Saturday, January 27, 2018

Gaming Ads: HAL America

Based in Beaverton, Oregon, HAL America was the North American publishing division of Japanese company HAL Laboratory from the late '80s to the early '90s. All of HAL America's games were published on Nintendo platforms, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super NES, and Game Boy. HAL Laboratory was founded in 1980 and continues to make games for Nintendo platforms today. It's responsible for creating the character Kirby and developing the Super Smash Bros. series.

Flickr album: HAL America

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Time of Toy Stores

Today Toys "R" Us announced that it will be closing 182 stores, including the one nearby where I live. It's not surprising, of course, as the company did file for bankruptcy last year and it is certainly not the only retail business struggling as more and more people shop online. Admittedly, I rarely go to toy stores any longer but then I don't have any children and have to resist collecting action figures so it's beneficial to my health to avoid them (I'm being sarcastic of course, I can easily resist, really, I can!). My last visit to a Toys "R" Us was a few years ago when I was looking for a gift for my nephew and the store simply didn't feel the same as when I was younger. I don't believe it was because of my age either, it was just the arrangement of that particular store. The aisles were short in length and height, and I found the store confusing to navigate. When I was a kid the store I frequented had long aisles that stretched from the front of the store all the way to the back wall, you could stand there in awe as the stacks of toys seemed to go on forever.

While 182 certainly isn't every store, one has to wonder how long the company will be able to stay in business and if the time of toy stores is at an end. It is unfortunate that someday kids will no longer be able to experience the joy of wandering through a store with wall-to-wall toys. Sure, stores like Target sell toys but it's really not the same. Toys "R" Us' main competitor was once Kay Bee Toys (aka KB Toys) but that shuttered in 2009. KB was certainly a much smaller store and didn't carry the large toys or accessories; it was primarily a store found in shopping malls and typically had higher prices than stand-alone stores, likely due to the high cost of renting space in a mall. It did operate non-mall stores called Toy Works that were bigger than a KB store and smaller than a Toys "R" Us, and sold a lot of heavily discounted toys. I have fond memories of Toy Works as I worked at one for a year and a half during college. If by chance you shopped at the Toy Works in the Sand Hill Plaza in Newtown, CT between the summer of '94 and Christmas '95 I might have assisted you -- I'd have been the guy that had all the answers. Well, that's if you were asking about video games or action figures, though I did pride myself on knowing at least a bit about all toys.

Some other memories from my time at Toy Works include Power Rangers, bicycle sales, and the PlayStation. Power Rangers were absolutely huge back then, rivaling the debut of the Cabbage Patch Kids in the '80s. When Power Rangers appeared in the Sunday flyer we'd get lines outside the store before opening. Once the line was nearly the length of the whole plaza which was about 10 small stores in one direction before the plaza turned 90 degrees and the line continued. We dumped all of the action figures in plastic kiddie pools and let people go at it -- it was nuts! Selling bicycles, on the other hand, was one of the worst parts of the job. During the big summer sale employees had to roll them all out to the sidewalk before opening and at closing roll them all back in. Plus, I just didn't know much about bikes so I struggled to answer questions. My store did exceed at bike sales in 1995 though, top in the region I believe.

Employees got a mug and t-shirt for being the top store in
bicycle sales.

KB was one of the retailers that did not carry the Sega Saturn, in large part because Sega put it in Toys "R" Us stores during a surprise early launch, but also because the Sega CD and the 32X did not instill confidence in Sega's future products. Therefore, we were pushing the PlayStation hard as that was to be the big video game system for the holiday '95 season. Being a Sega fan I had a hard time believing Sony could compete with Nintendo and Sega but that's just what it did. During the summer of '95 I had to listen to a PlayStation demo running in the front of the store all day, every day. What I remember most is Battle Arena Toshinden's Sofia shouting, though I'm sure there were other games appearing in the endless loop, they just weren't as loud. I believe we only received three pre-orders for the console, not that it mattered since it sold out and we couldn't keep the games in stock.

Working at Toy Works also had a great perk: 25% off toys and 10% off video games! It really was a fun job and I missed it after I left when I moved out of state in 1996. I did not visit Connecticut again until 2010 so the store was gone by that point. I didn't own a camera then either so no pictures of the store or the friends I made there, and unfortunately, I lost touch with everyone as well. After graduating from college I did actually work in a Toys "R" Us briefly as holiday help at the video game counter while looking for more permanent work. Believe it or not, there was no employee discount (I think they added one later) and working the holiday season there wasn't so great. Working a full holiday season at Toy Works was insane though also exciting as piles and piles of toys would get delivered much more frequently. Of course, throughout the '80s, '90s, and into the 2000s there were other toy stores too though none as big as Toys "R" Us or KB, and the only other one I can really remember is Child World which closed in 1992. 

 A plastic Child World cup featuring the mascot Peter Panda.
The company also operated Children's Palace stores.

