Sunday, January 5, 2020

RWX 2020: The Countdown is On!


The Sixth Annual RetroWorld Expo is taking place this September!

We're back at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut during the weekend of September 19th and 20th. The core management team has been hard at work, sending out guest invites and working out logistics for the show. There's not really a lot set in stone yet, aside from the dates, but tons of information will be released as the event gets closer. Ticket packages for the show are already locked in, including two special weekend sets that come with extra goodies.

I say "we", because I'm once again working with the management team. I'll be managing the Twitter account for the event, working with the community manager and the management team to keep followers up to date on all things RWX. In addition, I'll be returning as the voice of the show for the fourth consecutive year... so that voice you'll hear at the top of every hour will be mine. I'm proud to be coming back in a greater capacity, after taking some time off last year. I'm looking forward to it all.

I'll be posting some related things here on the website, including my own experiences over the past five shows and news about guests and events. For now, though, things are in a bit of a lull as the core management team continues to put the pieces together.

Stay tuned!

Rediscovering N64, Part Zero: It Lives!


My Nintendo 64 sat in my bedroom, untouched for nearly 16 months. The last time I used it was for a video I had shot for my YouTube channel on NFL Blitz. The controller and the console were shrouded in a thin layer of dust, and the games had been relocated out of their drawers and put into some bins.
There had been a few times in 2019 that I had thought about getting rid of the Nintendo 64 and games. I had actually sold off a few of the more valuable titles, like GoldenEye 007 and Paper Mario, to fund other retro purchases, but couldn't bring myself to part with everything. Something in my brain always put an end to that idea-- perhaps because the console has some emotional significance, or maybe because I had a feeling that I would return to it someday.
I have always loved this logo design. 3D for a 3D console.

That feeling grew stronger late in the year. There are a few Nintendo 64-related accounts that I follow on my Twitter timeline, and seeing the regular mentions of the console and games got me to thinking about getting back to my own console. Converting that feeling to reality was a bit challenging, though, as I was generally worn out every day after working; most days, despite having a collection of over 3,000 retro games to play at will, I would just come home and collapse onto my bed-- usually falling asleep to a YouTube video. 

After an 11-day break from work, I felt refreshed enough to try turning the Nintendo 64 on after work on January 2nd. I took time to clean the dust off of everything, and then popped in NBA Hangtime for the moment of truth-- would the console still work after more than a year of neglect and idling in the dark, lower regions of my entertainment center? Admittedly, I got nervous as I flipped the power switch upwards. What would I do if the console had just died? Would I get another, or just sell what games I had and move on? If it did work, what kind of shape would the controller be in? 

My fears were unfounded. The console came to life immediately, and I blew through a couple of games of NBA Hangtime. Happy feelings and memories rushed through me as I played, and then I started switching to other games. WCW/nWo Revenge, WWF No Mercy, Cruis'n USA, Pokemon Snap, and others all got a turn. Those three hours were, in a word, awesome. While exhaustion from my first day back at work eventually caught up with me, I had achieved a pretty important goal in successfully testing the Nintendo 64. It was ready for more use, and I couldn't be happier. 

"Dig-dig-diggety... dig-diggety dog." Seriously, those are the lyrics to the theme song.

It also meant that my goal of rediscovering the Nintendo 64 this year became attainable. I still have to take stock of which games I have, and put together a list of games that I'd like to add to my library... but I'm thrilled that I can play it and hopefully have the time to write about it for the website soon. It was also awesome to follow through on an objective like I had set for myself when the year began. 

So, now what? I have two goals for this year:

1. Build the Rediscovering Nintendo 64 series on the website. I can talk about the games I'm playing, share certain memories, and talk about my new experiences with the Nintendo 64. How will my perception of the console change, if at all? What are my favorite games? How do the sports games compare to their PlayStation cousins? I have a lot of angles to write about, so ideas won't be the problem. That's why this entry is "part zero"-- now the fun part begins. 

2. Add to my Nintendo 64 library. I'm going to be selective, but I'd like to find some CIB (complete in box) games to upgrade from my loose cartridges... and maybe even a few sealed games to open for the Unsealed show. Any loose games would be ones that I don't currently own and want to revisit, including games that I foolishly parted with last year. Money is going to be tight in 2020, so this will be a very gradual effort. 

