The Tyranny of Small Decisions

It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...

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Drink. Play. Buy.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I turns out that I wasn’t only inspired to play Limes this week. I was also inspired to buy Limes this week.

It’s a long story.

Let me begin by taking you back to the innocent times of early 2014…

(wibble-wobble wibble-wobble wibble-wobble)

“Hi there everybody! ….It’s early 2014, And I’ve just got the very latest issue of Spielbox Magazine. I’m not sure why I’ve got this one; it hasn’t even got a promo glued to the front that I’m interested in. 2014 must just be a time in my life when I get the magazine on subscription or something. Anyway… the promo stuck to the front of this one does look KIND of intriguing, even though it’s not for a game that I own. There’s just something about the artwork which makes it looks like the kind of game I’d like to play. And here in early 2014 there aren’t nearly as many games released each year as I expect there’ll be in, say, 2020 … so I’ll just tuck these cards into a safe place for now, because maybe one day I might own the game that they belong to.”

From gallery of MrShep


(Fast forward to some arbitrary year, between 2014 and now):

"Hi there everybody -- me again! ... and it's some arbitrary year between 2014 and 2020. Oh, look, here’s the safe place where I left those promo cards for Limes! I remember reading a bit about that game on BGG since I stashed these cards away… it does look kind of interesting. Two-player or solo-only though. Meh… I’ll pass for now. I mean, it’s not like I’m stuck at home with only Mrs Shep (or myself) to play games with, here in thise arbitrary year between 2014 and 2020 when there's definitely not a global pandemic in process. I might still buy it one day though!"

(Earlier this week):

"Hello again everybody. It's 2020, and I'm drinking weird beer. Oh, wait! …I've just remembered …there’s that Limes expansion in the box upstairs, which always intrigued me a bit, but which I never got around to buying the accompanying game for. <<Does a google search>>. Hmmm… what’s this?… an unofficial online version? I should maybe have a crack at that. That’ll sort me out for a blog post, I'm sure!"

(Plays the online solo game a bit)

(Plays the online solo game a bit more)

(Plays the online solo game quite a lot)

"Hmmm. You know what… I should really buy a copy of this."

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So, yesterday a physical copy of Limes arrived on my doorstep.

From gallery of MrShep


I had a couple of motivations for buying this. Firstly… it just seemed appropriate to buy a copy. I’ve had quite a good time playing the unofficially-built web version of this now, and it kind of feels right -- if you get a fair bit of use out of an unofficial version of a game -- to pay it back by getting a copy of the real thing. And secondly… I think this one might suit Mrs Shep. There’s a similar sort of vibe to Skulls of Seldlec to it. And maybe a hint of My City too. So I think Mrs Shep will take to this.

But what I didn’t particularly anticipate doing was playing it solo; I've greatly enjoyed the online version -- and it's super-convenient to set up and automatically sorts out the scoring... you can blast through a game in no time at all, from the convenience of a web browser.

But, of course, it’s hard to get a new game and not have at least one quick little play, is it?

So I did.

And them I immediately played it again.

And again.

Damn, this thing is addictive!

Anyway… the moral of this story: It took me 6+ years, from getting that original interest-piqueing promo, to finally buying the game. But the idea did, genuinely, kind of bubble away in the background of my brain for all of that time. And then it was an unofficial web implementation that finally tipped me over the edge. So if you ever had doubts about the efficacy of the mass distribution of promos … or whether having unofficial versions of games digitally available can influence people into buying official, physical, real-world versions of games … well … I guess this is a tale of how Limes got me in the end. It just took a little while to happen

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Fri Nov 20, 2020 7:10 am
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Pedigree Chums

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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It’s a dark day.

