Tuesday, October 30, 2018

GamePro's Carts That Go Bump in the Night (October 1990)

For Halloween I've scanned GamePro's Carts That Go Bump in the Night article from the October 1990 issue that has five reviews of Nintendo Entertainment System games and one for Game Boy. Following the reviews is a list of some other games that does include the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. All of the reviews are for games that were expected to be available soon except for Drac's Night Out which the article states as coming in spring 1991. However, despite being completed and possibly quite good (GamePro gave it a perfect score on Gameplay and FunFactor), the game never released. I've mentioned before that GamePro typically wasn't too tough on games but Drac's Night Out was only outscored by Castlevania III here. In a rather odd endorsement, Drac's Night out developer Microsmiths was forced by publisher Parker Brothers to have Dracula wear Reebok Pumps. You can read an interview with Microsmiths' Mark Lesser at Digital Press where he briefly talks about the game.



Sunday, October 28, 2018

Video Game Help for Parents

Last year when my nephew was asking for a PlayStation 4 I wrote a couple emails to my sister to inform her about the way video games are today as a lot has changed over the many, many years since we were kids (I was born in '75 and she is a year and a half older than myself). With the upcoming shopping season fast approaching I thought it might be useful to post those messages here. Although I'm not a parent and I won't tell anyone how to raise their child, I do know a fair amount about games and believe I can help others understand the content in games and the retail aspects of the industry. This is going to be large blocks of text as I don't currently have any images for the post. I'm mostly copying and pasting what I wrote previously in the aforementioned emails so the writing is a bit more casual too. As I mentioned, this is in regards to a PlayStation 4 but the Xbox One is very similar. Nintendo Switch is different in some regards, however, the basics about how games are sold and digital content all applies.
Video games are very different than 30 years ago and even 20 years ago. Times have changed and games have grown up, and it is important to read the ESRB ratings and descriptors on the back of the boxes. Definitely avoid M-rated games and probably many T-rated games. It's tough because Star Wars games will likely fall in the "T" category, though at least those are only for violence and not swearing or nudity (yes, that's a thing in some games). Star Wars likely won't have blood either so those are probably okay. However, games with comic book characters might not be. The Batman Arkham series has bad language and a lot of violence. Injustice is a fighting game with DC comic book characters but also has bad language and excessive violence. Superman kills Shazam in the first game; he uses his heat vision to turn him to ash and Shazam is a child when he isn't in super hero form so this isn't for young kids. 
The way games are sold is quite different too. Not every game goes to retail as every console now has its own digital store where you can purchase games. You can purchase the retail $59.99 games through the online stores but they are large and take a while to download. Many digital games fall in the $4.99 to $19.99 range, like the $14.99 Power Rangers game. That link goes to the online version of the PlayStation store where you can look up what has been released. They also have sales on digital games and if you subscribe to PlayStation Network every month they give out games that remain yours for as long as you are a paid subscriber. That's $59.99 per year but you can buy subscription cards at stores and they do go on sale. You can also buy gift cards at stores to avoid having to use a credit card.

My first recommendation is don't buy any games near their release date if it can be helped. Games tend to drop in price fast or go on sale within the first couple months. Within six months you can probably get them for $10-20 less at least. Today just about every game has a pre-order offer too (they want you to buy before that quick price drop I just mentioned) but those are not significant (never pre-order I say -- I pre-ordered two times in my life but not since 2004). I can see a child being tempted by them though. They typically offer free downloadable content (DLC) like an extra weapon or outfit for the main character. DLC is a pain and I never purchase it but that's how publishers make enough money to the cost of the base game down. $59.99 may sound expensive for a game, however, when we were young games were already $49.99 and some actually were much more due to the expense of manufacturing large capacity cartridges or localizing the text-heavy role-playing games. Therefore, the price hasn't gone up a lot when considering inflation and the size of game development studios (a lot more people to pay and it takes a lot longer to make AAA games now). Instead, companies hold back content from the retail release or plan for add-ons to release over the first six months or year following release and charge $9.99 to $19.99 for DLC that adds more missions or more to a story or more gameplay modes or more characters depending on the type of game.

What you'll also see are what they call season passes. A game might cost $79.99 or more because it includes a season pass which means you are paying for all of the future DLC up front and in most cases are saving $5 or $10 down the road. Some other types of games are Day One Edition, Limited Edition, Gold Edition, Collector's Edition, Definitive Edition, Game of the Year Edition, etc. They've got names for everything. Most are the game plus some DLC or maybe a soundtrack or physical item like a statue (Collector's editions get expensive, some over $200!). Definitive and Game of the Year editions are usually great buys if you can wait. Those are generally $29.99 or so and include a lot of the DLC; they are bargains because the game is already a year or more old. The first month of release is big for games, especially those with a heavy focus on online multiplayer. It's not like movies where you still buy Star Wars movies from the '80s and they are the same price as new movies. Old games get cheap because they don't sell well when they get old. It's kind of like smartphones in that most people want the latest thing.