At this point, I'm thrilled that the console still works. It feels new again, as it had been so long since I played it. Let the adventure begin. 

Again.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Happy 2020, and welcome to Pete's Perspective-- my little corner of the internet! I'm glad that you took the time to visit, whether you came by clicking a link I shared on social media or just because you stumbled upon the site in another way. 

The highlight of 2019 for me was having my work published alongside the work of a fantastic team of writers and staff who put together this book. It's a project that we all worked on for more than 18 months. I got to play and review most of the sports games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was definitely a challenge at times (like playing all seven Madden games), but all of the time and effort was worthwhile. 

I have more than 85 reviews in the book!
One of the lowest points was when my PlayStation 4 console died late in 2019, about 5 years after getting it. I decided against replacing it, because having to reinstall 3+ terabytes of games (between installs, downloads, and patches) would take months... and I really didn't want to bother with such an ordeal. The beneficiary of this unfortunate event has been my Nintendo Switch, which I've used a ton since. I'm appreciating it a lot more now than I did when my PS4 was the main gaming console. While the Xbox One X has taken that mantle for now, it's pretty much a 55/45 split between then when it comes to time spent playing modern games. 

On the retro side of things, my library of older games surged past 3,000 titles in 2019. I have more than 950 PlayStation 2 games now, and over 700 original PlayStation games. In addition, my Wii library is now up over 300 titles. I focused a lot on PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and Gamecube this year, though I did back off of collecting NES, SNES, and Genesis games. The biggest challenge for me now is finding space for the collection. It's an annoying problem, but certainly not one I'm unhappy about, to be sure. 

Yeah, that's a lot of games.
My Unsealed video series continued all the way through 2019, reaching 125 episodes before the end of the year. After I struggled with show ideas like Retro Unscripted and Retro Referee in years past, I've really found my stride here. In fact, I've incorporated my Retro Referee character into several of the episodes and my work with Retro Unscripted really laid the foundation for using my own experiences and memories when talking about the games that I open. While I'd love to see more viewers or YouTube channel subscribers, this project is not about the metrics-- it's about having fun and making the videos that I want to make. It's been a fantastic ride. 

So... what lies ahead for 2020? I don't like making "resolutions", because I don't think I'm as good as I should be at keeping them. Instead, here are some things that I would like to accomplish in the coming year:

1. Play more games: It's great to collect, write about, and talk about video games... but I've gotten away from actually playing them. When "adulting", finding a balance between work, self-maintenance, social interaction, daily or weekly errands, and entertainment can be really difficult. That said, I am fortunate to have a ton of games to play and want to make time to just enjoy them. What's more, if I do that, it could give me more things to write about here. Speaking of which...

2. Add content here more consistently: It's a goal, not a resolution... but I really want to do this. I'm paying for the domain, after all, so I should do more with the site than leave it idle for long periods of time. I think this and my goal of playing more games will go hand-in-hand. I hope it will. I have some ideas, like...

3. Rediscover the Nintendo 64: I didn't play my Nintendo 64 once in 2019. That's sad. I also tend to have a pretty negative opinion of the platform, and have been thinking lately that maybe I could have my mind changed if I just spent time playing games on it. The first order of business will be to make sure that the thing still works (which is on my short-term list of things to do). Then, if it does, it'll be time to clear my mind and just play. Maybe this could be a running diary that I can document here. Also, if it does, I'd like to resume adding games to my library for it. I'll have to be a bit selective, though, given my limited space. 

4. Finish an RPG: I haven't played an RPG to its conclusion since Final Fantasy II/IV for the SNES back in 1992. I've played a lot of RPGs since, but never beat any. I kind of want to play Chrono Trigger, given that I can play that anywhere on my 3DS, since it turns 25 years old here in the United States this year. Maybe I'll play through Final Fantasy II/IV again. Or maybe I'll pick something else. In any event, I have 12 months. Let's see if I can do it. 

