Five Things – 09.15.14

1.  Track & Field - Konami released a collection of sports minigames in 1983 under the name Hyper Olympic.  Though the title was suitably rad, there wasn’t really anything “hyper” about the minigames – they were solid yet straightforward, requiring players to mash buttons to make their characters perform amazing athletic feats on the screen.  Hyper Olympic showed up on several consoles under several names, the most well-received of which was Track & Field on the NES.

Track & Field

You would be hard-pressed to find artwork more befitting of 1980s athletic prowess.

The NES version was released in 1988 to sync up with the Summer Games, and the events contained in the game were what you’d expect – 100 meter dashes, high jumps, triple jumps, and hurdles.  What made the game stand out weren’t the events themselves but the solid controls and the head-to-head gameplay.  Track & Field matches could get pretty heated; I myself was punched as a result of a match in 1989.

Track and Field Dash

The arcade versions of Hyper Olympic/Track & Field supported up to four players, a pretty big deal at the time although players had to play in pairs and take turns.  The NES release was a big hit, paving the way for a much more robust (and ambitious) sequel in 1992.  That one wasn’t quite so great, and I’ll probably do a writeup on it another time.

Here’s a poster for the European release; again, nailed that artwork!

T&F Poster

And here’s some gameplay of the arcade title – including this version because I just love the name “Hyper Olympic” so much.


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Five Things – 09.08.14

1.Nightmare Cafe - Here’s Nightmare Cafe, a short-lived Wes Craven fantasy/horror-ish series that aired on NBC for about four months in 1992.

Nightmare Cafe

Starring Robert Englund as Blackie, the Cafe’s owner, the show centered around the titular cafe, a sort of nexus in the ether which had portals to just about anywhere. This made for pretty convenient storytelling, and the show relied on a rotating cast of guest stars in each episode to draw the regulars (Blackie and a couple of employees) into a unique situation each week.

It was definitely light-hearted fare for Craven, who said in interviews that he wanted the show to be “Twilight Zone meets Cheers“. Nightmare Cafe started out as a straight up anthology show concept, with a unique story each week, but Craven re-tooled it after getting the green light to allow for the three regulars to be the main characters.  The show premiered to a warm reception, but ratings were low and the series was cancelled after six episodes.

The intro explains the concept pretty well (Twilight Zone meets Cheers? More like Quantum Leap meets Creepshow) with a fun rundown that showcases the tone of the series followed by a very nineties title sequence:

 

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Five Things – 09.01.14

1. LJN Roll and Rocker – This was the NES accessory that I wanted above all others.  This, to me, was the future of gaming.  About a year’s worth of requests fell upon deaf ears with my parents, and as an adult I can now look back and agree that they made the right decision to ignore me. Before there was a Wii balance board, there was the Roll & Rocker.

Roll & Rocker
LJN, they of the Karate Kid and T&C games, made a play on the popularity of the Pogo-Bal and released a controller that worked in a similar fashion.  The player would stand on the controller, which had a rounded bottom, and their shifting weight would tilt the platform and emulate a finger pushing that direction on a D-pad.  Simple, right?

Roll & Rocker

The catch was that if you wanted to push buttons, like you might have to in any game on the market, you still had to hold a controller in your hand. This rendered the entire effort useless. The Roll & Rocker worked about as well as a controller as the Pogo-Bal did as a pogo stick and once revealed as the gimmick it was, the product didn’t last long.

Stick to licenses, LJN – you’ve got a better batting average with those.

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Five Things – 08.25.14

1.  Vectrex – The Vectrex was a little late to the gaming party, but at least it showed up with style.

Vectrex box

Released in November 1982 by a company called Greater Consumer Electronics and then later by Milton Bradley when they acquired GCE, the Vectrex boasted its own monitor which displayed vector graphics in a fashion similar to what you’d see in an arcade. They also had two peripherals – a 3D headset (that actually worked, thanks to the vectors), and a light pen that let users draw on the screen.

Vectrex accessories

Light Pen

(Their marketing materials were fantastic, too.)

These things made the gameplay stand out a bit from its console competitors, but the project wasn’t without its hiccups.  It was a monochrome monitor, so the system used overlays to simulate color.  Strike one, although it worked better than you would think.  It retailed at $199 ($479 adjusted for inflation today), while the mega-hit Atari 2600 retailed at $125.  Strike two.  Although there was no way to tell this, the industry was poised for a huge crash in just a year that would sink even the most solid investments.  Strike three, and Milton Bradley ended up taking a bath on their Vectrex efforts.

