Welcome to Arg – The Adventure Game (1980)

Take a little bit of Dungeons & Dragons, add a little bit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, put it in an “escape room” format and you’ve got “The Adventure Game”, a brilliant, stylish, charming, original game show aired on BBC between 1980 and 1986. Can you tell I like it?

The game takes place on Arg, home planet of the Argonds. The Argonds are a mischevious race of dragons who are sick of all of the “trippers” from Earth coming to their planet via time (and space?) travel.  The travelers are celebrities, a different set each week.  The Argonds sometimes steal the crystals from the traveler’s ships, and the travelers must solve a series of logic puzzles and riddles to get their crystal back so that they can leave.  The viewer gets to watch each team of travelers work the puzzles out.

The rooms vary in the sorts of puzzles offered. The contestants might have to decipher a shapes and colors puzzle…

…solve an escape room puzzle with many moving parts…

…or play a text-based adventure game on a computer.

The premise and format of the show would evolve through the years; the Argonds went from being dragons to being furry creatures to being furry dragons to being…potted plants?

 

Also cool is that one of the series 1 contestants, Lesley Judd, returns in subsequent series as “the Mole”, a character who impersonates a fellow contestant but who is really an Argond.

The set and costume design are top-notch as well; the 1980s vision of the future is alive and well on Arg with its white walls, accent colors, single-tone outfits and focus on geometry.

A fun premise on a gorgeous set, with interesting puzzles and celebrities figuring those puzzles out.  No prizes, no immunities, no backstabbing, just fun.

Can I move to Arg?

Here’s an episode.

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Commodore Vic 20 Print Ads

Selling a computer in 1982 had to be pretty tough. For one thing, they were super expensive. For another thing, you had (at least) two different types of customers. On one side, there’s a really informed audience that wanted to know what specs your company brought to the table that made you better than the other guys. On the other side, you had an increasingly interested consumer base that knew nothing about the technology and needed to know why they needed a computer in the first place.

This set of Commodore Vic-20 ads does a good job illustrating the differences in marketing to each group. In this first ad you’ve got 1980s Geek-Jesus William Shatner running through detailed spec comparisons and software offerings in a very busy layout.

And for the know-nothings, a clean and elegant ad that throws just enough jargon out there to get a few polite head nods and a consideration at getting this instead of an Apple.

Which one speaks to you?

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Shoot Some Diseases Into The Castle – Game Players Game Tape, Vol 1, Tape 6

The sixth in what must have been an exhaustive series of overpriced VHS tapes designed to milk ’80s gamers out of their hard-earned dollars in exchange for broad suggestions on how to play select games competently, this Game Players Magazine tape actually has some visual merits to it.

The frustrating part about the content is that these are games that actually need tips; the video covers Ultra’s TMNT, Metal Gear, Defenders of the Crown, and Skate or Die – pretty tough games.

The TMNT “tips” are frustrating in their broadness; “use Donatello against Rocksteady” doesn’t really constitute a tip. Also, 90% of the TMNT tips are “use Donatello”.

There’s an odd appearance/interlude by “the Creator”, a creepy hype man for the games featured in the video. Sort of a circular internal commercial for the games included in the video that you bought to help you beat the games that you already bought.

Metal Gear’s tips consist of “hey, recognize this screenshot and do the vague thing we’re telling you to do here”

If the flaming tips included in the video weren’t enough, there’s also an ad for a hotline to give you even more secrets for who-knows-what games! Seriously, you don’t know until you call, and at that point you’re at least two dollars deep.

Skate or Die’s tips include taking advantage of a turbo controller and getting a buddy to mash buttons while you get air. Sweet exploit, I guess. Another hot tip: be sure to land right, or you’ll fall. Money well spent, here.

Insert an odd ad for a wireless NES Advantage rip-off that is nothing short of amazing.

The tips for Defenders of the Crown are, at this point, predictably awful. “When jousting you want to hit your opponent, but not his horse.” Thanks!

A disappointing offering but hey, that’s the eighties for you. Silver lining: the video quality is fantastic.

