• Top Five: Best Books About the History of Video Games

    In case the nature of my very own overly-long writing wasn’t something like a giveaway, I’m big into books — specifically those of the non-fiction, historically-oriented sort of variety. If a book can cover that criteria and do so in a way that’s entertaining and narratively engaging, that’s all the better. And naturally, being the dweeb that I am, a number of the books on my digital bookshelf pertain to the subject of video games, and the history of their development / the industry itself. I’m sorry if that’s all, like, super predictable of me?

    I believe it takes a certain skill set to be able to write about video games in a fashion that’s actually compelling or entertaining. Maybe one day, it’ll be a skill I actually pick up for myself! But until that day comes, I suppose I’ll have to settle for just recommending some of my favorite books on the subject of video games. Obviously, I haven’t yet read every last book there is about games, and I’ve currently got a queue that’s pages-long in itself, so I’m not calling this list “concrete” or “definitive” anything; It’s all just my current personal preference, folks.

    Oh, and because I can’t help myself, I also went and tacked on one “Honorable Mention” and one “Dishonorable Mention.” And boy howdy, lemme tell you: The latter of those is a real doozy.

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    Shaq Fu

    “My Wrap Is Better Than Your Rap.”

    “He wears Size 22 EEE shoes on his feet.
    His opponents usually wear them on their face.”

    Knick-knack Shaq-attack, give Important Business Dinosaur a bone.

    It’s hard to hate on Shaquille O’Neal. Outside of his career as an NBA MVP, he’s also earned himself the reputation of being one of basketball’s most lovable goofballs: Constantly charismatic, and never taking himself too seriously. At the same time, you get the feeling that no matter what this dude sets his mind to, he just commits to it 200%, and I admire that a lot. He’s also a man who refuses to be labelled as just being a figure in sports, willing to try his hand at anything he seems to develop an interest in; whether it be acting, rapping, or even pursuing a doctorate degree. And of course, he was even the star of his own video game, now with a sequel set to release nearly 25 years after the fact. Sadly, this last bit isn’t really an accomplishment all that worthy of celebrating.

    1994’s Shaq Fu likely needs no introduction, but it’s gonna get one here anyway: It’s known as one of the very worst games of all time, making a multitude of lists and countdowns on the subject. It is the product of a very particular era in licensed games history, where celebrity brands found themselves associated with all manner of unlikely, seemingly unrelated genres of game. So reviled is this game, it’s spawned a website dedicated entirely to the purpose of tracking down and destroying every last copy of it. Even O’Neal himself has gone on to spoof his involvement with the title in all manner of media, able to find the humor in his name being tied to such an infamous product of 90’s excess. As a result of all this, Shaq Fu might very well be the most well-known bad game of all time.

    At a certain point, Shaq Fu seemed to transcend the very medium of video games, and became something more… how you say, incorporeal? Seriously; folk seem to think of it less as a physical cartridge to be plugged in and played, and as more of an idea — some intangible, purely imaginable thing, spoken of more along the lines of legend rather than as a real product that was ever offered for sale. The problem here is, more folk have only ever talked about Shaq Fu than have actually ever played it for themselves. So much of what is “known” about the game is rooted in reputation and oral tradition rather than actual hands-on experience, giving the game this sort of mystical aura about it. But Shaq Fu is obviously more than just myth: There really is an actual game cartridge buried beneath it all!

    So, here’s the score: I’ve gone and played through Shaq Fu, and now I’m here to write about what exactly made it such a hated game to begin with. Not only that, but I’m also here to discuss who developed the game and how it even came to be. But you know what? That still isn’t quite enough for me, so I’m also going to go ahead and review the four conversions of the game to different consoles and handhelds of the era! And hell, as long as I’m here, I might as well talk about Shaquille O’Neal’s hip-hop career too, because why the hell not? And when I’m finished with all that, I’m going to tell you why the sequel we’re getting now is a stupid idea, and why it will ultimately underwhelm everyone foolish enough to pay it mind. In the spirit of the man himself, “I’m a be a Shaq knife and cut [this game] with precision.”

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    Snake’s Revenge

    “What Is Metal Gear? I Have Never Heard of It.”

    “You’re a combination Rambo, James Bond, John Wayne, and Lawrence of Arabia.”
    Top-secret art by @Edupatilla.

    Solid Snake is dead. The Hind Ds have left the Heaven, the victims have been bled, red velvet lines the cardboard box, so on and so forth.[♬] But in a cruel bit of injustice, his murderers have gotten off scot-free. I am of course referring to none other than Konami Holdings Corporation; the former games conglomerate turned pachinko peddlers. Konami is guilty of far more than just terminating some of it’s most beloved games franchises though, with far more serious charges related to their mistreatment of employees, attempts to discredit and stifle some of their star developers, and embarrassing bouts of mismanagement bordering on self-sabotage. In other words: They stink.