I'll end this post with a fitting image I was able to take from Google Maps. Google apparently filmed the Sand Hill Plaza shortly after Toy Works closed in 2008.

This is the sad, empty shell of the Newtown Toy Works that I worked
at. There was a smaller store or two between Toy Works and the
 building jutting out in the background which is a grocery store.

UPDATE 3/15/18: When I first wrote this post it was in regards to 182 Toys "R" Us stores closing but now the retailer is going out of business and closing every single store. I also read an article today about how the company had a massive amount of debt well before became extremely successful, and that Walmart was the biggest competitor, having more than double the sales of Toys "R" Us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Gaming Ads: GTE Entertainment and Backfilling #1

GTE Entertainment was a computer game publisher based in California during the mid-'90s. It was a division of GTE Vantage which itself was a subsidiary of the telecommunications company GTE Corporation. GTE Vantage also had a development branch originally known as GTE ImagiTrek before being renamed to GTE Interactive Media.

This week I'm also going to be filling in some more ads on publishers I've previously posted about. These can easily be seen by checking out the Flickr "Camera Roll" section on this date. I'll list the items being added here as well: 3DO (1), Acclaim (5), Accolade (4), ActionSoft (2), Activision (1), Atari (4), and Avalon Hill (2).

Flickr album: GTE Entertainment
Flickr update: Backfilling (January 20, 2018)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Gaming Ads: GT Interactive Software

GT Interactive Software was founded in 1993 as a division of GoodTimes Home Video. If you played computer games in the '90s you've likely encountered GT Interactive as it was involved in the publishing or distribution of many high profile series. The original Doom from id Software was GT's first game product as it was the distributor of the shareware title. It also published and/or distributed a number of games from 3D Realms (Duke Nukem), Epic Games (Unreal), Midway (Mortal Kombat) and Oddworld Inhabitants (Oddworld series) among others. In 1996 GT Interactive acquired both WizardWorks, a publisher that specialized in value priced software (Deer Hunter), and Humongous Entertainment, a publisher and developer of educational games for children (Pajama Sam, Spy Fox). It also began expanding into Europe in 1996 and continued to make acquisitions for a few years.

In 1999 GT Interactive posted its first quarterly losses due to restructuring and lower game sales, and debt began to mount. That year Infogrames S.A. purchased 70% of the company and renamed it Infogrames, Inc. Infogrames had also acquired the Atari name and in 2003 changed Infogrames, Inc. to Atari, Inc., and in 2008 took full control of the company formerly known as GT Interactive. Some of this overlaps with the previous Atari ads post and will likely come up again when I get to Hasbro Interactive and Infogrames.

Flickr album: GT Interactive Software

Sunday, January 7, 2018

[YouTube] Star Wars Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments: The Prequel Trilogy

The original trilogy tree with a 1981
Yoda hand puppet on top.
On December 24th I had a post about 14 ornaments for the first three Star Wars movies with a video showcasing the ones that light up and/or have sound. This post features eight that are based on the prequel trilogy with two that have light and/or sound. Like Boba Fett, Darth Maul cannot stand on his own so his photos vary slightly. Also, like the Ewoks of the original trilogy, the Jedi Council ornaments are miniatures. Are you wondering why this post is appearing on January 7th? I don't plan on talking religion (or politics) on this blog but I do try to tie some posts into current events and although I cannot keep track and post something for every holiday around the world, January 7th is Orthodox Christmas.

Technically this is my Christmas though as a kid I celebrated on both days. The 25th is my mother's Christmas and being in the U.S.A. that's also when schools have the long holiday break so that was generally our big celebration. If January 7th didn't fall on a weekend as it does this year then it made the day a little challenging since I'd have to attend school during the day, then church and celebrate with my father's family in the evening, while also trying to get my homework done and be ready for school the next day. It didn't help that the church we attended was close to an hour drive away after my family moved when I was in the 3rd grade. Of course, no kid is going complain about having two Christmas'.

Queen Amidala (1999)


Naboo Starfighter (1999)



Qui-Gon Jinn (2000)


Darth Maul (2000)


Darth Maul's face is very detailed.

Jedi Council (2000)


Gungan Submarine (2000)




The Gungan sub plugs into a strand of lights that
light up the bottom (see above), front, and...

Naboo Royal Starship (2001)



Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi (2006)


This lightsaber duel on Mustafar is powered by three
1.5V button-cell batteries. It lights up and features
sound effects and dialog from Revenge of the Sith.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Gaming Ads: GoldStar and Greer & Associates

Founded in 1958 in South Korea, GoldStar changed its name to LG in 1995 and is still in business today making a variety of electronics and appliances. In the gaming industry GoldStar was one of the companies that manufactured 3DO game consoles. The 3DO Company designed the console but didn't produce it, instead it licensed the platform to others such as Panasonic and GoldStar. One of the three ads I currently have displays both the GoldStar and LG names as the company name change took place the year after GoldStar began making the 3DO.