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Friday Followup: Gambit (UK)

While the US was Vegas-ing up its Gambit reboot in 1980, our friends across the pond went with a more traditional approach.  The British version of Gambit is as quaint as you’d expect, with a kicky stop-motion intro.

The set design trades in the Vegas glitz and glamour for… something resembling a Grateful Dead album cover.

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Cash and Prizes: Las Vegas Gambit (1980)


Gambit
, the blackjack-themed game show, has a sort of complicated history. Originally premiering in 1972, Gambit was an instant success, beating out competing shows Sale of the Century and a pre-Trebek Jeopardy! In 1975, though, a hot new show called Wheel of Fortune came on the scene and pretty much obliterated Gambit in the ratings, leading to its cancellation in 1976.

Cut to 1980. Failed daytime talk show experiment The David Letterman Show was pulled off of the air and the idea was to revive Gambit to take its place. The Gambit 2.0 twist came in the form of a live show from the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas Gambit was born.

And then died again a year later, but whatever.

Wink Martindale hosted both iterations of Gambit.  Is Wink Martindale the poor man’s Chuck Woolery, or is it the other way around? Wink’s game show career started earlier, making him the incumbent. However, Woolery’s first game show gig, the aforementioned Wheel of Fortune, spelled the original Gambit’s demise.  Woolery’s got the more impressive resume: while Wink had some solid shows including Tic Tac Dough! and Debt, Chuck’s got Love ConnectionScrabbleThe Dating Game, and (a personal favorite) Lingo.  Personally, I’m going to give the point to Chuck.  Wink’s got an unsettling way of talking to the audience, to his contestants, and to women in particular. I’m not saying he’s our reality’s Randall Flagg, I’m just pointing out that he’s never been in the same room as Randall Flagg.

There are a few things about Las Vegas Gambit that are special – first of all, the set is a fantastic tribute to Vegas-style gaudiness.  Covered in gold and rich in font treatments, the first part of each Gambit match is a trivia round with correct answers rewarding cards which are then built into a blackjack hand.  Two teams compete, the first team to reach as close to twenty-one as possible without busting moves on to the final round.

The final round, the Gambit Galaxy is some sort of casino from the (1980s) future, boasting a wall of screens and a single craps table.  The contestants roll oversized dice, using the resulting numbers to clear out the screens. If they can do so, they win it all.

The other noteworthy thing about Las Vegas Gambit is the enthusiasm. Part of this is thanks to the era; these were the days of Let’s Make a DealPress Your Luck, and the original The Price Is Right, and contestants in general were just generally more amped-up than they are these days. Still, though, it comes down to whoever’s job it is to pick contestants picking good contestants, and Las Vegas Gambit got that part right.  In the below episode, this lady’s life changes.  That’s significant.

Speaking of this episode, it’s a real roller coaster. I recommend watching the whole thing.

By the way, Las Vegas Gambit had awful ratings and was cancelled in 1981.  Sorry, Wink.  Speak more considerately to all genders next time.

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Friday Followup – 1982 Parker Brothers Game Catalog

Here’s Parker Brothers’ 1982 announcement of their entry into the videogame market.  You can tell they’re proud of their Star Wars license, and they should be! Their Empire Strikes Back game was really solid. But outside of four minutes spent on Star Wars and one minute spent on…Frogger… there’s not much else here to announce.

It’s interesting that the video makes the case that the videogame market has “barely been scratched”. In 1982. A year before the massive videogame crash in North America in 1983. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the confidence. And they came out with some good stuff!

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The Hang Glider Corps – Star Wars: Ewok Adventure (Atari 2600)

Focusing on the worst Star Wars characters that side of Jar Jar, Star Wars: Ewok Adventure places the player in the shoes of the warlike teddy-bears who aid the Rebels in their fight against the Empire in the closing third of Return of the Jedi.


(image courtesy Atarimania)

Or rather, it would have been had it not been cancelled. The controls were allegedly too complex, though it’s hard to see what was so prohibitive about the experience when watching the gameplay. The game’s sort of a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up, with a few cool mechanics. You can ascend or descend in the glider, pick up rocks to drop on enemies, and even comandeer an AT-ST!