5. Honor the PlayStation's 25th anniversary here in the United States: I have a huge place in my heart for the original PlayStation. Despite the rocky start I had with the console (stupid Zenith TV and that bouncing picture), I loved it before I even owned one on September 9th, 1995. It has such an awesome library and there were many important life events that took place during its time of relevance. I'm still trying to figure out how I want to do this, whether it's on video, with written entries here, or both, but it's important to me. 

With that, it's time to get this year started. May 2020 bring you and yours health, happiness, success, and time to enjoy some video games. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Coin-Op Time Machine #2: Berzerk



COIN DETECTED IN POCKET.

When nine year-old me first heard that voice while looking around at the arcade machines at a Norwich, Connecticut bowling alley back in 1981, I was freaked out. Who said that, and how did anyone else know that I had two quarters in my pocket? The voice came from an arcade game called Berzerk, and that immediately caught my attention. I needed to play this game-- it talked!

I put my quarter in, and was greeted by a maze-like room with robots in it. They were just kind of standing there, so it was easy to destroy them by firing my laser. It was kind of creepy, though; there was no music-- just the sound of laser fire and exploding robots. Then the voice boomed again:

KILL THE HUMANOID.

It sent a chill down my young spine. It was me or them. I tried to quickly dispatch the robots. It was weird that they were just standing there, but I didn't want to take any chances. As each robot exploded, my score increased by 50 points. Destroying all of the robots gave my score a nice boost, too. After eliminating the last enemy in the room, I left via the right exit. "This is pretty easy," I remember saying to myself.


The next room had a different layout, and the robots were a different color. Unlike the last room, the robots were firing at me this time. Their shots were slow and easily avoidable. One robot shot another in trying to take me down. Two others ran into each other. I was a bit more methodical this time, being careful not to eat a laser beam. With one robot left, that voice sounded an ominous warning:

INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!

Huh? What was this? Emerging from the left side of the room was this bouncing ball with a smiling face. "Bonus points!" I thought to myself, as I charged at the grinning sphere-- but that was a mistake. Laser fire did nothing as the thing happily bounced toward me. I turned to run, and wound up banging into a wall-- which zapped me dead!

GOT THE HUMANOID! GOT THE INTRUDER!


I made it through another pair of rooms. The robots got faster and more accurate with their gunfire. In trying to zap all of the robots in a room, that bouncing ball would show up and chase me down. It bounced into me and zapped me in one room, taking my last extra life. In the next room, in order to survive, I decided to flee when it appeared. The decision to leave any robots surviving elicited trash talk from the disembodied voice:

CHICKEN! FIGHT LIKE A ROBOT!

I lost my final life in the next room, thanks to not seeing a laser beam shot at me diagonally. I got to put my initials in for a high score, and I became a fan of this game for life thereafter. This never-ending battle for survival against the machines and the creepy voice received more than several of the quarters that I would have during my year or so living in this small Connecticut town. Since the bowling alley was within a short walking distance from where I was living, I would sometimes walk down there and just hang out, hoping to find quarters in the coin return slots or maybe get to watch someone else play the game.


Berzerk, on the surface, is a very simple game with three key objectives: Destroy robots, navigate each room's pseudo-labyrinthine layout, and survive as long as possible. It's got a simple control scheme, too, using just a joystick and a fire button. It's easy to learn, and the gradually-increasing difficulty succeeds at drawing players in with early success...  only to humble and humiliate them before too long. This is, after all, an arcade game-- and the mission of any arcade game is to separate a player from that player's coins. Getting more than 5 minutes out of one credit is a pretty good run. Heck, in revisiting Berzerk for this piece, I was only able to manage 8,000 points twice-- and never scored 10,000. If you get to a room with silver robots (more than a dozen screens in), the laser fire is nearly impossible to avoid because of its speed and frequency. You almost have to anticipate where shots will come from and hope that a few robots off each other to stand a chance.

The game's simple graphics still hold up today, nearly four decades later. The robots change color after each couple of rooms, but the sprite remains the same. There's something about Evil Otto-- the indestructible bouncing ball of death-- mostly because of that unchanging smile as it bounds toward the player. It's just a simple sphere with a smiley face, but Evil Otto is unforgettable once it chases you down. The animation of the player is pretty good, too. All told, that visual simplicity allows Berzerk to be a timeless classic that can be enjoyed by any player of any age, from any generation of video gaming.