From gallery of MrShep


Not just a literally dark day (seriously… I snapped that photo of my games room window just 5 minutes ago; the skies are black, and the rain is torrential) … but a bit of a mentally-dark day too. This weekend — falling as it does in close proximity to Uncle Tony’s birthdaywould have been the annual Gathering of Chums; possibly my favourite day of gaming related antics in the entire year. A whole weekend spent in the back room of a Gloucestershire pub, playing a mixture of the new Essen hotness alongside some old favourites. Plus, beer and curry. And, of course, home of the UK Botswana Grand Masters Invitational Finals … a true highlight of the weekend, and a contest which I’ve been lucky enough to partake in not once, but TWICE, over recent years. (1) (2)

From gallery of tonyboydell
Observing the critical 40° magnetic bearing, pre-game.

It’s also an excellent weekend for discovering new old games. Many’s the time when one of the assembled chums has brought something obscure to the table with an explanation of “You should really all try this… I don’t know how it didn’t create a bigger buzz when it first came out”, only to have half the assembled players (including myself) reaching for their phone halfway through the game, searching for an online store that still has copies. I mean, you often goes to a games club, or a convention, and somebody comes up with that line, and you play whatever it is … and it’s a bit “meh”. But the chums… the chums know their games.

So of all the covid-cancelled things in 2020… of all the potentially-excellent-things that I’ve missed… this is the board-gaming one that’s maybe hitting the hardest.

Fortunately, there seems to be light at the end of the pandemic tunnel now… and I have managed to get a little bit of board gaming in this weekend … a Wingspan session yesterday (Mrs Shep’s choice), and a Faiyum game lined up for this afternoon (mine!).

So when I go to the games table this afternoon, I shall pour myself a glass of Plum Porter (favoured tipple of the gathering), and raise a toast mid-game to the other scattered chums.

See you all, I hope, in Autumn 2021…

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Sun Nov 15, 2020 12:03 pm
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Branded

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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A couple of years ago, I posted about our visit to The Museum of Brands, Advertising and Packaging, in London … a place with an unexpectedly large collection of board games from years gone by. And I lamented the fact that they have a very strict no-photography policy in place (seriously … the stuff in there could’ve set me up for blog posts for MONTHS!).

However, this week, I noticed the following video popping up on the museum’s social media channels. It’s a short promotional clip — presented by Harry Hill — which gives a glimpse into (a very small part of) the museum’s collection, and a taster of some of the late-20th-century board-gaming treasures that they hold. I’m pretty sure this will be of nostalgic interest to other-brits-of-a-similar-vintage-to-myself.

(or anybody who happens to be collecting exhibits for a board gaming museum!)

From gallery of MrShep


Sadly, the clip doesn’t seem to be available on YouTube (and isn’t therefore easily-embeddable on the geek), so instead I shall direct you to the following links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MuseumofBrands/status/131487326188125799...

Or Facebook — where there's a version which runs for a couple of extra minutes. The extra material doesn’t feature board games, but contains some additional top-quality nostalgic goodies which'll likely still be worth your time : https://www.facebook.com/theisolationroomshow/videos/3791889...

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Just look at the size of that tag cloud! ... but, frankly, I'll be surprised if this one pings any subscriptions...
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Tue Oct 20, 2020 7:10 am
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The Biz

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I spent my working hours yesterday sorting out some major engineering issues on one of the UK’s highest-profile web sites.

And then I spent my leisure hours… sorting out some significantly less-major issues, on one of the UK’s somewhat-more-modestly-trafficked websites. For a friend.

It’s fair to say that, all in all, It was a bit of a webby sort of a day yesterday.

* * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from my friend Tony. (No, not that Tony … a different Tony. Yeah… I know. Having more than one friend called Tony is a bit confusing, isn’t it?).

Tony used to be in a band.

“Shep… it’s the website.” said Tony. “Can you do a quick update for me? There’s a new box set coming out; commemorative edition of the first album — it would be a shame not to mention it on the site. I know it’s been a while… but can you fix that for me?”

Tony’s band was big in the 1980s. Or, At least.. big for a few months (such is the fickle nature of the music industry!). But even though the band’s brush with fame was relatively short-lived, they drew a bit of a cult following. Enough to warrant a web-presence, when the web became a thing. And in my capacity as “mate who knows a bit about the internet”, in latter years the task of building and looking after said web presence fell to me

“A new box set? Nice!… Yeah. Haven’t looked at that old site in years… shouldn’t be a problem. But look … I’m on holiday at the moment. I’ll sort it out when I get home. OK?”