    But Metal Gear is a franchise that has always existed sort of perpetually on the verge of death, what with Hideo Kojima himself wanting to retire the series for the better part of two decades. With each new installment in the series promised to be “his last,” Kojima has always demonstrated a desire to move on to new projects and to let sleeping snakes lie. Hell, even as early as the first game in the series, he had no immediate intention of producing a follow-up. It’s by a series of fortunate events that Kojima would be inspired to direct his own sequel — a series of events that would first see an alternate sequel developed entirely without his input.

    Snake’s Revenge for the Nintendo Entertainment System released in North America in April of 1990. Despite being developed by a team within Konami of Japan, the game was never intended to be sold in its country of origin. Designed specifically with what Konami considered to be the tastes of the “Western market” in mind, it represents something like a divergence — an alternate path the franchise may have well traveled down, if Kojima had not stepped in to steer the series back on course. As a Metal Gear title developed without his supervision or even so much as based on one of his own ideas, the natural impulse of many of Kojima’s most ardent fans is to dismiss the game outright. But while it’s most certainly not canon, is that really sufficient grounds to write it off entirely?

    Today, we aim to declassify this top-secret project, and uncover the shocking truths hidden within. We’ll order a sitrep on how this whole fiasco got started, proceed to the mission at hand, and recount the details of what happened after the game’s release in our debrief. So grab your guns, bring your bright red camo, and prepare to infiltrate the “FORTRESS FANATIC!”

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    Friday the 13th

    “If Jason Manages to Defeat All the Children, the Game Ends.”

    “You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday…”
    Good-timey camp time art by @Spalooncooties.

    The games industry doesn’t have all that great a reputation for licensed releases based on horror films, does it? Sure, there have been some great horror games that have taken cues from cinema — your original Resident Evils and Fatal Frames and whatnot. But when it comes to actually adapting licenses, something always seems to get lost in the translation. Whether it’s failure to fully realize a film’s unique concept in video game form, inability to instill fear in a player, or straight-up bad game design, so many horror movie games have come out feeling so lacking.

    For my money, there were three games that managed the feat in the 8-bit era. The first is 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street for DOS / Commodore 64, which actually does a surprisingly decent job of capturing the spirit of the Dream Warriors installment in the film franchise as a top-down action game. The second is probably a somewhat “controversial” pick on my part, as I actually genuinely enjoy 1987’s NES take on Jaws as published by LJN. At the very least, you have to admit that compared to sitting down and watching Jaws: The Revenge, it’s a far better way to spend a couple hours of your life. My final pick is another possibly controversial one, and it’s another one published by LJN: 1989’s Friday the 13th, as developed by Atlus. (Yes, that Atlus)

    Friday the 13th has taken on something of a reputation as a hated game, likely thanks in no small part to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s take on it. There’s also the matter of it not necessarily being a wholly faithful translation of the movies’ premise, taking all manner of creative liberties — such as inexplicably tossing in zombies, for some reason. But you know what? I’d argue that despite all that, Friday the 13th on NES absolutely nailed the spirit and ever-present tension of the film franchise in a way that very few horror movie game adaptations have, before or since. It’s definitely not a game without its flaws, but I’m going to make the argument that it gets more flak than it deserves.

    Yes, folks: Today, I am going to try and sell you on the game that dressed Jason Voorhees up in a purple hoodie and gave you a handful of rocks with which to stop him. But first, we’re going to have to put things in perspective a bit by taking a quick look at some prior attempts at translating horror films to video games, including an even earlier attempt at cashing in on our favorite hockey mask-clad killer. With those frights fresh in mind, we’ll reveal the evil within the accursed NES cartridge. And finally, we’ll investigate the devastation it left in its wake, and briefly check in on the current state of slasher flick game adaptations.

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    Venetian Blinds

    “A Fully Operational Venetian Blind.”

    “Conceived and designed by Activision.”
    (Mock-up box art re-created by me)

    Hey folks, have you heard the good news? No more video games! Eyup, it’s been a long time coming, but they’re all gone now and they’re never coming back. So, go ahead and pack it up; nothing to see here, end of an era, so on and so forth.

    Sike! April Fools! Boy howdy did I have you tricked there for a minute or what, huh? That’s why they call me “Cass the Master Prankster,” folks: You hang around me long enough, you’re gonna end up getting bamboozled, boy I tell ya’…

    Okay, so I don’t actually have any sort of jokes or stunts planned for April Fool’s day. Truth be told, I actually kind of find the whole “mess around on your website on April 1st” gimmick a little played out. So, I’m gonna take it in a different direction on the Bad Game Hall of Fame: Instead of writing joke articles about regular games or something like that, I’m going to write regular articles about “joke games” — titles which themselves were intended as pranks, novelties, or outright hoaxes. That being said, today’s subject was perhaps designed with a more unique intention: Pettiness.

    Today we look at the most realistic windowsill simulator ever committed to an Atari 2600 cartridge. It’s honestly something of a stretch to even call it a “game,” as there’s no real objective to reach or entertainment to be had with it. In fact, I can pretty much sum up it’s whole functionality in a single sentence: You can open and close a set of blinds in front of a window. Needless to say, this was never intended as an actual retail product to be bought and sold… until someone had the gall to do exactly that. This is the story of the making [and eventual monetization] of Venetian Blinds.

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