The sound-- particularly that robotic voice-- is what makes Berzerk memorable for me. Voice in arcade games around this time always got my attention. Not too far away from the Berzerk machine at this bowling alley was Gorgar, a 1979 pinball machine from Williams that also utilized voice. Across the street from the bowling alley was a diner that had a Vanguard machine, which had some digitized voice included. Wizard of Wor and Gorf are also up there for me when it comes to voice in arcade games. That said, it was that one line about a coin being detected in my pocket that grabbed my attention... and the rest has been history.



Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Coin-Op Time Machine #1: Capcom Bowling


Bowling has been a favorite hobby of mine for decades. One of the coolest non-electronic birthday presents I ever got was a set of plastic bowling pins and a ball for my ninth birthday in 1981. I would bowl along with TV shows like Bowling For Dollars or telecasts of the PBA Tour every Saturday. A few years later, in 1986, I joined a youth candlepin bowling league... then, during my adult life, I began ten-pin bowling in 1993. The ten-pin bowling league was really a front to get into the good graces of my then-girlfriend's parents, who were league bowlers. I even bought a $200 ball, a pair of shoes, and a bowling bag to try and fit in. In time, I learned how to bowl okay, and learned how to "hook"-- or curve-- the ball from right to left like the pros do. I bowled in leagues on and off until 2001; I tried to get back into it last year, but this 47 year-old body isn't built for the rigors of 50-60 hard-cranking throws of a 15-pound ball anymore.

"What's your point?" you're probably asking.

Well, arcade games and bowling alleys go hand in hand. Bowling alleys introduced me to coin-ops that I've forever enjoyed since, like Berzerk, Gorgar pinball, Street Fighter Alpha, and more. One such game is Capcom Bowling, developed by Incredible Technologies and released by Capcom in 1988. Virtual bowling in a bowling alley? It's just crazy enough to work, and I sure dropped a few quarters into that machine either at the bowling alley or in my favorite mall arcade during that time. It's a rather no-frills kind of experience; aside from a high score leaderboard, there's no stat tracking, characters to pick from, or even a bowler displayed on-screen. It's your ball, ten pins, and a wooden lane between them.

To quote the great Al Bundy: STEEEE-RIIKE!
The best part of Capcom Bowling is its simplicity. Using a Trak-Ball controller, players roll the ball toward the pins and aim for the "pocket"-- the space between the front (head) pin and either pin just behind it. Finding the right speed is important, too; launching the ball down the lane doesn't allow the pins to react and often leaves nasty splits. There is an option to hook the ball either slightly or more severely, but I honestly never use it since a straighter trajectory works just as well in most situations. Like real bowling, the biggest challenge is being consistent with your shots every frame. Slightly slower speed or missing the target by even a little bit can mean the difference between a strike and a split. Whatever you do, be sure to watch the hourglass! If time runs out on your turn, it's a foul!

The presentation is laid back and amusing. After most spares or strikes, a short cutscene will play. It's fun to see how many you can watch during a game or two. Cows, kangaroos, animated bowling balls, and more will pop up to compliment your performance. Rolling the ball between pins of a split, much like kicking a football through the uprights, will sometimes trigger a funny field goal scene. Electronic bowling alley scoring these days employs the same kind of fun animations after each frame, so perhaps Capcom Bowling was a bit of a trendsetter!

This is the one cutscene you don't want to see.
Playing the game alone, as I often did (and still do), means a pretty quick experience. Solo games can be completed in just a couple of minutes. It means competing against the leaderboard for the right to enter your initials for other players to see. Adding up to three friends, usually for only a quarter per player, makes the experience a lot more competitive and fun. It's especially fun at a bowling alley or a bar, where you and your friends can just hang out, talk a little playful trash, and have a few drinks (or Pepsis, in my case).