(image courtesy Atarimania)

Alas, the game was not meant to be and only one physical copy was produced. Which was then given to someone and then sold for $1600. It’s difficult to understand how they couldn’t make this game work as a retail release, given the ‘THIS WILL PRINT MONEY FOR YOU” nature of all Star Wars merchandise in the 1980s.  Perhaps Parker Brothers didn’t want another E.T. on their hands and had understandably cold feet. Anyway, the game exists and is playable on archive.org.  It’s worth a look; if nothing else, the color palate is on point.

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You’re In Showbiz! – Showbiz Pizza Training Videos

Showbiz Pizza Place was the Pepsi to Chuck E. Cheese’s Coke. The video game pizza parlor  boasted a superior band with the Rockafire Explosion and an inferior everything else. Chuck eventually absorbed Showbiz to create a grand unified theory of mediocre food and semi-operational robotics, but before that happened they were engaged in a brutal war to get you, your family, and your softball coach’s quarters.   We’ve all wondered whether we had what it took to be a Showbiz Pizza staff member, and it’s time to get some answers to that question with these training videos.

This 1981 video, Operation: Promotion explores the role of the Showbiz Program Director, that lucky person responsible for arranging in-restaurant events and out-in-the-world promotions. She also dresses in a ridiculous white outfit and top hat that she wears even when she’s by herself, in her office, on the phone.

She’s the one who drags an in-costume Billy Bob to every car dealership or gas station opening within a ten mile radius.  I’m pretty sure, however, that BiIlly Bob doesn’t ride to these things in-costume on the back of a motorcycle.

The Program Director also schmoozes the guests at the restaurant, aggressively pushing all of the potential functions that their Showbiz could perform for these people.  Best line: “Mom, ‘The Young and The Restless’ is on in the Sports Room if you’d like to watch that.”

Exhausting job, that of the Program Director.

Probably 90% of Showbiz’ business had to have been birthday parties.  Here’s a stiff, poorly produced video with mono audio that trains employees on…how to answer the phone to book a party. A whole video for this? A jester and a clown at your birthday party, and the “surprise” is a hug from Billy Bob? This arrangment makes no sense.

The sloppy production on this video makes Operation: Promotion come off like Citizen Kane.

It’s hard to know what to make of this one, Operation: Entertainment.  It’s a stream of consciousness riff on generally how to be “fun” as a waiter at Showbiz Pizza.  One take, one set, 8 minutes, aimed at people who were determined to be in need of fun lessons.

I can’t tell if he’s an employee of Showbiz Corporate or just some local comedian hired to riff.  Either way, it’s something special.

I think we’re all fully trained Showbiz employees at this point. See you at work tomorrow. And thanks, Brenda, for washing the uniform every night.

 

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Five Things – 5.22.17 – Stories For Boys

 

It’s About Time (1966)

What if you had a silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you had an idea for a second, unrelated-yet-just-as-silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you just re-used props and sets from the first silly TV show for the second silly TV show and crossed your fingers that nobody would notice? That’s pretty much Sherwood Schwartz’s approach to It’s About Time, the second silly TV show to Gilligan’s Island‘s first silly TV show.

He actually probably didn’t cross his fingers that nobody would notice. He probably just didn’t care.

It’s About Time follows the adventures of two astronauts, Mac McKenzie and Hector Canfield, who get sent back in time to caveman days and end up living with caveman family Gronk and Shad, . Gronk is played by Joe E. Ross. essentially a caveman version of his Gunther Toody character from Car 54 Where Are You? Shad is played by the lovely Imogene Coca.

The cavemen speak in broken-but-very-very-passable modern English.  The rest of the tribe are suspicious of the astronauts, but are eloquently suspicious.  The plot lines revolve around either the astronauts bringing modern civilization to the cavemen, or trying to adjust to/reconcile their worldview with the cavemen’s.

