Saturday, July 29, 2017

Gaming Ads: Crystal Dynamics

Founded by Judy Lang, David Morris, and Madeline Canepa in 1992, the California-based Crystal Dynamics celebrated its 25th anniversary just a few weeks ago. However, it does not appear that any of the original founders are still with the company. Its first game, Crash 'n Burn, is a racing game with combat released in 1993 for the 3DO console. In 1995 Crystal Dynamics released Gex, which is likely its best known original property. It also published a number of games developed by other studios as you'll see in the ads. Perhaps the most popular of those games is Silicon Knights' Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, a series in which Crystal Dynamics developed the sequels for.

In 1998 Eidos Interactive acquired Crystal Dynamics and in 2003 the developer was entrusted with the Tomb Raider series. Due to financial shortcomings at Eidos, in 2009 Square Enix acquired the publisher and thus Crystal Dynamics. For the past 10 years the developer has primarily worked on the Tomb Raider franchise as it was rebooted in 2013. The studio is also currently collaborating with Eidos Montreal to develop a game based on Marvel Comics' Avengers.

Crystal Dynamics albums: Facebook - Google Photos

Sunday, July 23, 2017

[YouTube] Sega Master System


Sega Master System
First released in Japan as the Mark III in 1985, the Sega Master System (SMS) launched in North America in October 1986. Sega was already a year behind the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) which hit stores in 1985. With a year head start and most third-party companies under contract, Nintendo easily dominated the 8-bit market. Nostalgia may be clouding my judgment but I like the Master System and have no regrets getting the SMS over the NES. That being said, I got mine in 1987 and inherited a Commodore 64 around the same time, plus I got a Genesis in 1989 and still played the Intellivision so I had many options and plenty of games to keep me occupied. Sure I've got some not-so-good games for the SMS but Shinobi, Out Run, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap are all great. I also had quite a bit of fun with games like Rocky, Gangster Town, and Double Dragon. Unfortunately, I never did get Phantasy Star; I'm sure I would have liked that as the sequel on Genesis is one of my favorites.

Sega Master System Box Front

As I mention in the video, I'm not certain what the launch price of the console was in 1986 and the rest of this paragraph is what I cut from the video. Wikipedia can be great but anyone can enter incorrect information too so a second source should always be referenced. That says $199.99 and I do now have a second source that backs it up so maybe it was briefly at that price point. The second source is the database that formerly displayed at which is actually the database I work on for a living. That particular data comes from a freelance writer and I expect he researched it (1999). Sega Retro -- good site for all things Sega -- quotes The Ultimate History of Video Games book that was published in 2001 and that states that the console was $139 for a basic system and $149 for one with a second control pad and light gun. However, I do know that book has an error about the Sega CD launch system and I have a hard time believing there was only a $10 difference when one has an extra controller and light gun.

Sega Master System Box Back

The 1986 Sears Wishbook doesn't have the SMS in it but it does list the NES with two controllers and Super Mario Bros. for $89.99 (no Zapper or R.O.B.). In any case, it looks like Nintendo may have already had Sega beat on price in 1986 -- on top of the head start and third-party games -- which is another reason the SMS never had a chance. Coincidentally, my first video was for Starting Lineup Talking Baseball from Parker Brothers that most likely cost $99.99 in 1988. Tonka was the owner of Parker Brothers and was also in charge of marketing and distribution for the Sega Master System which was priced at $99.99 in 1987. The poor sales and price points for these products gives me the impression Tonka was out of its league when it came to electronics and probably should have stuck to toy trucks.

Sega Master System Power Base
The bottom has an extension port but
nothing was released that works with it.

While the Sega Master System didn't compete with the NES in North America, it did fare much better in Europe as the NES released around the same time as the SMS in that region and Sega held its own, even outselling the NES in some countries. Another big market for the SMS was Brazil where the company Tec Toy handled distribution. Brazil is a very different market that I don't have a complete understanding of but it seems Nintendo had no official presence in Brazil aside from knock off versions of the NES that ran pirated games. Brazil actually received Street Fighter II for the SMS in 1997! In the rest of the world Sega was well into the Saturn's lifespan in 1997 and the Dreamcast was only two years away.

Also, in the video I mentioned that I thought Outrun 3-D was released; it was but only in Europe. North America's 3D games are Blade Eagle, Maze Hunter, Missile Defense, Poseidon Wars, Space Harrier, and Zaxxon. If you want to know more about the system and the individual games, the aforementioned Sega Retro is a great place to start (it's sometimes down though, not the most reliable of websites). Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the video!