Speaking of drinks, there's an alternate release of this game, called Coors Light Bowling, which came out a year later. Much like Midway's Budweiser-branded Tapper coin-op, Coors Light Bowling is loaded with Coors Light cross-branding in the game's presentation. The cutscenes are different here, with shots of the Coors Light logo or characters from Capcom Bowling holding beer cans instead of bowling pins. Rolling a strike in the 5th frame will earn players a "Beer Frame" cutscene, featuring a mug of (what else?) Coors Light. A few of the cutscenes are a bit more... adult, as well. If you see the bowling pin with the Mary Hart legs, you'll know what I mean. Obviously, this cabinet wasn't found in most arcades; you had to find this one in bowling alleys or bars. If you've played Capcom Bowling, though, you've played Coors Light Bowling.

Strike in the fifth frame! Virtual Coors Light for everyone!
One last note to make here is that Incredible Technologies, the development team behind the game, would quickly go on to make a game called Golden Tee Golf in 1989. You might have heard of that one before. Much like Capcom Bowling, Golden Tee uses the Trak-Ball controller; pull the ball back to set the backswing, then hammer it forward to let it rip. Golden Tee Golf eventually replaced Capcom Bowling at many bowling alleys as the de facto arcade game of choice.

I have a lot of fond memories of Capcom Bowling, and playing it definitely takes back in time. It's not the deepest game, it's not the most fully-featured game, and it's not the hardest game around... but it's what a classic arcade game should be: easy to learn, difficult to master, and fun to play. It makes me long for mall arcades, chicken tenders and Pepsi at the local bowling alley, and the days when I could bowl fifty frames without getting sore knees or other pain.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Perspectives: In Defense of the Atari 2600

Cosmic Ark is still one of my favorite 2600 games.
The Atari 2600 came out in 1977. I was all of five years old back then, and didn't play it at that time. I was still fiddling around with the APF TV Fun unit that my dad had brought home a year prior, and honestly... that's probably all that I could've grasped at the time. A dial was enough of a challenge for me, though (according to my mom), I was still good enough to beat my dad pretty consistently. 

My first Atari 2600 experience came in 1980. My mom wound up taking us to live with her parents after my mom could no longer live with my paternal grandparents, who had taken us in just after my mom an dad had split up. I wasn't a fan of this arrangement, but the purchase of an Atari 2600 by my maternal grandparents lessened the blow a bit. This thing was awesome. Combat was a bit simple, but playing Space Invaders without going to an arcade was really cool. Adventure tested my skills and patience as an eight year-old. Bowling was a lot of fun. All told, having video games like these in the house was mind-blowing. 

Yes, that's Donkey Kong. Really. 

"Okay," you're probably thinking, "but what's the point here?"

Perspective. 

I was fortunate enough to be alive when the Atari 2600 was the new thing, the in thing. We only had arcade games to compare the experience to. If you liked video games, as I did, the Atari 2600 was awesome at this time. The games were a mix of arcade-style games, traditional games (like sports or casino games), and experimental games. The arcade games were my favorites. Playing Berzerk at home wasn't that far from playing the coin-op, aside from the missing voices. Frogger was a decent approximation, even if the animation wasn't smooth like the game that I sunk a few quarters into. The experimental stuff, like Pitfall!, was neat to play because there was nothing else like it. Multiple screens and timed gameplay? Wow. 

Berzerk is still a lot of fun, and holds up well on the 2600.

What I find now is that some of today's content creators who cover retro video games tend to take a big ol' dump on the 2600. They wonder what the heck we were thinking back then. They criticize the graphics. They lament the simplicity. They tend to view these games and the platform on the whole through a narrow lens, missing a key layer of understanding... which revolves around comparing the games to what we had at the time. That perspective is important. 

I get that the graphics are simple. I know that the sound effects are limited. I understand that the games aren't that deep. Many games are unbeatable, as they revolve around scoring instead of an end goal. That's how things were. Arcade games were similar. You didn't "beat" Frogger or Gorf. You tested your endurance and skill, shooting for the highest score. There were some games you could beat, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even the unfairly-maligned E.T... but these games are hard to grasp for players who didn't grow up with them. 

So many people give E.T. a bad rap, and unfairly so.