“Yeah, cheers, thanks Shep … really appreciate it!”

And then… of course, I completely forgot all about the whole thing. (What can I say. I was on holiday. And we live in distracting times!).

Or, a t least, I forgot about it until last night, when Tony pinged me again in a “Hey Shep… sorry to be a nuisance, but that record is coming out in a couple of days…” kind of way.

Oops.

* * * * * * *

A decade is a long time in web design. The site is definitely looking a bit dated now. I put it together before the rise of the mobile web and responsive design. It hails from an era of desktop sites made for big-screens-with-awful-resolutions. I didn’t even build it on a CMS platform (…though I guess that has maybe worked in my favour over the years of abandonment — static html is not a good attack surface for hackers!) … and the editing software that I used (for reasons too dull to explain here) is long-deprecated and entirely un-runnable on present-day hardware. The only way I could make the changes that Tony wanted — without pretty much junking the whole thing and starting over — was to manually work through the awful, obfuscated, machine-generated markup underpinning the pages — and to replace existing blocks of text and images with alternative blocks of text and images that were roughly the same size and shape.

But it’s done, and it’s working. There are a couple of elements and bodges that really make me cringe … but Tony was happy, and the day was saved. ‘Phew.

And although I’ve said a bunch of bad things about the site… there’s one particular part of it which — despite its failings in terms of modern web design methodologies — I’m still really proud of. A massive biographical section, full of video clips and magazine-style photo spreads. We spent weeks working on the history of the band; editing and fine-tuning the copy, going through photo archives, putting the video clips together. And it’s been — literally — years since I’ve really had a proper look at all of that. I’d forgotten most of the stories and anecdotes. Forgotten it all to an extent where I can kind of look upon it now like I haven’t seen it before. I spent a few happy hours last night and this morning reading back through it all, playing the videos, and reminiscing.

* * * * * * *

So that’s why you didn’t get a blog post yesterday. I had my head in the past. A time before I was so heavily into all of this board game nonsense. And a time when my creative streak was directed in a very different direction.

But the stories in that biography — the struggle, rise and fall of a band — did make me wonder why nobody has ever had a good stab at a eurogame based on the music industry. I mean, I recall many successful attempts to build computer games on that theme (though again… mostly back in the 1980s. In fact, if you have the patience to deal with clunky emulation software, and vaguely know how a ZX Spectrum works, click here and take a look at The Biz, an old text-based game written by Chris Sievey* … and tell me that playing THAT doesn’t feel a little bit like playing some kind of proto-euro title**).

I guess that maybe the struggles of an up-and-coming band isn’t a thing that the youth of today would relate to. And I suppose that, nowadays, you hope to be spotted as the next big thing on YouTube, or bandcamp, or selected as a finalist on X Factor, or something like that …rather than working your way through the Biz.

Oh well. Different times.

Oh… and my friend Tony’s band? Well, if you lived through the 1980s, you might remember them.

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*Also famous(?) for being the man behind the mask of light entertainment legend, “Frank Sidebottom”.

**and is also a game which amuses me greatly by calling out The Corner House, Newcastle as a significant live venue in the early 80s music scene.

(along with the Tyne Tees Television kids show, Razzmatazz!)
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Thu Oct 8, 2020 10:38 am
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Degradation

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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In March 2002, Microsoft Europe paid half a million quid to make a TV advertisement, heralding the launch of their new gaming console … the Xbox. It was a strange time, the early 2000s … in the wake of the Twin Towers, a lot of media had adopted an odd mixture of nihilistic / hedonistic overtones — and the Microsoft ad (which apparently went by the title “Champagne”) — was one of the most memorable examples:

(Content warning: contains scenes of childbirth in close proximity to scenes of death)



“Life is Short. Play More”. It’s a brilliant piece of advertising (though I find it far scarier now that I identify more with the balding bloke near the end of the video than I do with the younger fellows near the beginning), and I guess the message -- more of a warning -- is, perhaps even more relevant in light of recent events. The ad won multiple awards … and also, predictably, got banned from UK television amidst a torrent of complaints.