Sega Master System Back on Box Side
Hang-On & Safari Hunt on Box Top

Instruction Manual Page 1
Instruction Manual & Pack-In Cartridge

Instruction Manual Page 10
Instruction Manual Page 11

Sega Master System Control Pads
Sega Master System Control Pads

Light Phaser & Manual
Light Phaser on Box Side

The Sega Light Phaser Instruction Manual

Rapid Fire Control Stick

Rapid Fire Unit Instructions

The Sega 3-D Glasses

The Sega 3-D Glasses

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gaming Ads: Core Design, Cosmi, and Crave Entertainment

Core Design is best known as the developer of the Tomb Raider series but the company had been developing games for eight years prior to the release of the first Tomb Raider game. It was founded in 1988 and was based in the U.K. Some of Core's earlier games include Asterix and the Great Rescue, AH-3 Thunderstrike, and Bubba 'N' Stix. CentreGold acquired Core Design in 1994 and only two years later Eidos acquired CentreGold and thus Core Design. Since Eidos published the Tomb Raider games all of those game's ads will be seen when I upload Eidos ads.

I played the original Tomb Raider game a fair amount on the PlayStation, though I never completed it. The first one in the series that I finished is Legend which I'd say is also my favorite of the series. After that I completed Underworld, the reboot, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. However, none of those games were developed by Core Design as Crystal Dynamics took over the series after The Angel of Darkness (2003). Core Design was on its last legs at that point as many staff departed and Rebellion took over what remained of Core, minus the Tomb Raider assets.

Cosmi was founded in 1982 and has primarily published games on a variety computers. I own a couple of its games on Commodore 64 but didn't play them much at all as they aren't very good: Shirley Muldowney's Top Fuel Challenge and Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball. I don't know that any of Cosmi's games were big hits and yet it is still in business today as ValuSoft Cosmi (ValuSoft was acquired from THQ in 2012). More recently, before digital publishing replaced much of the PC retail business over the past five years or so, Cosmi had been publishing a lot of budget software and re-issues of older PC titles in jewel cases. Now it looks like it publishes budget titles digitally as many computer game makers do.

Crave Entertainment was founded in California in 1997. The publisher is no longer in business but it managed to release more than 100 games in a 14 year span so I'd expect many gamers are familiar with the company even if they didn't play its games. While it may not be known as having many great games, it released many ports from one platform to another, and it had a very strong presence on the Dreamcast. Its Dreamcast releases include: Killer Loop, AeroWings (and a sequel), Tokyo Xtreme Racer (and a sequel), Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Super Magnetic Neo, Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm, Sno-Cross Championship Racing, Ultimate Fighting Championship, Red Dog: Superior Firepower, Starlancer, Razor Freestyle Scooter, The Next Tetris: On-Line Edition, Surf Rocket Racers, Bangai-O, and Soldier of Fortune.

I list all of those in part because I like the Dreamcast but also because that's a significant number of games for a console that didn't even last three years. With 17 Dreamcast releases Crave might have been the console's biggest supporter aside from Sega. While the Dreamcast released in the U.S. in late '99, just before my ads date cutoff of 2000, I'm holding back all Dreamcast ads (only have 21 scanned so far) to group them together and I will be going beyond the '90s for this. However, don't expect it until I'm done posting all of the other ads I have first. This could be a long ways off, perhaps another two years if I wait for the 20th anniversary (9-9-19). We'll see but at some point I'll definitely have some Dreamcast coverage.

The ads for all of these publishers is lacking unfortunately. Each one only has 2-5 and four of Crave's ads are for Shadow Madness.

Core Design albums: Facebook - Google Photos
Cosmi albums: Facebook - Google Photos
Crave Entertainment albums: Facebook - Google Photos

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Gaming Ads: Color Dreams and Commodore

Color Dreams published its first video games in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Like Camerica, Color Dreams didn't have Nintendo's approval so the company had to bypass the lock-out chip on the NES and none of its games carry Nintendo's official seal of quality. It also published games under two other brands; Bunch Games was used for budget titles and Wisdom Tree focused on religious-themed games. In the mid-'90s Color Dreams left the video game industry and now manufactures security cameras under the name StarDot Technologies.