I just played some E.T. prior to writing this. Memory and experience quickly kicked in, and I remembered what I learned when I played it originally. I'll grant that falling into pits is annoying, and happens a bit too much; however, the basics of the game are simple: Find the communicator parts, "phone" home, and wait to be picked up. The instruction manual (Remember those?) told us the "how"s and "why"s. I knew what the arrows and other symbols meant because I took a few moments to read the manual back then. I don't think many people in this day and age give a second thought to looking at an instruction manual, let alone take time to read it. 

I won't argue that the Atari 2600 is the best video game platform ever made. It's not even in my Top Five. As technology improved, so did the home video game experience. Having said that, I can also recognize why the Atari 2600 is so significant. It was the "in thing" for a few years, and that's due in no small part to the fact that it was-- for its time-- an impressive platform with a ton of games that delivered hours of fun to families everywhere. 

You don't have to like the console or its games, but I firmly believe that it deserves some respect and put into a proper perspective. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Retro Referee: Bad News Baseball (NES)



Bad News Baseball isn't necessarily one of the games that comes to mind when thinking about NES baseball titles. Most players will instinctively think of RBI Baseball, Baseball Stars, or Bases Loaded... but this game absolutely deserves to be added to the conversation when considering some of the best baseball games for the console. It's easy to play, has plenty of replay value, and incorporates Tecmo's then-trademark cutscenes to spice up the experience.

Pitchers can change speeds and add a measure of break, but their skill in these areas is dictated by stats that managers can look at before each game. Some pitchers are fireballers, reaching speeds of over 100mph. Others can curve inside and outside, painting the corners with efficiency. Holding the D-pad up while pitching turns the pitch into a forkball that falls onto the plate and can fool certain hitters. Unfortunately, pitcher stamina is very short. After just a few fastballs or forkballs, pitchers lose a lot of velocity, making their deliveries easier to make contact with. Careful management of pitcher stamina is a requisite, even for teams that hold significant leads.



There's no doubt that offense is the star of the show here. Home runs come in bunches, with teams occasionally stringing together three or four round-trippers in a row. There are some seeing-eye grounders that can take defenses by surprise and speedy runners can sometimes turn these into extra-base hits. Computer-controlled pitchers are often always around the plate, so timing and an aggressive approach are favored over patience and taking pitches.

Fielding is decent. Players must react and move fielders at the ping of the bat, ranging deep on fly balls and ranging left or right depending on the batted ball's flight path. With some practice, fielding becomes fairly reliable; however, errors occur randomly and can sometimes be the difference between a 1-2-3 inning and a crooked number.



Games move at a quick pace, even in blowout situations, and full games can be played in 15-20 minutes. Cutscenes occasionally pop up during close calls on the basepaths, and always play after home runs. There are several different homer scenes, based on situations like solo shots or three-run jacks. They're reminiscent of a Little League game, with lots of team interaction and poking fun at adults-- like sleeping coaches in the dugout. Particularly long drives have a cool outer space scene that's seemingly pulled straight out of Baseball Bugs. These cutscenes add personality to the overall game while not being obtrusive or annoying.

Replay value for solo players revolves around trying to beat each team in the game. Difficulty gradually increases with each successive matchup. Don't expect to blow out later opponents after winning by the 10+ run "mercy rule" early on. Unfortunately, the passwords to resume play are lengthy, and it's recommended that players take snap photos of these if needed instead of writing them down. A battery save would've been really nice here.



The visuals are generally quite good, especially during the cutscenes and the pitcher/batter matchup. Players are nicely detailed and animate well through their swings or pitching motions. When the camera zooms out to a fielding perspective, players all look the same. One unique animation is that, when offensive players are called out, they fall to the ground with stars dancing around their heads. This gets old fast, though. Sound is fueled by catchy theme music for each team and occasional digitized voice calls from the long-eared bunny umpire. It's a decent audio-visual package overall that performs well and doesn't have too many drawbacks.

Bad News Baseball may be lacking features that the more prominent NES baseball games have, but it's not lacking at all in the fun department-- and that's what counts the most. Whether you just fire it up for a quick game or two, or whether you want to see what happens when you beat all of the teams, this game is worthy of a place in your NES library.