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!
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.
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!
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.
1. Space Shuttle – This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, which was a defining moment of my childhood. Thinking on it reminds me of what a space nut I was as a little kid; living in Orlando, Florida makes it pretty easy to catch space fever. I saw Challenger’s doomed liftoff on the playground at school, in second grade, and remember that afternoon very clearly. It feels like milking the tragedy to share the archived news footage surrounding the event, so instead I’m choosing to share this NASA informational film from the 1970s on the promise of Space Shuttle technology.
Titled simply “Space Shuttle”, the film makes the case for the transition from single-use rocket technology to a more reusable method of operation. In addition to the cost benefits, space shuttles allowed for more frequent missions which would pave the way to a more firmly established human presence in space. By the late eighties, as the film puts it. Sigh.
No matter how the promise stagnated, it’s nice to see in these 1970s NASA materials this hopefulness toward what our future in space may look like. It feels a bit like that hopefulness has surfaced again, just lately. Seems like we have the private sector to thank for that. I’ll take it!
Here’s the film – it really is a pleasant sip of tea.
2. Reverse The Curse – Nebraska Public Television is at it again!
Reverse The Curse was designed to teach elements of oral and written storytelling, using a pretty dire premise. Two bungling archaeologists break into King Hoptoit’s (get it?) tomb and are trapped there by an ancient curse. King Hoptoit comes to life and the three of them spend the series using knowledge of story elements to lift the curse.
There’s a lot of singing and dancing in here. It could be about half as long without the weird James Taylor sing-and-dance-along. The production is pretty rough but there’s a charm present – I think it comes from the fact that these local PBS outlets were really making the best of their opportunities to create learning programs for the public. There’s a definite effort here, the realized promise of television as a learning tool to be created and used by anybody. Almost doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not, in that light. Almost
With that lofty statement out there, here’s Reverse the Curse:
3. Better Homes New Cook Book – From the layout to the font to the ingredients, the first few pages of this cookbook are like a nice warm hug from 1965.
4. ColecoVision Super Action Controllers – Coleco got an early start on hamfisted accessories to sell you to play a handful of games slightly more fluidly on their consoles! That said, these are pretty slick-looking. This page is from a press kit full of game and accessory one-sheets:
5. Star Wars 1978 Ad – Here’s a great illustrated ad for a bevvy of Star Wars toys.
This local Public Television show produced by the University of Nebraska at Omaha features a librarian who is kidnapped by an alien queen to teach the queen about story structure. It’s basically Santa Claus Conquers The Martians but with a librarian instead of Santa and, well, whatever the aliens are instead of Martians.
Each episode focuses on a different aspect of story – plot, characters, etc… The alien queen speaks in a harsh, halted, almost Russian accent that can’t be an accident given the era in which this was produced.
Here’s an episode. It’s so weird.
2. Telstar Arcade – The Telstar game system was produced by Coleco and released from 1976 to 1978. Here’s an ad for the Telstar Arcade, a slick triangle console with a wood paneling appearance. It offered a light gun and a steering wheel!
3. Star Wars 1984 Premiere – In 1984, Star Wars made its television debut and it was a pretty big deal. Here’s the special wraparound bumpers for the premiere, hosted by Mark Hamill himself. You can catch the wave of excitement here, and get a sense of what a big deal this really was back then in a television landscape with so few options and a ‘gotta-catch-it-live’ setting.
4. Civilization – Dyan Cannon sings “Civilization” on the Muppet Show. As you do.
5. Jimmy Smith – The Sermon – Live in 1964. Enjoy.
1. Droid World – This gorgeous Star Wars book was a part of the read-along The Further Adventures series released in the early 1980s. Each book was about 20-25 pages long and came with a record or cassette that you played alongside it. Illustrated by Dick Foes, the artwork was much more impressive than it needed to be.
The Rebels have captured a damaged Imperial Warbot and not even R2-D2 can extract information from it. Luke and the droids head to Droid World, a space station occupied entirely by droids and one human – Captain Kligson, the man they hope can access the Warbot.
Kligson allows the droids on board, but not Luke. While there, the droids uncover a plan to revolt against Kligson and inform him. Turns out the Empire planted the seeds of revolt. For some reason. Everything falls apart after that, and it’s all-out war on Droid World.
Kligson is killed, but then it’s revealed that that was a decoy Kligson because the real Kligson knew about the revolution but needed the droids to uncover it before he could do anything. For some reason. Anyway, Kligson reveals that he built a Warbot of his own and basically dials the whole war on Droid World up a few notches.
Kligson wins, Droid World is in shambles, and C-3PO and R2-D2 head back to Luke. They express sadness for Kligson’s situation and you think that Luke’s going to suggest that Kligson come join the Rebels, but instead the story just ends.
Here’s the whole story. Decent job mocking up Luke and the droids’ voices.
2. The Brady Kids – Did you ever feel like The Brady Bunch was just too rooted in reality? Like it’d be more fun if they travelled through time, or went to space, or if there was magic? Executive Producer Sherwood Schwartz sure thought so, and four seasons into The Brady Bunch‘s run he approached animation company Filmation about a cartoon spinoff. The result hit the air in 1972, called The Brady Kids.