Commodore was founded in 1954 as a typewriter company by Jack Tramiel. It was based in Toronto and over the years has been known as Commodore International and Commodore Business Machines. After typewriters the company produced calculators in the early '70s before releasing its first computer in 1977, the Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (or Commodore PET) designed by engineer Chuck Peddle. Its second computer, the VIC-20, debuted in 1981 for $299 while its most well known home computer, the Commodore 64 (C64) released in 1982 for $595.

As I wrote in the blog's About section, the C64's 1541 disk drive is where the numbers in the blog name come from. The computer is also prominently featured in the blog's header image and influenced the color scheme. I didn't get a Commodore until 1987 as my family inherited it from one of my father's uncles. While my father attempted to use the C64 for word processing and other useful things, I eventually took it over as I played numerous games on the machine. It didn't replace my Sega consoles but it certainly stole much of my game time away from them as games like Sid Meier's Pirates!, SimCity, Pool of Radiance, and Wasteland had me hooked on computer games.

The C64 wasn't Commodore's last computer, though it is the only one I've used. After the C64 came the Commodore 128 in early 1985 and the Amiga later that same year (Commodore bought the Amiga Corporation in 1983). In 1984 Jack Tramiel resigned due to disagreements with the board of directors and would go on to start his own company. Tramiel managed to purchase Atari's home consumer division where he led the release of the Atari ST computer. Atari, Apple, and IBM were Commodore's primary competitors and as with my Atari ads post, I'll abbreviate here to simply state that despite its numerous successes, Commodore would run into financial troubles that saw the company close in 1994. In 2010 a company called Commodore USA acquired the rights to the Commodore assets and released new computers based on the classics in 2011 but that business venture only lasted a few years.

I would have dedicated this week's complete ads post to Commodore if I had more than a measly two ads. My magazines don't date back far enough as the ads I do have only cover two items in the Amiga line. Let me also add that I've come across a few sets of ads recently that were set to private on Flickr. That was a mistake, of course, and I would guess when that happens you'll see empty albums. I will never create an empty album; if I don't have ads for a company then I will not have an album for it. If you come across any problems with my Flickr albums please let me know, thank you!

Color Dreams albums: Facebook - Google Photos
Commodore albums: Facebook - Google Photos

Friday, July 14, 2017

[YouTube] Starting Lineup Talking Baseball


For the inaugural video I chose Starting Lineup Talking Baseball (SLTB) as the subject. Parker Brothers released SLTB in 1988, the same year that the baseball figures debuted from Kenner. Parker Brothers and Kenner Toys were actually part of the same company at one time as General Mills merged the two when it owned them, calling the division Kenner Parker Toys. Tonka acquired Kenner Parker in 1987 and split them back up with Kenner then being renamed to Kenner Products. A few years later in 1991 Hasbro acquired Tonka, Kenner, and Parker Brothers.

Second base is printed the wrong way; same error on the manual.

SLTB was quite advanced for 1988, featuring the ability to either control real teams or manage them while the computer plays against itself. Instead of simply following blinking lights to determine what is happening as most electronic toys did at the time, the device also features a commentator that provides play-by-play. This wouldn't be seen in video games until Sega's Joe Montana II Sports Talk Football in 1991 and then MLBPA Sports Talk Baseball in 1992. Speech was included in sports games as far back as Intellivision's Major League Baseball (1980) but not commentary. Although I cannot find evidence of it, I do wonder if Parker Brothers was involved at all in Sega's commentary development as the voices between SLTB and Sports Talk Football sound similar to me but then maybe that's just how all computers sounded.

View from the pitching side.

Batting keypad.
Pitching keypad.

Other unique options for an electronic sports game in the '80s is the ability to make substitutions such as pinch hitting, pinch running, changing fielders, and calling in relief pitchers. Players can also bunt, power swing, go for an extra base, and steal bases while on offense, and throw three types of pitches or a ball, attempt a pickoff, pitchout, intentionally walk a batter, move the infield in, and call for an instant replay while on defense. This is all quite in-depth and better than most video games at the time. The device itself has a keypad on the home plate side of the game for batting and a separate pitching/defense pad on the outfield side (defense is automated once the ball is in play). Whether playing against the computer or another player, SLTB must be rotated at the end of each half inning. The game does sit on a foam disc making it simple to rotate when on a flat surface.

The bottom of the game; center circle rotates though
my foam piece has flattened out too much.

Four "C" batteries power the game and there are two cartridge slots behind the outfield. The 1987 American League and National League All-Star teams are built into the game while a Hall of Fame cartridge was included in the package (all rosters are abbreviated to 20 players). To insert a cartridge users need only pop off a section of the stadium seating; two slots are available so that teams located on separate cartridges can be matched up against one another.