Now here’s the interesting part – the show was retooled 2/3 of the way through the season to address the sagging ratings.  They basically flip the premise, where the astronauts find a way to return to the present and bring the cavemen with them. The episodes then revolve around the cavemen’s acclimation to 20th Century life. That’s a courtesy the Gilligan gang didn’t get until their TV movie finale!

It didn’t help. It’s About Time was cancelled after the first season. While it’s definitely not up to par with Schwartz’s stronger efforts like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, there’s still something special here. There’s just a lot of other stuff weighing it down.  Here’s a few episodes.

 

 

1980 Coleco Catalog

There is so much to love about this 1980 Coleco Games and Toys catalog. So much to love! This Holly Hobbie oven looks like something out of a haunted house. And how about that plaid stroller?

 

1987 Train Ride to Coney Island

This is a pretty great snapshot of New York City in the late 1980s.  Those kids need to jump into a pool of Purell after laying around on the seats of that train, though .

 

Goonies Famicom Commercials

The Goonies, as a movie, couldn’t be more American in how the kids act, what motivates them, and the nature of their reward. The beautiful insanity of the Goonies videogames, however, we’re just not capable of that.  Kudos to Konami for taking a solid foundation and launching it into the stars.  These ads for both Goonies games really hammer that insanity home.  I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat the fact that Goonies II is one of the greatest video games of all time.

 

U2’s First TV Appearance

This 1980 TV appearance is a completely different band.

 

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Five Things – 05.15.17 – Fall Has Come To Millbrook

Nintendo Fun Club – April 1988 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

I played the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, for about an hour this morning. I didn’t have a ton of time to play, so I didn’t want to get into anything too big. Instead I just collected some food and cooked it, went to a few camps to farm arrows from some scrub mobs, scouted and unlocked a lookout tower while dodging laser beams from ancient robots, and stumbled across a giant one-eyed monster called Hinox and figured out how to defeat him.  Then I looked back at the past hour and marvelled at how far the series (and really, gaming in general) has come since 1986 and 1988’s Zelda and Zelda II games.  Then I remembered the Nintendo Fun Club issue that came out in April of 1988 covering Zelda II, and I found it again on Archive.org.

Amazing ’80s font work aside, the cover art pales a bit in comparison to the cover for the original Zelda, but by itself that’s forgivable. The original cover is pretty amazing.  What’s less forgivable is that this design sort of leans into the character design of the CD-i Zelda games, which are legendary for their awfulness. It’s gotta be a coincidence, though – this cover is cartoony but still not that bad.

It’s no ‘cooking food’, but the addition of the winged boots, thunder spell, fairy transformation and, you know, towns, were pretty significant upgrades.

Apart from Zelda, there’s some other really fun stuff here.  The pros offer some Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! tips – it’s the least they could do, since the game itself advertises the Fun Club pretty blatantly:

Some user-submitted reviews and Metroid artwork are pretty adorable:

And, of course, some epic-looking game ads. Nintendo’s own ads are always a significant cut above the rest:

It’s times like this that I’m thankful for sites like archive.org, that can collect and keep these pieces of history. Stuff like this could have easily been lost, otherwise, and it’s such an important part of pop culture history. Consider throwing them a few dollars if you haven’t already. It’s good work!

 

 

How to Send an E-Mail (1984)

I had to continually convince myself that this 1984 “Database” feature on modems, bulletin boards, and email was not a parody or a segment of Look Around You. The enthusiasm these folks display about this technology is really pure, encouraging, and charming.

That’s definitely not Jermaine Clement travelled back to the past to be on a BBC Program, right? Definitely not. Right?

 

 

Day In The Life of a 1950s Small Town

Richard’s town’s got a lot going on! Movies AND bowling? This is actually a really good slice of life of the ’50s.

 

1989 Canon Superman Commercial

Not sure how much more on the nose you can be with your subject matter without actually being on the nose.

 

1978 Taco Bell Commercial

The Enchirito cameo makes this 1978 Taco Bell commercial an easy share.  Miss that guy. The man about to eat them looks a bit ogre-ish for such a refined dish.

Tac-a-tac-a-tac-a-tac-o Bell!

 

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