Greer & Associates was based in California and made at least one game accessory. It's likely Greer didn't do too much else as I cannot locate any information on the company and it's certainly not the insurance company in Texas that shares the same name. All four of the ads I've got are for the same product which is a light device for the original Game Boy called The Illuminator.

Flickr album: GoldStar
Flickr album: Greer & Associates

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: The Year in Review

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Vault 1541! Looking back I'd say the blog posts went well but the YouTube videos had ups and downs as I struggled with audio. I didn't miss a single ads posts as there was one every Saturday morning as promised. However, a few times I didn't realize the images on Flickr were set to private so I did mess that up just a bit. For YouTube I've had a hard time making them interesting enough to gain much traction. Most are likely too long as well, though two videos have found some success: the very first one I made which is about Starting Lineup Talking Baseball and the unboxing of Sonic Mania. I'd guess someone probably linked to the baseball video recently as that took off a few months ago.

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball

My biggest disappointment is that so many of my old electronics are breaking or already broken after having been boxed for many, many years. The Sega CD won't power on, the Sega Game Gear has no sound, Omega Supreme won't walk, a number of Star Wars vehicles won't make sounds, the Jawa Sandcrawler remote doesn't do anything, Coleco's Electronic Learning Machine doesn't work, and yesterday my Commodore 64 broke, perhaps the worse thing that could have broken. I was still able to complete the "Let's Play" video I was making as it cut out near the end but that made me feel so down and still does. I've struggled in my attempts to fix anything and I'll likely have to find an expert to do repairs. There were a few C64 game videos planned to tie into events, such as the Winter Olympics, over the next month or so but those are now in jeopardy.

With the amount of time I spent on the blog last year I had far less time for video games and thus only completed 18 games which is a small number for myself. A few of the games were not released in 2017 either so I really didn't play enough games to say what was the best of the year but I can list my favorites:

  1. Yakuza 0
  2. Horizon: Zero Dawn
  3. Assassin's Creed Origins
  4. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
  5. Mass Effect: Andromeda
  6. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
  7. Sniper Elite 4
  8. Star Wars: Battlefront II

Eight is the best I can do and some of those aren't even that well made. Star Wars is only here because I wanted to play anything Star Wars; I didn't touch multiplayer and although the single-player's story needs more work, at least I got to play Star Wars. I keep hearing 2017 was a great year for games and that it will be hard to top in 2018 -- I cannot say I agree with that statement. Perhaps I played the wrong games as Nier: Automata is among everyone's favorites but after an hour I had to turn it off. It must get a lot better, it has to if so many people love it. However, that first hour is simply awful: gameplay is boring and repetitive, dialog is laughable and terribly acted, and it's not pleasant to look at either. I really don't like to be negative and do try to find the positive in games, and like I said, I only played a hour. That being said, I think it's safe to say the worst game of the year is Road Rage which has no business being at retail ($29.99) -- it's a $10 digital game at best but it's really bad, avoid it. Nintendo's Zelda and Mario titles are the other two big games of the year for many. If you've followed the blog you'll know I grew up on Sega and never got into Nintendo games, and I've yet to try a Switch so I cannot comment on those games. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn screenshot.

Since most of the games on my list are rated "M" by the ESRB and I like to keep the blog family focused my top recommendation is Horizon: Zero Dawn (rated "T"). It's an open world game set in a future after humanity screwed up and nearly wiped themselves out. Animal-like robots roam the world as pockets of human civilizations, most resembling Native American settlements, struggle to survive and learn about the technology that surrounds them. The game has a likable protagonist (voiced by Ashly Burch), is well written, perfectly acted, and is set in an interesting world, even if it doesn't have a lot of variety. It also has Fringe's Broyles (Lance Reddick) in it! I loved Fringe, it is a great sci-fi TV show; by the way, in 2016 Reddick starred in another game, Quantum Break. A complete edition of Horizon was released at retail last month that includes an expansion and I highly recommend it (MSRP is $49.99).

Horizon: Zero Dawn has a photo mode! This was taken in The
Frozen Wilds expansion that is in the complete edition.

Looking ahead I'll continue doing the same things and try to improve at YouTube videos. I'd certainly like to gain some more followers and I still believe that the old magazine reviews and articles would appeal to many, I just need to find a better way to get the word out there. I was hopeful old commercials would get people's attention at YouTube which has not yet happened though it is still early. I'm not sure how many commercials I'll find as these have come from a few VHS tapes I was able to get my parents to bring to me when they visited a couple months ago. They've got a lot tapes I believe, I just live far away and haven't had a chance to get there to go through them. I did get a few more toy commercials ready yesterday so why not start off the new year by enjoying a commercial for a failed G.I. Joe toy line -- Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles... Happy New Year!