Absolutely Rose Street – 1994 SEGA 32X Infomercial

Just to get the obvious out there: I love old video game ads. I love infomercials. I love ’90s video techniques and effects.  I love terrible things that are trying to not be terrible.  All that said, this 30-minute infomercial for SEGA’s 32X add-on to their Genesis system is a confusing mess of objectives and styles and while i don’t really regret watching a single minute of it I kind of regret watching it at all. I’m confused, too.

“Absolutely Rose Street” takes the common infomercial form of a “dramatic” narrative that not-so-subtly sells you a product while telling a story involving somewhat complex characters.  The narrative is pretty wonky, though, and about 90% of the half-hour is spent on this effort. I’m still not sure I’ve got it straight, but here goes.

There’s a show being pitched to a cable station that’s created by a bunch of young, cool, twenty-something teenagers called “Game Beat”.   The station manager, an aging white dude, tells his subordinate, another aging white dude named Joe Whitehead, to fix up the show and make it better.  Joe’s got a side thing going with a host of a competing show, “Styling with Stella”, and tells the “Game Beat” crew that they’ll be cancelled unless they can come up with an amazing episode in a week.

The “Game Beat” crew takes to the streets, interviewing kids about SEGA stuff. They also get some intel from SEGA itself in a weird, matrix-like fashion through a Windows ’95 interface.

The majority of this segment (actually, the majority of the infomercial) is edited in quick, short bursts, which comes off like a battle sequence from a Transformers movie:

The team presents their video and are cancelled in favor of Stella’s show anyway.  The gang decides to throw a party (?) and shoot one last edgy episode of “Game Beat”, the name changed to “Absolutely Rose Street”.  Their skill at lighting a shot has decreased significantly by this point.

They sneak into the station and swap the edgy episode of “Game Beat” so it plays instead of Stella’s show. Stella and Joe are upset, but then Joe learns that his boss likes it! Wah-wah!

The “Game Beat” crew lives to fight another day. Oh, also, this whole thing was meant to sell kids on an adapter for their SEGA Genesis system.  It’s sort of an easter egg in this video. See if you can find that part in the middle of all of the compelling story that’s taking place.

For a more in-depth write-up on this video, check out Video Game Ephemera, who ripped, posted, and wrote-up this long-lost video in the first place. Thanks, VGE! What a find.

-ds

 

Super Mario All Stars VHS Promo Video – 1993

Imagine going to pick up your pre-order of Super Mario All Stars for the Super Nintendo in 1993 and receiving a bonus VHS containing twenty minutes of Mario celebration along with reviews of  other contemporary SNES games, all hosted by Lister from Red Dwarf.

Are you imagining it?

This video is simultaneously an awesome pack-in for a video game, a huge bonus value, and a cringeworthy commercial that tries so hard to be cool that it comes off as like when the chaperones try to dance with the students at the school dance.

Craig Charles hosts from a very Dwarf-esque control center, narrating a brief history of the Mario series before rolling through some talking points on the bigger SNES games of the time like A Link to the Past, Mario Kart, Starwing (Starfox here in the US) and Battletoads.

The video also oddly rates its own games? Why would you present the game that you’re trying to sell to kids as anything other than 100%?

Lister then “beams down” to meet the Nintendo hotline headquarters representatives. While it would have been easy to portray the hotline headquarters as a futuristically lit gaming lair featuring loads of slick actors paid to look like savvy gaming know-it-alls, Nintendo made the bold choice to portray the hotline headquarters as a futuristically lit gaming lair featuring the actual hotline representatives who aren’t necessarily camera friendly and have no formal on-camera training.

The video then doubles down on this strategy, giving the representatives the chance to review Aladdin, Mario Paint, and more, in obnoxiously over-effected segments.

An educating but disappointingly dry five minute segment on how a video game is made leads into a run of game cheats. This is arguably the only valuable part of the entire tape.

The valuable part lasts only so long until the segment turns into a commercial for the SNES Score Master and the Nintendo Scope. I’m not sure ‘buy this accessory to play the game better’ counts as a tip.

Lister throws a few snarky one liners and the video is over.  Like I said, this is simultaneously a great bonus item for a game and a terrible video. But adorably terrible.  Here it is.

-ds

 

 

 

 

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.

-ds

 

 

 

 

Phil Hartman Sells The CD-i: Friday Followup

Who could be a better pitchman for the CD-i than perhaps the best SNL cast member of all time, Phil Hartman? Whoever wrote these ads really put Phil through the ringer, but he does more in thirty seconds than Sid and Ed did in thirty minutes.

It’s also worth noting that the CD-i had dropped from its initial price of $700 and its price cut around Sid and Ed time to $500 down to $300.  This must have been near the end.

Man, I miss Phil Hartman.

 

-ds

1995 Philips CD-i Infomercial: A Pothole On The Information Superhighway

The Philips CD-i was a system slightly ahead of its time. It tried to do it all – play top-of-the-line games, play movies in the best quality available, use all of the CD-ROM resources a PC had at its disposal, and also provide casual internet access in the living room. In the early-to-mid ’90s, a device that could do all of this at a reasonable price was a pipe dream. That’s why this thing initially cost $700, with expensive add-ons if you wanted the full capabilities it promised. It was also a “jack of all trades, master of none” as a device, being outperformed in gaming by gaming consoles, outmatched in PC functions by PCs, and so on.

