Saturday, August 25, 2018

Gaming Ads: Midway

Chicago-based Midway Manufacturing built amusement games, such as Skee-ball and air gun types of games, as early as the late '50s. In 1969 it was acquired by pinball specialists Bally Manufacturing and in the early '70s began to develop video games for arcades with assistance from Dave Nutting Associates. Midway designed one of the early video game consoles as well, the Bally Professional Arcade, better known as Bally Astrocade, released in 1977. The company also distributed popular Japanese arcade games in North America, such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Bally merged its business with Midway in 1982 to form Bally Midway Manufacturing, the company that would release arcade hits like Wizard of Wor, Gorf, Spy Hunter, Rampage, and a couple games based on the Tron movie.

Bally Midway was purchased by Williams Electronics (Defender, Joust, Robotron) in 1988 at which time the Bally pinball portion of the company was absorbed by Williams and Midway Games was born. During the '90s Midway had great success in games like Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and NFL Blitz. The home versions of its arcade games were often published by Acclaim or Williams Entertainment, a subsidiary of WMS Industries (parent company of Williams Electornics), which was renamed to Midway Home Entertainment in 1996. Following a very profitable decade, Midway began purchasing other development studios as it expanded its home video game business.

Unfortunately, Midway started falling on hard times shortly after its rapid expansion. I'll spare you all of the financial dealings that occurred between 2005-08 and jump to 2009 at which time the long time game maker filed for bankruptcy. Warner Bros. purchased most of Midway's assets and THQ took over Midway's San Diego studio. The remaining Midway branches were sold off throughout the year and its headquarters were shut down with most employees being laid off. Midway's Chicago development studio was part of the Warner Bros. acquisition and is today known as NetherRealm Studios. NetherRealm continues to develop games in the Mortal Kombat series plus Injustice, a 2D fighting game that features DC Comics characters.

Midway is one of the more difficult companies to try and summarize as it has had a variety of names. I'm including all versions of Midway here, though you can find other ads based on Midway's properties in the Acclaim ads album and there will be a few more when I get to Williams Entertainment.

Flickr album: Midway

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Year 2: August Update

With a month of summer remaining the big holiday game releases are about to start hitting. Sega released Shenmue I & II today and I'm very interested in it but the timing is terrible. This would have been a much better June/July release and I might just have to wait until next summer to play it ahead of Shenmue III which now has a tentative release date of August 27, 2019. The games I may or may not be playing over the next few months:

  • Shenmue I & II (8/21)
  • Yakuza Kiwami 2 (8/28)
  • Marvel's Spider-Man (9/7)
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (9/14)
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4 (9/25)
  • Forza Horizon 4 (9/28 - Ultimate Edition; 10/2 - Standard Edition)
  • Assassin's Creed Odyssey (10/2)
  • Soul Calibur VI (10/16)
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 (10/26)
  • Hitman 2 (11/9)
  • Fallout 76 (11/14)
  • Battlefield V (11/20)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I really doubt I'll have time to play them all or at least not all to completion right away. For Battlefield I'll stick to the single-player stories and Soul Calibur is mostly something I just mess around with as I'm not generally into fighting games. Soul Calibur is usually worth viewing for the graphics and this one has The Witcher's Geralt as a guest character. Spider-Man and Forza Horizon 4 will likely be the best exclusives for all audiences this holiday season, though keep in mind Spider-Man is rated "T" by the ESRB for blood, violence, language, and drug reference; therefore it's not really for the young kids despite starring one of the more kid-friendly superheroes. Since I don't have a Switch I won't be playing Nintendo games but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be its biggest holiday release on December 7th.

Marvel's Spider-Man
Forza Horizon 4

The past couple weeks I played through The Banner Saga 1, 2, and 3 twice each on the PlayStation 4. Although there are three games, it really feels like three chapters of a single game. It's a strategy role-playing series where you manage a caravan (actually two in each game) on a journey to find sanctuary while keeping ahead of an approaching darkness that is overtaking the fictional world inspired by Viking lore. You view the caravan as it automatically moves across a side-scrolling screen and random events occur where you make selections in dialog boxes and sometimes enter turn-based combat from an isometric perspective. One aspect of the game that could be tough to swallow is how characters can die in an instant from what seem like harmless choices. It's especially painful if the character is one that was promoted as you have a minimal amount of renown (experience) to use on leveling up and purchasing supplies. Characters actually cannot die in combat, they simply become injured when defeated.

The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga

Balancing my game time with my blog time is a challenge, especially with YouTube which I'm sure I mention every month. Of course, I always bring up the broken Commodore 64 too that I still don't know how to fix. I ordered a part because I physically damaged something while poking around inside and it's one of the most common causes of the black screen so maybe, just maybe it will solve my problem (9/1/18 update: it did not fix my problem). As far as upcoming blog articles I should have some magazine reviews of early Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest) games the first week of September. Well, that's not a lot so I'll have to come up with more in between playing as many of the aforementioned games as I can!