But the reason why this advert came to mind today isn’t so much because of the times in which we find ourselves… its because yesterday I finally got my old, original, Xbox controllers out of storage … and discovered that time hasn’t treated them well. The plastic/rubber sheathing on the controller cables is degrading; they’re a bit sticky, a bit oily, and unpleasant to touch. But heading to the internet, to look for potential solutions, I discovered that degrading cables is the least of a first-generation Xbox owner’s worries. It turns out that the early models all contain a particularly dodgy electrical component. An especially cheap and nasty capacitor, installed as a workaround to putting a battery-backed clock into the system…. which has a tendency to burst open after 10 years or so, spilling highly-corrosive, circuit-destroying, potential-fire-hazard-creating acidic goop all over the motherboard. Gulp.

That’s not great; it’s probably 5 years or so since I last fired this particular bit of hardware up … guess I’ll have to pull it to pieces this afternoon and see what kind state it’s in, and if a repair is viable.

It’s a reminder though… that I often put things away in cupboards, and assume that they’ll simply be there waiting for me when I want to go back to them in a few years. But that’s very often not the case. Time takes things away from you. Be it through the ceaseless march of technology (I’ve got a whole bunch of old gun-based video games that I loved, which are now completely unplayable because they rely on CRT display technology … and we no longer have a tube-style TV anywhere in the house!) … degrading materials (I also turfed out a Nintendo Wii “House of the Dead” controller yesterday, on which the rubberised handle has melted into sticky goo… and that’s barely a decade old!) … or something as fundamental as a global plague removing all your opportunities to get together with your friends.

Heed the warnings. When the sun (eventually) shines again, make hay!

Oh, and another thing… all these super-deluxe-collector board game editions currently coming out with PLASTIC “upgraded” components? I wonder what some of those are going to look (and feel!) like in 30 years time…

I can’t help thinking that cardboard and wood is going to win the long game here!

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Sun Aug 16, 2020 11:07 am
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Expired content

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I wasn’t being entirely serious when I wrote yesterday’s comment about Carcassonne sweets … and yet, my words turned out to be strangely prescient, since this turned up in a box that I unpacked last night:

From gallery of MrShep


There’s no sign of a “best before” date on the wrapper… and I’m pretty sure that the range of colours in the packet was a little more diverse than “various shades of orange” when I first received these — though I might be mis-remembering. They must be a good 4 or 5 years old now though.

Tempted as I am to do some kind of YouTube video combining the familiar boardgame review format with the increasingly-popular “people-eating-decades-old-tinned-food” genre… I don’t think these are really old enough to warrant that. And opening the packet would destroy the collectability factor (if there is such a thing as a “collectability factor” for manky old board-game-themed comestibles). So I expect I’ll just file them away somewhere, and blog about them again the next time that I randomly stumble across them in another 5 years or so.

In a similar I-wonder-what-the-expiry-date-on-THAT-is sort of find… I also discovered an old/un-used Sea Monkeys kit in the same box, which I vaguely recall my brother giving me as a joke Christmas present many years ago.

From gallery of MrShep


A google search on the viability of brine shrimp cysts suggests a figure somewhere between 3 to 10,000 years. I’m a bit dubious about the top end of that range, but I’m sort of tempted to try a science experiment here. Of course, the only downside of that would then be having a moral obligation to keep any results of said experiment alive. And it’s not like they’re quite as entertaining a pet as the 1970s comic book ads suggested.

Though, it would appear that at least one attempt to gamify said mini-beasts has been attempted:



Different times, my friends. Different times.