The system is fondly remembered today, as it was a pretty powerful machine for the time and the games themselves were good.  Here’s some box art for a couple of Vectrex games:

Star Trek Narzod

And here are some commercials for the console:

And another print ad, for the goofier audience.

Vectrex Ad

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Karate Kid Cover

Five Things – 08.18.14

1.  The Karate Kid Game - Developed by Atlus, published by LJN, enjoyed by few, 1987’s The Karate Kid NES game was a staple in most game collections. It was an obvious move, to create a game based on the mega-popular Karate Kid and moderately popular Karate Kid II movies, but the execution was a little lazy.

Karate Kid Cover

The game loosely follows the events of Karate Kid I and II, starting during the match at the end of the first film and taking you on Daniel-san’s journey to Japan, through a typhoon and on to a final showdown with Chozen.

Karate Kid gameplay

It’s mostly a side-scrolling beat-em-up,with the difficulty dialed wau up.  There are a few ‘karate master’ interludes where you do typical sideshow karate tricks like break ice blocks.

Karate Kid bonus state

Once you’ve defeated Chozen and save the day, you get what may be the lamest NES ending out there – and that’s saying alot.  Maybe it’s the lamest because we’ve all come to expect more out of Mr. Miyagi, but it really punctuates how little Atlus and LJN cared about soiling the Karate Kid‘s (then) good name.

Karate Kid ending

The mystical ending music and the Miyagi wink soften the blow a bit, but not much.


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Debut Comic

Five Things – 08.11.14

1.  Godfrey Reggio PSAs - As if you needed further proof that Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi) was in a class of his own and a little more forward-thinking than most, here are some PSAs he made in 1974 for the New Mexico Civil Liberties Union. The campaign starts with some ‘teaser’ pieces focusing on different elements of his message, then (around 3:45 in the video) things become more clear.  All done in Reggio’s signature style, the concerns raised 40 years ago are pretty chilling.

I wonder what it would have been like to be a television viewer in New Mexico in 1974 and see this campaign play out.   Continue reading

WTYFGH Ad

Five Things – 08.04.14

1.  Can Animals Think – No question mark here! This 1950 educational film is bluntly titled “Can Animals Think” and spends about 10 minutes pondering this eternally obvious subject.  His running commentary is pretty great, though – it’s as if the narrator is seeing this film for the first time along with the rest of us.


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Otter Pops

Five Things – 07.28.14

1.  The Mastery of Space  – Here’s a beautiful 1962 documentary produced by NASA about the Mercury program.  The fonts used and the static design elements are fantastic, and the actual space footage, test-footage on Earth and spaceflight animations are pretty great, too. It’s kind of hard to tell who the intended audience for this film is, though – it gives a pretty basic description of weightlessness and gravity, like it’s speaking to kids, but then takes a left turn and gets somewhat complicated.  I can’t imagine kids catching anything Gus Grissom’s putting out there.

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Barrel Pong

Five Things – 07.21.14

1.  Zack Morris’ Cookie Crisp – Before he was chasing Kelly Kapowski, forming rock bands, inciting and then mending teacher’s strikes, or randomly freezing time, Zack Morris was a child who liked sugary cereal that was awful for you. Here’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar selling the heck out of some Cookie Crisp:

And just because we’re sort of talking SBTB and I love SBTB, here’s a lost scene from the School Song episode in which Ox throws his hat into the ring.  I had no idea this existed.  It looks like it barely does:

Never has the cutting room floor been more appropriate.  That was pretty bad. But amazing.

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The Writing Process Blog Hop

The creative process isn’t something I really talk about, mostly out of a superstitious fear of ‘jinxing’ whatever good mojo happens to sometimes trickle my way and also a fear of inviting a boulder to block that stream by overthinking the whole thing.  However, Becky invited me to participate in this Blog Hop, and I thought it was a fun enough exercise and a chance to look that superstition in the face and politely spit in it. And then quickly apologize and run off to find a handkerchief.