Over on the toy side I also need to come up with something to cover. It's been a few weeks since I posted about the LEGO Castle sets and while I have an idea of my next toy post, I don't want to make any promises until I check to see if it still works. Speaking of LEGO, a new Star Wars set called Betrayal at Cloud City was unveiled this week. The 18 minifigures and Boba Fett's ship look great, too bad it is $349.99...that is not a typo. If you regularly buy LEGO products then the price might not be a shock or perhaps the price of a LEGO set is always a shock regardless. It's part of the Master Builder series, has 2,812 pieces, and is scheduled for an October 1st release.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any feedback or suggestions about the blog!

-Jonathan

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Gaming Ads: Microsoft and MidNite Entertainment Group

Microsoft was founded in 1975 (as Micro-Soft) by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. The company moved from New Mexico to Bellevue, Washington in 1979 and was incorporated in 1981. It was also in 1981 that IBM released the first personal computer that used PC DOS as the operating system. PC DOS was IBM's name for MS-DOS, which was the operating system (OS) Microsoft purchased from Seattle Computer Products. Of course, today everyone knows Microsoft for its Windows operating system which was first introduced in 1985, though it wasn't really until Windows 3.0 released in 1990 that the OS started to become a household name.

As far as gaming, Microsoft released a text-based adventure in 1979 aptly titled Microsoft Adventure. Its second game was Microsoft Decathlon, 1981's release of PC DOS included a racing title, and 1982 saw the first release in the long running Microsoft Flight Simulator series that was developed by subLogic. Microsoft released a variety of software products over the years with its most popular products arguably being Microsoft Solitaire and Minesweeper which were often installed on computers with the Windows OS. Some its flagship releases of the '90s include Microsoft Golf (1992) from Access Software (Links), Terminal Reality's Monster Truck Madness (1996), Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires (1997), Rainbow Studios' Motocross Madness (1998), Angel Studios' Midtown Madness (1999), and the MMO Asheron's Call (1999) from Turbine Entertainment.

Along with games, Microsoft also released numerous PC gaming controllers with its line of SideWinder products that ran from 1995 to 2003. Aside from having its OS Windows CE inside the Sega Dreamcast, Microsoft wasn't too involved with console gaming until November 15, 2001 when its own game console Xbox hit store shelves. The Xbox was the first console with a built-in hard drive and an Ethernet port. Some of the console exclusive games for the Xbox include Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Crimson Skies, Fable, Forza Motorsport, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Shenmue II, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and Jet Set Radio Future. Perhaps the most significant contribution the original Xbox made to games was its online service Xbox Live that began in 2002 and was the prime example for competitors to mimic in future generations.

As Microsoft's first console and the only one on the market made by an American company, the Xbox faced tough competition from Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube but it got an early jump in the next console generation by being first to the market with the Xbox 360 in 2005. The success of the 360 solidified Microsoft as a major player in console gaming, though it did stumble in launching its third system the Xbox One. Although much more can be said about Microsoft, I think this is a good overview and I'm going to wrap it up here. I don't have too many Microsoft ads since I focus on pre-2000 which obviously pre-dates the Xbox. That's why I've added a second company to this post, though for that one I only have two similar ads for the same game.

There is not much information available for MidNite Entertainment Group, a Chicago-based developer responsible for the Atari Jaguar game AirCars, a vehicle shooter with multiplayer support for up to eight players. Originally known as Car Wars, AirCars was planned for a 1994 release but it didn't actually became available until 1997, the year after the Jaguar was discontinued. Publisher ICD made only 300 copies available making it a rather rare video game. A 1995 version of the game titled KA AirCars was also released in limited numbers from Beta Phase Games in 2015 and 2016. Although the game was published by two other companies, I'm placing the ads with MidNite since it's responsible for the ads as it was intending to publish the game itself.

Flickr album: Microsoft
Flickr album: MidNite Entertainment Group

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Gaming Ads: MicroProse Software

Founded in 1982 by Sid Meier and "Wild" Bill Stealey, MicroProse Software was based in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Arguably one of the best developers of the '80s and beyond, the story of how MicroProse came to be is fairly well known. When retired military pilot Bill Stealey met Sid Meier, who was a programmer at General Instrument at the time, they played Atari's Red Baron game. Meier outperformed Wild Bill and claimed he could make a better game. Stealey offered to sell his game if he made it so Meier developed Hellcat Ace in a couple months and MicroProse Software was born. The developer released a variety of games though simulation titles were the primary focus, especially during its early years when it published F-15 Strike Eagle, Silent Service, and Gunship.