Maybe your child won't really notice all the digital content available but some games stick buy now options within the games themselves so make sure you don't have a credit card on file through the console. You don't have to have the system connected to the Internet but many games have patches (game updates to fix bugs a game may ship with) that make the game work better and going online would allow them to play games with friends and family. On the plus side, consoles have parental controls: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/legal/ratings/. Although the ESRB is helpful, I don't always agree with them. I think parents should play every game their kid wants to play but I know that's unrealistic, at least as far as playing games to completion. Even if a game doesn't have any bad content it might be too complex and frustrate a child. That's something I don't really know about though; it likely varies for each child on what they would find difficult as far as puzzle solving or figuring out how a game works. A lot of games do have simple puzzles though some can be complex.

When setting up a PS4 you should give every one in the family their own PlayStation Network (PSN) user name. It's what you'll use to log into the system and if you play online games then that's the name that displays. The main user will need to register an email address though I'm not sure if each individual needs to. PSN names are permanent though Sony is currently testing name changes. However, it sounds like Sony chose a poor way to manage its user database and changing a name could affect saved files. It will also likely cost money to change a name (Microsoft charges $10 to change a user name) so choose wisely. The alternative is to just abandon an account and create a new one but then you lose your friends list and trophies (you get trophies when doing things in games, they aren't important but I like getting them -- they are called achievements on Xbox).
That's probably a lot to take in if you're not familiar at all with video games today. I didn't get into the need for Internet too much either but you'll want to plug the game console into a network. Unfortunately, to play a game is not as simple as buying it and putting it in the system. Most games need to be installed on a console and some games require files to be downloaded for the game to work properly, especially on the Switch where games may be too large to fit on the card. I do have one other email I'll post now that is about massively multiplayer online games as my nephew once asked to play DC Universe Online.
DC Universe Online is the type of game you play for hours at a time to make any progress (a lot of time is spent traveling between locations). It's a MMO (massively multiplayer online game) and those are far worse than online shooters like Star Wars and Fortnite. MMOs are huge time sinks and of course they are intended for people to play together so someone needs to make sure he isn't interacting with strangers. Well, he's probably going to interact in some way with others even if it isn't speaking to them. On a console the environment is better controlled than on a computer, however, I'd still be concerned since MMOs typically have thousands of people on the same server and socializing is encouraged as it is difficult to do many missions solo. MMOs do get people addicted and in extreme cases adults have neglected their children while playing MMOs like World of Warcraft and I believe one or two people have even died for playing a day or two straight rather than stopping to sleep. The addiction is high even though the games really aren't much fun at all; I guess part of it is the social aspect though I usually end up playing alone when I have tried them which is probably why I don't like them. Most I have only tried once or for a couple weeks but I did play the Star Wars one for three months solo. Yeah, there is a Star Wars MMO (second one actually) but it's only on computers so maybe he'll never learn of it (my nephew loves Star Wars!).

Something else to watch for is in-game transactions because if the game is free then there will be a lot to buy inside of the game (this certainly applies the Fortnite which while not a MMO, the extremely popular battle royale mode is free). MMOs actually all had monthly subscriptions at one time and there were dozens of them fighting for players' money but now most are free to more easily get people to try a game and get them hooked. Money still needs to be made of course, so in-game there will be items and outfits to buy (gotta show off to the other players on the server) and probably character classes or for DC maybe super hero types or actual characters. I don't know how DC works; I think you make your own hero though you can play as a comic book character in the Marvel one (there was a free Marvel one but it has since shut down). The main thing is more content really. For free you get a basic game but then you have to spend money to get more missions or areas in the game and if you play with a group of people then you'll have to buy the content or get left behind. https://store.playstation.com/en-us/grid/UP0017-CUSA00012_00-DCUOLPS4LIVE0001/1?relationship=add-ons That link goes to the items that can be bought out of game, like currency to spend in the game on the stuff I mentioned.
I hope that helps and feel free to ask questions below or via the contact page.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Gaming Ads: NovaLogic and NTVIC

Founded in 1985 and based in California, NovaLogic was a developer and publisher of computer games and in the mid-'90s it expanded into console games. The company first focused on porting arcade games to home computers but would become best known for its military simulations, such as Armored Fist, Comanche: Maximum Overkill, F-22 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, and Delta Force. Released in 1998, Delta Force is a first-person squad-based shooter that features a single-player campaign and online combat for up to 32 players. That game's popularity spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, and NovaLogic didn't release too many games outside of that series in the 2000s. NovaLogic is no longer in business but its website is still accessible; the last press release is from 2010 and the last update was posted in 2016 regarding THQ Nordic's acquisition of all NovaLogic assets.