Cartridge slots with the Hall of Fame cartridge inserted.

Aside from the Hall of Fame team, all teams also have a set of baseball cards, one for each player in the game and a single card that lists the roster with corresponding numbers next to each player that are used when setting lineups and making substitutions. The All-Star team baseball cards feature MLB player photos while all team cards packaged with cartridges have artwork instead.

All-Star team baseball cards packaged with the game.

Eight cartridges were sold separately with multiple teams per cartridge that cover all 26 MLB teams from 1987:

American League Team Cartridges
  1. New York, Boston, Baltimore
  2. California, Oakland, Seattle
  3. Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toronto
  4. Minnesota, Texas, Chicago, Kansas City
National League Team Cartridges
  1. St. Louis, Chicago, Montreal
  2. New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  3. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles
  4. Cincinnati, Houston, Atlanta

The Kenner Starting Lineup figures were a big hit and continued for 13 years but SLTB did not fare as well as the figures and no cartridges were made beyond the first year so that only 1987 team rosters are available. I cannot be 100% certain on the original MSRP of the game and cartridges but I came across someone selling their game in the original box that still has a price tag on it of $99.99 and my cartridge boxes say $12.99 so those are likely the original prices. As cool as the game is, the $100 price is steep considering video game consoles were $199.99 or less in 1988 and the Sega Genesis was only a year away and would launch at $189.99.
Instruction manual cover.

Hall of Fame player sheet.

Instruction manual back.
Scorecard on back of Hall of Fame player sheet.

Monday, July 10, 2017

July Update

It hasn't been too long since my June update but I'm close to launching on YouTube now so I wanted to write a bit about that. Actually, the channel is up, there just aren't any videos yet and apparently I cannot get a custom URL until I get 10 followers on Google+ if I understand the policy correctly. Everything with Google is linked to a single brand account such as this blog and YouTube. Unfortunately, I had been ignoring the Google+ account so I have no followers there. Going forward I'll link my ad and article posts there to see if I can't grab a little more interest.

For some YouTube videos I will also provide a blog post with much of the same information for those that do not care to watch videos (I'll embed the video in the post as well). A few other benefits to accompanying videos with a blog post: I can cover anything I forget to say in the video; I can typically explain things better when I write; I can provide more details if anyone is interested; I can provide photos that people might like to see and share; and it's an alternative for people with a hearing impairment or for those that simply don't want to listen to me talk.

I've got the first post written and ready to go which is a little backwards since I have to film the video again. A week ago I filmed it and the poor audio quality bothered me a lot, plus it was too long at 26 minutes. Today's mail had a new adapter for my microphone and that appears to have solved the problem. My other adapter wasn't very good and caused a humming noise throughout the video. I'm using a stereo microphone with a 3.5 mm connection on my digital camera that has a 2.5 mm port which is why I need an adapter. I hope to film tomorrow afternoon and possibly have the video up before the evening if all goes well (if not then expect it on Wednesday or Thursday). It very loosely ties into the MLB All-Star game that takes place tomorrow night so I had hoped to originally post a video this past Sunday.

Since my last post I've completed Horizon: Zero Dawn and played a few more games briefly: Micro Machines World Series, Cars 3: Driven to Win, Tekken 7, and Valkyria Revolution. I like open world games and enjoyed Horzion: Zero Dawn quite a bit. It's set on a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Earth where people fight with bows and spears but there are also robotic creatures wandering the land. Although the publisher says it's a role-playing game, it's more of an action game with the ability to gain experience and distribute skill points (honestly, I'm not entirely sure how to define a RPG anymore). You'll mostly be running around fighting robots and other humans, and quite a few side quests have the protagonist using her tracking skills to run down leads. As soon as I finished the game the developers released a big update that adds new features, including a New Game Plus option, face paint, and new weapons and outfits so it has even more content now.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

The other games I didn't play too much of so I can't provide a strong opinion. Micro Machines has a Cobra H.I.S.S. tank in it which gets a thumbs up from me but it's not much fun playing solo. Multiplayer must help, though how much I cannot say. At least that game is only $29.99 whereas Cars 3 has more content and is okay, but it's not worth $59.99. Cars 3 has rubberbanding which in a racing game means you'll never get too far ahead of the computer so races are close at the very end regardless of how good you are. On medium difficulty I actually struggled to win some races; easy difficulty was relatively easy aside from getting blasted near the end on one particular battle race over and over. A couple of the modes have weapons while others are either straight racing with a turbo boost or require stunts to be performed. It's not a great game, it's passable though for kids once the price drops by at least half.