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Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:17 pm
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Continuing cupboard adventures...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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One of the hottest weekends of the year … probably not the best choice of day to embark upon a DIY project, but after putting up a bunch of shelves for Mrs Shep last weekend, I’ve definitely been suffering a bad case of storage envy — so finally shelved out the lower half of games cupboard number 2:

From gallery of MrShep


But before I could fill this space with shelves and games, I had to sort out some of the junk that’s been sitting undisturbed in that cupboard for pretty much the last 3 and a half years (when, truth be told, it was transplanted pretty much box for box from a similar cupboard out our old house). One of the oddities that I uncovered while working my way through the piles of junk carefully-archived potential-future-heirlooms therein was this:

From gallery of MrShep


Back in the early 2000s, the Royal Mail hit upon an interesting new advertising idea, called “matterbox”. The concept was basically something along the lines of: what if junk mail actually contained stuff that was useful? Free samples of products, sponsored toys, book extracts, dvds… that kind of thing. They would be packaged in a letterbox-friendly cardboard box, and arrive each weekend… completely free of charge. I remember signing up for the trial — tempted by news articles about the likes of Nintendo and Sony being involved … but then heard nothing from them for months… until this first (and last) matterbox dropped through my letterbox. The odd thing is, in a completely co-incidental act of targeting, this particular matterbox was entirely board-game themed!

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep


The first of the games, Flick Racer, is a disappointingly-blatant Pitchcar rip-off. Only without the nice track pieces.

From gallery of MrShep


The box contains a number of flickable racing-car disks, and a piece of chalk , with which you’re required to draw your own track “on a suitable surface” (I bet that caused fun in some households). Players take turns flicking their cars, and attempting to complete the circuit first. Going off-track (or colliding with other cars), means you return the piece(s) to the nearest part of the track and flip them upside-down … if it’s your turn, and your car is upside down, you flip it the right way up and skip the rest of your go.

I guess the thing that makes this game slightly notable … rather than a quick-to-dismiss pitchcar rip-off ... are the disks themselves. They were apparently manufactured from recycled vehicle tyres, and they do have a surprisingly good “flickability” to them. They’re lightweight, but the rubber composition gives them a deceptive degree of friction for their size and shape, and they do feel particularly pleasant to flick. I’ve never actually played the game… (I’ve got a perfectly good pitchcar set sititing in games cupboard #1, so no inclination to go and find a suitable surface for chalking on!) but some test flicks around the table suggest that it might have quite a surprising amount of skill and nuance to it.

From gallery of MrShep


The second game, Egg-a-thon is a fairly straightforward roll-and-move (-and-block) race game … the components being 4 egg-topped “pegs”, a single dice, and the box that the game comes in. I’m guessing — from the photographs on the BGG listing — which look significantly more developed than my version — that this was the game which won the competition and ultimately went into wider distribution. And while it seems the less interesting game of the two, I guess it at least saved Cadbury from legal problems / bad press with the Pitchcar publishers

From gallery of MrShep


So there you have it. Two slightly odd games that I forgot I owned, from a failed marketing campaign that I forgot I’d signed up to. This truly is the cupboard that keeps on giving!

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Sat Aug 8, 2020 6:11 pm
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So wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully pretty.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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An odd thought struck me yesterday: It’s well over a month since I last purchased a new board game.

I suppose, for most people, that’s a perfectly normal state of being. And I’ll confess, I do buy FAR too many board games … though I’m not unique in doing that, and most of the people reading this blog probably buy far too many board games too. But… yeah. My spending urges have definitely changed quite significantly, recently.

In part, this pause in wanton consumerism was triggered by the announcement of imminent redundancies where I work. Which shouldn’t really have affected my leisure spending — I was fairly certain that my role was safe, and I have a few other options to fall back on if it ever isn’t — but, nevertheless, that’s what happened. I stopped buying board games. And drinking the more expensive kinds of craft beer. And making quite as big a voluntary donation to the local comedy club when we watched their live stream each Saturday night. Many small things like that. I guess, over the course of my career, I’ve been through a couple of significant economic depressions (and more redundancy consultations than I can count!). And perhaps old habits — raising the spending drawbridge when these things are announced — die hard.

