away would result in a long distance charge and therefore I was calling numbers of nearby locations in Connecticut. I think I was using the modem around 1987 when I would have been 12 and it would have been my neighbor who was in high school at the time that was able to provide some numbers to call. Each host would provide a name for their site and I still have a list of 23 of the hosts I'd call when I was a kid. Some names aren't very creative, such as Paradise, Country Club, and Flipside. Others are a little more fun, like Paisley Socks, Metal Mansion, Midnight Express, and The Phantom's Opera House. Then it was likely the cool nerds with the names Thunderdome, Xanadu, Excalibur, and Demon's Domain III.

It's amazing to see where we are today when it comes to technology. For myself and likely everyone else interested in gaming, it's really been a lot of fun to be able to experience the significant growth of computers and gaming over the past four decades. For those that were born in the past 20 years, it's likely a bit difficult to understand just how slow modems were at one time and appreciate where we're at today. Though most houses have phone jacks, I'm not even sure if today's kids would know how an old telephone functions. I wish I could have demonstrated how this works but with my C64 out of commission and the fact that I don't have a phone or a landline, and there wouldn't be an active server to call either, I'm not sure if it's possible to get it to make noise. My photos lack a phone too but I do still have a phone handset cord so I added that to a few. I've got scans of much of the paperwork as well, though I only scanned the cover and first few pages of the 24-page manual since those are the most entertaining.