I'm going to prefix this by stating I'm not 100% certain I have the NTVIC information correct as the company and its subsidiaries that are still in business today make no mention of video games on the corporate history web pages. However, I believe this video game publisher was/is a division of Nippon Television Network Corporation which was founded in 1952. Based in Japan, NTV International Corporation, or NTVIC, established a New York office in 1986 and published six video games for Nintendo platforms (NES, SNES, Game Boy). In some of NTVIC's ads you'll see the company name Vap, another subsidiary of Nippon TV.

Flickr album: NovaLogic
Flickr album: NTVIC

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Year 2: October Update

Winter is fast approaching and where I live it feels like it's actually already here. Temperatures in the 60s didn't last long as we went straight to the 40s and 50s the past couple weeks in Michigan. Only two more updates this year and then onto Year 3 which will see the end of the ads posts I believe. Hopefully I can get the Commodore 64 working soon or get a replacement if I can find a good deal. With Halloween right around the corner here's a McDonald's image (front and back) I posted last year on Facebook and Twitter:


I've been dropping the ball again in keeping up with the blog and YouTube channel as I've had a hard time pulling myself away from the recent game releases. Assassin's Creed Odyssey has an awful lot of content; I've played quite a bit and am still not close to the end of the story. Red Dead Redemption II is out this week as well which will be another open world time sink. Odyssey isn't too different from Origins but it does seem to have a lot more side quests. Also, whereas Origins has a lot of desert, Odyssey has a lot of water and therefore plenty of ship combat. The environment variety is lacking in Odyssey though and I feel as if the photo mode images I've taken in Odyssey don't look quite as good. I am a fan of desert landscapes though so that could be why I like the look of Origins a little bit more too.

Of course, I have been playing Forza Horizon 4 when I can as well, though I've not spent much time on making new Cobra cars. You can see a few of my older designs here and I did import some of those into the new game. In the past month I did manage to complete Valkyria Chronicles 4 which was much longer than I anticipated and there is more content I'd like to play if I ever go back to it. While I can't complain about games having a lot of content, it would have been great if one or two of these games could have released in June or July. Unfortunately, Valkyria Chronicles 4 isn't as kid-friendly as the first one. They both have violence so neither is for young kids but the first one has some positive messages and according to ESRB only has mild language. This new one is rated "T" because there is a fair amount of swearing and some suggestive themes. While it doesn't bother me when playing, I'm disappointed I cannot recommend it to younger gamers.

Valkyria Chronicles 4
Valkyria Chronicles 4

There are some kid-oriented games releasing but I don't think I'll have time to try them and give an opinion. Crayola Scoot released this month and is said to play similarly to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and out in a couple days is a PAW Patrol game. I've not heard anything about the PAW Patrol game though I'd guess it will be an average game that will appeal only to those who enjoy the show. The latest LEGO game, DC Super Villains, is getting positive reviews and some say it's one of the best of the LEGO franchise. In other game news Intellivision Entertainment unveiled many details of the next Intellvision console at Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2018 this weekend. It's called Intellivision Amico (Italian word for friend), has a tentative release date of October 10, 2020, and should cost between $149 and $179. The games will be 2D, cost between $2.99 and $7.99, and all of them will be rated "E" or "E10." Most of the games are expected to be remakes of classic Intellivision, Atari, and Imagic games. Although I thought cartridges were supposed to be a thing on this console when it was first mentioned, all of the games will be digital.

Suddenly it looks like the Toys "R" Us brand isn't completely dead in the U.S. as there are plans of a comeback under the name Geoffrey's Toy Box. I don't completely understand the press release; it says it will launch in November(!) as a store-in-a-store concept. That must mean it will be more like a toy department within an already existing store rather than a standalone toy store.

Thanks for reading,
Jonathan

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Gaming Ads: Nintendo of America

Arguably the most significant and best known company in the history of console video games, Nintendo essentially began in 1889 when Fusajiro Yamauchi began manufacturing and selling hanafuda playing cards. Hanafuda, which translates to flower cards, have no numbers on them but instead are defined by images of flowers. In 1947 Marufuku Co., Ltd. was established in Kyoto, Japan, its name was changed to Nintendo Playing Card Co., Ltd. in 1951, and in 1963 the name was changed to simply Nintendo Co., Ltd. Nintendo's first game was an amusement machine called Laser Clay Shooting System that released in 1973. Its first home video game systems launched in 1977 under the names TV Game 15 and TV Game 6 while its arcade business began in 1978.

In 1980 Nintendo released the electronic handheld series Game & Watch and founded Nintendo of America in New York. Another office was opened in the U.S. in Washington state in 1982 and the New York office was merged into it. Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's first big arcade hit came in 1981 with Donkey Kong that stars the titular bad guy and Jumpman who would later be renamed Mario. In Japan Nintendo launched the Family Computer, or Famicom, in 1983 but it didn't come to the U.S. until 1985 where it was dubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. The NES is perhaps the most important console ever released in North America as retailers were hesitant to stock any video games following the gaming crash of 1983.