But now that the immediate crisis has lifted, and our household income seems secure again (for a while, at least)… and I’m drinking the good beer again, and have resumed donating money to starving comedians — I haven’t really rushed back to buying board games. Which seems a bit odd.

I mean, I remember that just before the announcement at work broke, I was eyeing up Isle of Cats as a potential purchase…

External image


…it’s a polyonimo laying game, and we love polyonimo laying games. It has good reviews… the production quality is high… it passes my covid-19-era tests of “does it play well with two, and is there a solo option?” (and it EVEN has a remote play variant) … and when I mentioned the theme/mechanisms to Mrs Shep, she said it sounded great! I was all set to pull the trigger.

And then my spending went on hiatus.

But now? I look at the BGG listing, and I can’t see why I was so excited about this one (other than its potential to let me slip another lyric into a blog title. Seriously… I can’t look at this game without thinking of THAT song). I do already own a lot of Polyonimo games. And 60-90 minutes seems like an awfully long time to be doing polyonimo “stuff”. And, suddenly, it seems a bit… “meh”.

But it’s not just The Isle LoveCats. I had a bit of a fancy for the big expensive Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles Kickstarter that’s currently winding up. I remember thinking to myself “I’d probably be straight onto that… if circumstances were different”. But now circumstances ARE different, and the campaign is in its final hours… and I’m a bit… “well… I’ll probably be able to pick up all that stuff at retail anyway, if it turns out to be something I wish I’d bought…”

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but my game-buying urges are definitely fading a bit. (Though I’ve been pouring over analogue synthesiser specs and midi sequencer reviews with great enthusiasm, so it’s not an across-the-board spending thing). I’m sure it’ll all be temporary though; that thing I posted a couple of days ago about feeling somewhat drawn to the new Friedemann Friese game still stands … and I expect I’ll be pitching in to the Amsterdamacao kickstarter in a couple of weeks time too

But is this just me? …what’s happened to your board-game spending habits over the last couple of months?
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Sun Jul 26, 2020 12:44 pm
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Atari Baby, you look so fine.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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> Examine old games consoles

From gallery of MrShep


Incredible! — apparently it is possible to use a kallax for something other than board games!

This side of the room is the final resting place for the various video game systems that I’ve owned over the years. Well… I say “final”, and “resting” … but they do still get the occasional play; just a few days ago I cranked up Circus Atari on the 2600 for an in-between-meetings gaming distraction (that is one seriously difficult and twitchy game!*)

To fend off questions: the space-invader-decorated thing isn’t actually a video game; it’s a set of themed playing cards, but it seems appropriate to store them here. And the mini-Tardis on the right is a money box. Though I don’t think there’s much money in it. (Hey… who remembers the old days, when we used to pay for things using cash?).

One of the more curious bits of the collection can’t be seen in this shot; there’s a Neo Geo Pocket Colour on the shelf behind the gameboy (and yes… that IS a built-like-a-tank first edition black-and-white LCD Game Boy). The NGPC was a rather nice handheld system, but the manufacturer (SNK) pulled it out of western distribution after less than a year, withdrawing all unsold stock from shops … making a lot of the later releases very high-value, ultra-collectable artefacts. Fingers crossed that whoever eventually inherits all of this stuff doesn’t just throw it in the nearest skip.

There’s also a Philips CDi player in the archive (which is, frankly, way too big to fit into a Kallax), and a mountain of plastic guitars, drums, maracas, guns, fishing rods, cameras, microphones, and an entire battle-mech cockpit with flashing lights, switches, dials, dual-joysticks and pedals. Fortunately, all that stuff is tidily concealed in cupboards. Just.

I’m pretty sure that in a parallel universe, not so far from here, an alternative version of me decided to become a retro videogame streamer rather than a board game blogger.

What would you like to do next?
>


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*It’s not just me getting older and slower.
No, really.
I’m sure it’s not.
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Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:44 pm
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Where the magic is still happening...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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> PLAY ASTRO BLASTER


“Fighter Pilots needed in Sector Wars — Play Astro Blaster!”