Spoiler alert: it ultimately failed.

Philips made a decent go of trying to get this thing off of the ground, though; a licensing deal with Nintendo (good move) led to the independent non-Nintendo development of some Zelda and Mario titles (bad move).

They banked on non-traiditional, digital media (good move) by developing unique interactive kids content (good move), game shows and workout videos (good move) and interactive music CDs that let you rearrange the music (bad move).

They also advertised on cable (good move) with a full length infomercial (good move) that creates a weird narrative and tries to humorously portray middle-class lifestyles and provide solutions to those exaggerated lifestyles (bad move).

It’s that last one that we’re talking about here, a 30-minute infomercial called “A Day with Sid, Ed and CD-i” that aired in late night cable in the mid 1990s.  There’s a rivalry between a CD-i representative and an electronics repairman that, for some reason that we’re not privy to, exists. Sid, the CD-i guy, listens in on Ed’s repair calls and poaches them, getting there first and giving them a CD-i and a full library of games and peripherals so that they don’t need Ed’s services by the time he gets there.

He gives them the CD-i’s.  Gives.

It’s a pretty clear way of breaking out the CD-i’s advantages in different multimedia scenarios. In the first of three segments, little Timmy’s destroyed the family PC and it’s unrecoverable.  Sid shows up and marches right in. Mom’s okay with this. He hooks a CD-i into the television, telling them they don’t need a computer anymore. Mom’s okay with this.  He suggests kid-friendly games to Timmy. Mom’s okay with this.

In a few short minutes, Sid’s sold Mom and Timmy on the CD-i. Well, not sold.  Again, they didn’t buy anything.  But they now have a CD-i, so I guess that’s a win in a future, attach rate, sense? 

Part two: some believably rad dudes hanging out together playing video games, reading comics, and dancing to rock music on headphones all at the same time, all independent of each other. Headphones dude trips over the video game cable, destroying the console.  A quick call to Ed’s repair results in Sid barging in and, again, giving a CD-i console to the dudes along with a run through of the amazing games available.

Burn:Cycle was a pretty solid game, as are Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but the rest don’t even look that good by 1990s full-motion-video standards.  Sid hangs out and games with the dudes, then moves on.  Sid’s about $2500 in the hole at this point, considering that he’s given away two consoles and who knows how much software.

Part three: date night.  Peter and Gina are watching a “Forrest Gump” VHS in full daylight when the tape gets eaten by the machine.  Cue Sid and his free CD-i to extol the virtues of digital media.  It’s worth noting that Sid has used “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as a selling point of the CD-i to all three groups at this point. Peter and Gina get more of an overall taste than the other groups do, as a run through the system’s digital board games draws out Gina’s murderous tendencies. Hilarious! I’d be interested in checking that “Clue” title out, though.

The “Feature Presentation” screen, a direct lift of a VHS copy, is the real highlight of this segment.

Ed, throughly defeated at this point, gets on board with CD-i.  He and Sid team up, equal partners in Sid’s unprofitable nightmare of a business.

Each segment is punctuated by wonderful infomercial hard-sells, run-throughs of the system’s features, 800-numbers, and payment plans.

Here it is.  So bad, so good.

 

 

-ds

 

 

 

 

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!

-ds

 

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.

-ds

 

 

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.

 

-ds

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!

 

-ds

 

Five Things – 4.24.17 – Coming Soon, You Angel!

1982 ABC Pac-Preview Party

It’s 1982. Pac Man’s a pretty big deal. So big that they didn’t just make a Pac-Man cartoon, NBC centered its 1982 Saturday Morning Preview Special around it.

Sort of.

Pac-Man is the carrot that Dick Clark dangles for forty five minutes through this awful special, held on the set of American Bandstand. Like the free movie tickets that come at the end of a Timeshare presentation, you have to through clip after clip of unoriginal, derivative cartoons based on existing properties.  When you’re not doing that, you’re watching Dick Clark have a hamfisted time around some children. Seriously – he doesn’t know what to do with these kids. Not 90 seconds into the special, Clark is admonishing a child for talking when he’s talking. On mic. To the camera.

The special tries to be interesting – ventriloquist Willie Taylor does a solid three minute set.

Scooby and Scrappy-Doo costumed characters show up for a clunky appearance.

Henry Winkler and Frank Welker do a table read of a scene from the Laverne and Shirley cartoon. Kids love seeing voice actors!

After a ten-minute long “clip” of The Lil’ Rascals cartoon we finally get about a forty-five minute preview of Pac-Man! Then we’re sent out of the special with a rockin’ dance party.

Seriously, there’s so little effort here. Give me a sloppy narrative or a musical act or some actual star power! At the very least, I guess it’s heartening to see a studio full of disappointed kids make the best of things. Here’s the special.

 

Ward’s 1971 Microwave Oven

Love that dinosaur puppet! The flaming arrow into the conestoga, not so much…

FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

 

Waffelos

Watch a cowboy with dementia peddle a cereal based on stale waffles to a couple of overacting kids!

 

The Long Walk Artwork

“The Long Walk” is one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King.  This promotional artwork really catches the story, from the illustration to the red background to the font choice. Beautiful.

 

Heinz Ad

Guys, I don’t think this conversation actually happened, but I love the layout of this ad.

 

-ds