Most of its game were only released on home computers during the '80s as it did not publish any console games until 1989 when Sega released its 16-bit Genesis. Around this time Stealey also bought out Meier though Sid continued his work for MicroProse as a private contractor. Other divisions within MicroProse included two I already posted ads for, Medalist International and MicroPlay, plus there was the internal development studio MPS Labs and its U.K. publishing branch MicroStyle. It also purchased Paragon Software in 1992, a company whose games it often published under the Medalist brand. Despite many hit games, MicroProse found itself in debt after a couple of failed arcade releases which led to it being purchased by Spectrum Holobyte in 1993.

Under Spectrum Holobyte MicroProse released a number of popular games, including classics like X-COM: UFO Defense and Sid Meier's Civilization II. However, quite a bit changed after the sale of MicroProse as Stealey left the company to found Interactive Magic in 1994 and Meier started Firaxis Games with Brian Reynolds and Jeff Briggs in 1996. Hasbro Interactive acquired MicroProse in 1998 and after Infogrames purchased Hasbro Interactive in 2001 the MicroProse name was no longer used. It was an unfortunate end for one of my favorite developers as MicroProse is responsible for two of my top five games of all time in Sid's Meier's Pirates! and Sid Meier's Civilization II, and I'm quite fond of Airborne Ranger and Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon too.

In the ads you'll see a few that actually feature Bill Stealey which I think is great. It's rare to see ads with people that worked at game companies as any time a real person is shown it's usually an actor, athlete, or model.

Flickr album: MicroProse Software

Sunday, August 5, 2018

[YouTube] LEGO Castle Theme 1978-1981


This year marks the 40th anniversary of LEGO's Castle theme which launched in 1978. Three sets were released from 1978 to 1981: Knight's Procession, Knight's Tournament, and Castle. There is at least one minor variation as the Castle set had some emblem changes during its run; all of my sets are likely the final releases from 1981 due to the manuals all including the newer set number and I would have only been three in 1978. As seen in the video above, I do have all of the structure pieces, however, I'm missing some of the mini-figures and accessories. There are also a few sticker differences that can be seen in the manual scans below.

Knight's Procession (677/6077)
The Knight's Procession set is the smallest of the three. It includes six mini-figures and pieces to build a cart that is pulled by two of the figures. The wheels are the same type that were used on Town vehicles at the time as the more detailed Castle sets with actual wood-styled wheels didn't arrive until 1984. I'm missing a couple of the figures, swords, and shields, so I've substituted one of the later, dark gray plastic swords in the photos.



Front and back of the instructions:



Knight's Tournament (383/6083)
The Knight's Tournament features a king and queen taking in a jousting competition. This one also includes six mini-figures, plus pieces to build a canopy and two horses. These horses are a bit large and very square because, as mentioned above, the more detailed sets hadn't arrived yet and those included plastic horses not made out of LEGO bricks. Unfortunately, I am missing the two guards in this set and my flags have the stickers upside down. I can't recall if the stickers were applied by LEGO or the user, though it's possible my parents messed that up. There is also some yellowing on the canopy roof's white bricks. I thought this might be due to excessive heat during storage as that has harmed other toys though it's possible it was in sunlight for too long (odd though that the back white row is perfectly fine). I found that yellowing also occurred on some of the gray bricks of my 1984+ Castle theme sets.



Front and back of the instructions:


Castle (375/6075)
Of course, this is the castle that is the centerpiece of the original Castle theme sets. It's predominantly yellow with some gray surfaces, a few black pieces, and red highlights. The rear doors, window in the main tower, and drawbridge are all red. This set includes 14 mini-figures but, unfortunately, I am missing two of them along with an assortment of weapons, shields, and face masks for the knights. In the manual the jousting lances are shown as gray and I've substituted brown ones for those. Helmets for the knights are also shown as gray for those I've substituted helmets that match the body colors.

The manual shows that the mini-figures wear removable tunics with sticker emblems which is something I do not have. It makes me wonder if those pieces were missing in my set or if the last run of the sets did not include them. Instead, the stickers have been applied directly to the mini-figures. Also, the knights emblems are not matched up to the same colored mini-figures shown in the manual which could have been my parents or myself I suppose, unless they came that way. Another sticker issue is that some of the manual images show shield stickers on the sides of the castle which I do not currently have.






These instructions are more like a proper manual while the other two were fold-out pamphlets. The scans aren't perfect as one page has a tear and since pages are printed on the front and back that means two scans have the tear.












Here are some comparisons with the 1984 toys. The second is simply a wheel comparison as the  item is on the right is an incomplete siege weapon. That other castle is called King's Castle and while more detailed, it's not too different than the original; it has a gate behind the drawbridge and a prison cell inside.