I still remember the booming, robotic voice echoing across the fairground, back when I was aged … I dunno… 12..? 13..? I was a young lad, with a head full of science fiction, and the synthesised speech of Astro Blaster calling to me from a dingy little video-game-stuffed tent was like a message from the future! And finding the source of this robotic call-to-arms was something of a revelation … a shoot-em-up unlike anything I’d seen before...

Back in those days, most vertical shoot-em-ups were pretty straightforward affairs … you moved left and right, you fired your gun, and — other than occasional pattern-breaking swoops and strafes or bonus stages — aliens would obligingly queue up in neat rows, awaiting imminent annihilation. Astro blaster, on the other hand, brought short furious waves of nasties with different attack patterns … it brought meteor showers … it had a cool stage at the end of each zone where you had to dock with the mothership… and it had AN EXTRA BUTTON THAT NOTHING ELSE HAD… a time warp activator!

It’s been a while since I fired this one up. But let’s give it a go…



You know what? This is still a pretty good game, and — for the era — it had a bunch of very interesting/brave/innovative things going on in it.

In Astro Blaster, aside from having to stay alive by dodging various hazards, you have a very limited amount of fuel to carry you through each zone. You can’t really see the fuel gauge in this video very well (sorry) … but trust me, it’s tight; if you fail to get through the zone before your fuel runs out, it’s an instant game over — no matter how many lives you might still have (a bit of a shock to players who were accustomed to the unspoken law of three-lives-before-you’re-dead, back in the day!) … so caution is not a good strategy in this game. And the time-warping is a very interesting element too … which, thanks to the limited fuel reserve, can be a bit of a mixed blessing; the world goes into slow motion, but you keep consuming fuel at the same rate … so it’s generally best-used on those waves of annoyingly-fast-things-which-swoop-past-you-horizontally. Oh… and the game also has this weird thing where if you fire too rapidly, your laser overheats, and cuts out for a few seconds… meaning you had to play with speed, bravado AND precision-of-shot!


"EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION!"


Also notably, the synthesised voice is actually useful in this game, rather than just included as an attention-grabbing gimmick; the spoken countdown when you’re in time-warp mode, and the alerts as your fuel runs low or your laser temperature gets dangerously high mean that you don’t have to take your eye off the action to look at the various on-screen gauges. Which is very nice UX. Way before its time

The game also had a ton of “hidden” bonuses in it … undocumented tricks for players to discover, and pass on by word of mouth (or, more typically, by showing off to an audience!). For example…. shooting everything in the strict bottom-to-top, or right-to-left sequence triggers hidden bonuses … going through the meteor field without firing a single shot… or completing the docking manoeuvre without touching any controls (meaning you had to end the meteor storm in exactly the right position, then touch nothing for the next stage) would all cause bonus point messages to flash up. There was also a move known as “the paint scraper bonus”, which involved almost-but-not-quite crashing your ship during the docking sequence (I tried to get it in the first docking sequence here… but played slightly too safely — because a crash in the docking sequence is ALSO an insta-game-over-and-screw-how-many-lives-you-have-left situation). There are, apparently, 25 of these hidden bonuses in all. It’s almost like they foreshadowed the “achievements” of modern video games. By a quarter of a century or so.

Yep, Astro Blaster was definitely a game that was a little bit ahead of its time. I don’t remember seeing an awful lot of instances of it around in my part of the world though… other than the cabinet in that particular fairground, and a unit in the darkest recesses of one of the many arcades at Whitby, North Yorkshire. 12-year-old-me clearly just didn’t visit the right establishments. Because if advertisements are to be believed, the reality was actually something like this:

From gallery of MrShep
Yep. That’s pretty much exactly how I remember the early 1980s being.



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Yes, I know Galaga ended up with more votes. But Astro Blaster was in the lead when I made this video. And Astro Blaster is a bit more of a curiosity than Galaga is anyway.
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Sat Jun 6, 2020 7:10 am
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