The parents and Alice were left out of the show, and the actual kids did the voices of their character for the first season. There were a few new characters, too: Marlon is the magical bird you see above, there were two pandas called Ping and Pong (groan), and a dog called Mop Top.
The series only really lasted one season; Filmation added a five-episode second season to meet the minimum required number for syndication. Only half of the kids signed on to lend their voices to the second season.
Here’s an episode where they go to ancient Greece to meet Euclid, and Wonder Woman joins them disguised as a math teacher. For some reason.
4. Maxwell House – I don’t know where to start with this 1960s Maxwell House commercial. The overacting husband? The over-reacting wife? The harsh, patronizing tone the husband takes toward his wife when he learns they’re out of coffee? The Benny-Hill-esque sequence in which the harsh, patronizing husband weeps at the table? The comically oversized Maxwell House jar? The overly passionate kiss when the day is saved? The issues in this household run deeper than keeping the pantry stocked, for sure.
5. Insist on Slinky – This 1957 Slinky ad found over at The Bird Feed is just an absolute stunner.
1. Secret Video Game Tricks, Codes, & Strategies, Volume 1 – Whew! That’s a mouthful! This video is one of dozens of “How to Beat Videogames” tutorials from the 1980s, most of which focus on exploiting glitches and bugs to gain advantages in difficult parts of games.
This one’s no different, except that it features exclusive tips from the US Video Game Team (a real thing!)
The video takes you through glitches and scoring tips for some of the big names like Gradius, Contra, Adventure Island and Castlevania II as well as some of the more obscure ones like Ring King and Iron Tank. While usually you just get a bunch of gameplay video in these things, this title sets itself apart with wacky 80’s graphic transitions and what appears to be a studio setting in which the team members execute these amazing tricks using NES Advantages.
That second picture looks like something from the Spaceship of the Mind in Cosmos.
Here’s the whole thing. Let me know if these Metal Gear passwords work.
1. The Drak Pack – What if Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster had kids? I can buy Dracula and maybe Wolfman, but I have a hard time seeing how that was possible with Frankenstein’s Monster. What if the descendants of those monsters inherited their powers? Medium believable. What if those kids were ashamed of the menace their ancestors had caused and set out to become good guys? Now you’re talking… even though you can’t really blame Frankenstein’s Monster for any menace that might have taken place in his case. Well, Hanna-Barbera answered those what-ifs in 1980 with Drak Pack.
The Drak Pack featured Drak, Frankie, and Howler, the predictably named offspring of their notorious fathers. They were normal kids but could turn into their monster selves by way of a three-way-high-five called the “Drak Whack”. This allowed them to use their superpowers; Drak could teleport, fly, and change shape, Frankie had super strength and could shoot electricity (?), and Howler has an ultrasonic howl.
Can you guess which is which?
The trio engaged in normal save-the-day stuff, usually caused by their nemesis Dr. Dred who looks like Vincent Price but is voiced by someone who is not Vincent Price. Guess he was busy with Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo!
They also kept in touch with their mentor, the original Dracula, referred to in the series as “Big D”. I’m guessing this is Drak’s dad? I’m not sure why Dracula would sponsor a group of kids determined to make up for his atrocities, but whatever. They used a super hi-tech room to contact him, for some reason.
Dr. Dred had a cabal of monstery bad guys consisting of a sycophantic toad, a vampiress who could turn into a snake, a human fly and a mummy. Not sure how the battle lines got drawn this way across the monsters, but whatever. It’s a fun watch and a unique take on the then-pretty-stale HB formula of the time. Here’s an episode:
1. Children of the Dog Star – Tommyknockers for kids? Sign me up.
OK, not really Tommyknockers, but darn close. Children of the Dog Star was a 1984 children’s series set in New Zealand, about a group of kids who discover a bunch of alien relics.
Across the first few episodes they uncover more relics and figure out how to assemble them. Conveniently, a brass weathervane at Gretchen’s uncle’s farm turns out to be the catalyst for the machine, and they activate an old probe that is linked to Sirius, the Dog Star.
The probe turns out to be a teaching probe named Kolob, sent ages ago to teach science to humans. It also knows the kids’ names by scanning them. It then seems to go haywire and ‘pauses’ the entire town so that nobody but the three kids can move.
The kids are somehow able to establish a communication link with the aliens who sent Kolob in the first place, and are chastised for having re-assembled Kolob. There’s a nice moment of First Contact, and then both species team up to destroy Kolob and hide the weathervane to prevent any future assembly.
If we’re being honest, this probably could have been a three episode series. It holds up a lot better than a lot of stuff from the ’80s, though. The alien design is pretty inspired and you can tell they were really trying to do as much with the effects as they could on their budget.
1. Montgomery Ward 1982 Catalog Scans – Came across an old post on Geektarded from 2008 that has some AMAZING scans from an old Montgomery Ward catalog. Of particular note is:
Yes, that’s a playset based on WKRP in Cincinnati. That this existed, that it was decorated with these colors, and that it seems to have gotten its own page in the catalog are three pretty amazing facts.
An awesome spread of Empire Strikes Back toys:
I remember being jealous of my friends who had the AT-AT toys, but I also remember them not being that great when you were actually playing with them.
Finally, some pages showcasing the height of Pac-Man fever:
OK, nothing too bad here, some pajamas, sheets, a TV tray…