There was a huge drop in video game sales between 1983 and the release of the NES, leaving retailers with a lot of stock that had to be heavily discounted. In order for Nintendo to convince retailers to order the NES it marketed the system more as a toy rather than a gaming device. To do that it bundled the console with R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) which interacted with Gyromite, one of the two pack-in titles. A light gun peripheral was included with the console as well that was for use with the second pack-in game, Duck Hunt. The same year the NES released in North America Nintendo published Super Mario Bros., one of the primary reasons that the NES was a huge hit and the game that made Nintendo a household name.

Of course, Nintendo is home to many other popular game franchises, quite a few being spin-offs from the Mario platforming games, such as Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Wario. The Legend of Zelda is the other huge original series that continues to release on every Nintendo console. After the NES, Nintendo's consoles in order of release are the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U, and Switch. The company has also played a major role in handheld games. In 1989 it released the Game Boy that, despite being monochrome, easily outsold the competition, such as the Game Gear, TurboExpress, and Lynx, which all had color screens but smaller game libraries and weak battery life. Following the Game Boy Nintendo developed the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, and New Nintendo 3DS.

It seems Nintendo didn't start advertising heavily in game magazines until the mid-90s, after Sega had already become a major competitor with the Genesis. Nintendo did have its own magazine in Nintendo Power so it might not have felt the need to initially advertise in other publications. Most of my Nintendo ads are from around 1994-96, and almost all of them are multi-page ads. Unfortunately, I have very few Mario related ads and none for The Legend of Zelda.












More ads can be found at Facebook: Nintendo of America

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gaming Ads: New World Computing and Nexoft

New World Computing (NWC) was founded by Mark Caldwell, Jon Van Caneghem, and his wife Michaela in 1984. Based in California, NWC is best known for the Might and Magic series of role-playing games that began in 1986 and its 1995 strategy spin-off Heroes of Might and Magic. The 3DO Company acquired NWC in 1996 and it continued to publish games as a division of its new parent company. However, as The 3DO Company began struggling financially it laid off a significant number of staff at NWC in 2002 and ceased to exist in 2003. Ubisoft purchased the rights to the Might and Magic series shortly before the closure.

Nexoft is one of those companies that I cannot locate much information on. It was based in Cypress, CA and only published a handful of games from 1989 to 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Game Boy.

Flickr album: New World Computing
Flickr album: Nexoft

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Gaming Ads: NEC Technologies

NEC began all the way back in 1899 as Nippon Electric Limited in partnership with Western Electric Company. Based in Japan, it was a telecommunications company first that specialized in switchboards and telephones, though it has manufactured numerous other electronics over the years, including computers in the '50s and beyond. It has since opened branches around the world and become the largest computer maker in Japan. There is a lot more history to the company but I'm going to focus on its contributions to video games which for some reason is not mentioned at all on the company website's history page. In 1987 it licensed technology from Hudson Soft and created the PC Engine game console which would release in North America in 1989 as the TurboGrafx-16.

In Japan the PC Engine beat the Mega Drive (Genesis) to market where it released as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was marketed as a 16-bit console despite having an 8-bit CPU, and being released at the same time as the Sega Genesis in the U.S., that was the main competition here. After only six months the price of the system dropped from $199.99 to $159 and in 1991 went all the way down to $99.99. Games were originally sold on what were called HuCards; they resemble Sega Master System's card game format though less than a year after release a CD add-on hit stores. It's also worth noting that in 1990 a handheld version of the TurboGrafx-16 called the TurboExpress was released exclusively in North America.

Being the console's primary game supporter, Hudson Soft teamed up with NEC to create NEC Technologies in 1992 which replaced NEC Home Electronics USA as the North American marketing division for the TurboGrafx-16. At this time the company released the TurboDuo, a console that combined the TurboGrafx-16 and its CD-ROM add-on into one unit. However, the price was $299.99 and a rather odd decision was made to use the same controller ports as the PC Engine which differed from that of the TurboGrafx-16. The TurboDuo could also play the Super CD format that had more RAM over the standard discs. Overall, 94 HuCard games, 21 CD, and 23 Super CD games were released. Although not very successful in the U.S., the console fared much better overseas where it sold around eight times as many units.

While almost all of the ads are from NEC Technologies, a couple say Turbo Technologies. Admittedly, I'm a little confused about whether the two companies were one and the same, or if Turbo Technologies was a separate division set up to publish games. It's possible NEC Technologies changed its name late in the console's life cycle as the website NEC Retro indicates that communications between it and the parent company were quite poor.

Flickr album: NEC Technologies