At least Micro Machines has a H.I.S.S. tank!

I'm not a big fighting game fan though I did play a lot of Tekken 3 back on the original PlayStation. I played through Tekken 7's arcade mode a few times which is short, five fights maybe. There is a treasure battle mode as well where you fight for loot to customize characters with. For the story mode I only tried the prologue and first chapter, and it appears to be about Heihachi and his family (no surprise). If you've played Tekken or other solid 3D fighting games from Japan then you probably know what to expect. Nothing groundbreaking here as far as I could tell. There are a lot of characters and plenty of customization with the outfits and hairstyles if you like that. One really nice bonus is that you can select music from any of the Tekken games (the music bonus is PS4 exclusive) and unlock the cinematics from all the older titles too!

Maybe I need to give it another try but I really don't like the
 combat in Valkyria Revolution.

Valkyria Revolution is the game I wanted to play most but no longer want to after less than an hour. Yeah, I didn't give it much of a chance however the combat is nothing like Valkyria Chronicles and that's a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. If you loved Chronicles don't expect to love Revolution as it's very different. The story is about revenge and the characters aren't like the fun-to-love group of the first Chronicles game. Also, cut-scenes that are not very interesting make up at least 30 minutes of that first 45 minutes. I read that there are a lot of story cut-scenes throughout the game that can't be sped up, only skipped completely. The combat is really the biggest problem as it's not turn-based. Instead it's all real-time with you controlling one character who can give orders to the other three following (the game does pause when issuing orders; also the other characters will do their own thing if you don't assign them actions). I've been so busy with other things that I don't know that I'll go back to it. I still want to try Persona 5 and next month is the Uncharted spin-off and Everybody's Golf that will likely steal a lot of my time.

Before June I had only borrowed a PlayStation 4 and didn't realize the console automatically takes screenshots every time a trophy is earned. Those are my auto screenshots above and now that I own a PlayStation 4 and know what's going on I'll try to start taking my own screenshots and videos if I'm going to talk about new games in the future.

7/11 UPDATE: Unfortunately, I may have gotten ahead of myself here. Although not as loud as before, the audio does still has a hissing noise that is driving me crazy. I'm not sure I can fix it as there are very few settings available on the microphone and I can't find any on the camera itself aside from a wind cut that only applies to the built-in mono microphone. I'll keep trying but I'm not confident that I'll be able to fix it and I'm afraid if my first video has bad audio then I'll lose any potential audience.

7/12 UPDATE: After six hours or testing every audio device I have I think I've reached a solution. I was about to settle on recording on a separate device and then syncing the audio with the video afterward but the microphone cable is tiny and the only extension I have causes a lot of feedback. One microphone that isn't too bad is the tiny lapel mic with earpiece that was packaged with the PlayStation 4. Sure, it's low end but there isn't the loud humming the stereo mic causes. However, a Turtle Beach headset I got for the Xbox 360 and my PC many years ago sounds decent. The only negative is the mic volume control is on a plastic piece molded for the Xbox 360 controller so I'm going to need to take that apart to see if I can get that to work with the camera. Without it I'm a little loud (if I wear the headset, I can also set it on the table), though that could be a good thing as nobody has ever accused me of being too loud -- I'm usually too quiet.

I'm sure these updates are thrilling but I felt as if I had to write them because I said I would have the video up Tuesday if all goes well (not much has gone well), or at the very least Wednesday or Thursday. I didn't sleep much last night and am yawning too much to film today. I'm confident I can get something uploaded before the end of the weekend! Someone did subscribe to the YouTube channel early but they might be more interested in the video game side, I don't know. As soon as I get my first toy video done I'll look into testing out the PS4's built-in recording and the best way to go about filming gameplay on the older systems (was going to record the TV directly but without the stereo mic I might have purchase a video capture device; I do have an old one now, quality might not be good enough though). I hope to do unboxings of Sega's consoles somewhat soon too. Thanks for putting up with my technical inexperience, sorry about the delays.

7/14 UPDATE: Believe it or not, it's done! I'll be uploading it at some point today as it's currently being processed by Windows Movie Maker. It's not perfect but I'm mostly pleased with it and I expect in the future I'll improve.