Becky’s a whiz.  In addition to editing Crafting a Green World and creating/maintaining The Great Vegan Search Engine Project, she owns Glue & Glitter, her home for DIY craftiness, recipes, and her books.  She’s my wife, too! How about that!

So here’s a look at my process and what I’m working on, and below that I’m featuring a couple of writers that I’m a fan of, Christine and Robert.  Both of them are friends of mine and both have distinct writing talents and styles that I admire through clenched, jealous teeth.

What am I working on/writing?

Right now I’m involved in a rewrite/edit of two new books of children’s poetry: the first is book three (and most of book four) of a four book series, tentatively titled the mister or honey bee blues or here’s to the stars. The second is a followup to a book of post apocalyptic poems I wrote a few years back called distant friends.  I don’t know yet what the sequel is called.  That’s the first shelf, the one I tend to most frequently.  I’m also dusting off books one and two of the four book series and preparing second editions of those; those rest on the second shelf.  On the third shelf, I’m putting together a short story compilation and am in a slow first rewrite of a novel.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

Simply put, I think it differs in that everyone else in the genre seems to know what they’re doing and I really don’t.  I have an enthusiast’s interest in poetry but not an academic one, at all, and I never thought I would write poetry myself.  I never thought I was capable. The poems bubbled up while I was writing other things, in between things, like weeds, and I ignored them for a long time before I thought to maybe put a little effort toward cultivating them.  Once I did I came to love the way they breathed and put a specific image in my head, and started working toward that as my objective.  I’m not saying other poets don’t breathe or create imagery; of course they do.  Mine just comes from a surprised, found confidence, a love of singsongs, and perhaps a different measuring stick than other poets have and that all results in something that I can definitely look at and say that it’s my voice.

Why do I write what I do?

I guess I already kind of answered this from a form angle – I never thought poetry would be the form that my writing took. I’m still reluctant to attack an idea through a poem as opposed to a short story or essay, but time and time again it’s the direction my head and words seem to run.  As for subject matter, I’m insanely nostalgic about my own childhood in the ’80s and I’m a huge fan of entertainment/fashion/design of the back half of the twentieth century.  Spread a love of sci-fi and fantasy on top of that and you pretty much have the source material for most of my writing.

How does my process work?

Write, write, write.  Write all the time.  When I catch a hook, I grab it and let it drag me for awhile and if it takes me to the end of the line that’s awesome but it usually doesn’t and that’s not important.  What’s important is that I’m writing. All the time.

In a perfect world, this is true but the reality is that I can’t always get to writing or sometimes my head’s not there and when I can’t write it stings a little bit. At those points I get into organization mode and start looking at the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of the process, like edits and rewrites and page layouts and the whole publishing side of things.  There’s always something to do and there’s never enough time for all of it.  Especially when you’e got six projects in the oven.

That’s if I can’t write, though.  If I can write, I’m writing, and everything else can just wait and happen when it happens.

 

That’s it for me! Let’s meet Christine and Robert!

Christine Moore

I’ve known Christine for about ten years now and she planted her flag pretty early on as one of the funniest people I know.  Her blog, TV Kitchen, showcases her love of television and television history through the lens of her own life and her, you know, person history in a way that makes what she has to say unique and distinct. Here’s her bio:

Hey! I’m a freelance writer and digital content strategist based in Atlanta. I previously worked for a bunch of years in a bunch of roles at Cartoon Network, helping build digital experiences for brands including The Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Chowder, Adventure Time and Regular Show.

 I’m originally from a suburb of Chicago and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I’ve performed improv and stand-up comedy in Atlanta, and in addition to my TV Kitchen blog, I also write about television and comedy for Paste Magazine. In my spare time, I love cooking, baking, checking out Atlanta restaurants, spending time with my husband and preparing for the arrival of our first baby later this year! (Uh-oh, I sense another blog coming on…)

 

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb’s a good friend of mine, and I’m a big fan of his writing.  His subject matter is usually about twenty shades darker than mine is, but we share an enthusiasm for the same what-ifs. His most recent book, Eight Black Offerings, is a collection of very grim what-ifs, indeed, and it’s fantastic and well worth your time.  Just don’t read it in bed.  Unless you sleep upon a bed of skulls.  But at that point you’re probably the type to do whatever you want to do, anyway.

Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction, but such are the trials of puberty. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster.

That’s it.  Check them out and if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.

-ds