Every few years I find myself coming back to MAME. For the uninitiated (or just forgetful), MAME is the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, a remarkable piece of software that emulates considerably more arcade games than you even knew existed.
Unfortunately, my experience always goes like this:
Download and build MAME (I’m often on Linux and building from source works best for me); this step usually works pretty smoothly, if a bit slowly as the MAME code base consists of many thousands of files
Find some ROM images I downloaded years ago
Re-familiarize myself with the documentation; the trade-off you make with such a marvelously super-flexible program is that the setup can be painful
Finally figure out how to launch the emulator with a particular ROM
Find that the ROM package is corrupted and MAME can’t run it (no quality control with underground contraband, I tell ya)
If it does work, then read some more documentation until I can make a gamepad work and achieve the optimal graphics and audio settings
Then I can finally enjoy a classic arcade game or 2… until I remember the final insult:
Pure arcade games are not terribly engaging when played by yourself in free-play mode. When playing any arcade game in free-play mode, it becomes painfully obvious in short order that — for the vast majority of such games — the only challenge is to keep your character alive and the only motivation for doing so is to not have to feed more currency into the machine in order to keep playing. When you’re effectively on free-play, getting through an arcade game just feels like a rote chore. Conventional emulators don’t suffer from this same issue since, generally, one emulator only emulates one system while MAME emulates thousands. Further, other emulators tend to emulate systems that are built around gameplay principles other than pure token-eating.
Still, I have come back every so often and get that MAME fix.
Here’s a curious artifact from my archives– a large advertisement for the Neo Geo game system entitled “Neo Geo: Bigger Badder Better”. I have seen the cover image around the internet but I can’t find all the scans. So I guess it falls to make sure that the specimen is preserved for all time online. Here is the document in convenient PDF form:
This advertisement takes the form of a small magazine. I’m not sure how it was originally distributed. I remember receiving it from this weird kid at the local video arcade (PlayAmerica video arcade in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA; I know I have some readers who remember it). This would have been circa 1993-1994. The kid in question actually owned a Neo Geo. I was a real tech spec fiend back in those days, always quoting the MHz speed of the CPUs and the total palette each console was capable. This kid produced this Neo Geo ad which was right up my ally. He let me keep it and now here we are.
The advertising material is far more aggressive than anything Sega ever produced. But selling a $650 video game console (this was the early 1990s) was the toughest of sells. The magazine purports to be written by an entity known as The Game Lord who is here to school you on why all other consoles suck compared to the Neo Geo. Actually, I doubt that even the most ardent Sega or Nintendo fanboy from the period would even attempt to argue that their favorite consoles were technically superior to the Neo Geo. But there was the issue of initial capital investment for the console, plus $200 video games.
I did, however, like the copy’s tackling of the CD-ROM issue, citing that gamers should be worried about the time it takes to develop a game to fill a 650 MB optical disc when it already takes a long time to develop one that just fits on a few megabytes worth of ROM. It’s a curious assumption, to be sure, that development time is linearly proportional to the size of the end product deliverable. Of course, they were 100% correct about early CD-ROM games; see my interactive games category for more hard data on this matter.
Here are the individual page scans; click for larger images:
Front cover with the pit bull — I think this might have been the closest the Neo Geo came to having a mascot
A year ago, I shipped off to various video game museums my collection of Nintendo Power magazines, consisting of most of the first 46 issues. But before I did, one last silly project I wanted to undertake was to list all of the prizes from various Players Polls.
NP used the Players Poll to determine the most popular games amongst players, and used the prizes as a means of incentivizing response. Some of the prizes struck me as a little strange, even when I was reading the magazine as a child. One that stuck out in my mind was the tie-in with the Total Recall NES title, dreadful game that it was — The grand prize was an authentic martian police force uniform from the movie. 2nd prizes included costume badges from the movie. 3rd prize was the game. It’s hard to tell which prize would have been worse. Similarly, the 1990 Jan/Feb issue had a contest themed around movies. One of the prizes involved a random game from a pool of 15 notoriously awful, movie-themed NES games.
On the other hand, some of the more notable grand prizes included a trip for 4 to Disneyland (1988 Nov/Dec); trip for 4 to Super Bowl XXV (volume 18); and a trip to New Orleans for NCAA Final Four (volume 43).
Some of the weirder ones included becoming a character in a Valiant comic book (volume 20); Hudson Hawk scavenger hunt organized in your home town (volume 24); Bill & Ted’s telehone booth, installed with phone bill paid for 1 whole year (volume 27); Robocop’s Ford Taurus (volume 35); and hanging with Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (volume 40). Further, there were at least 2 contests in which the grand prize involved doing work for Nintendo or its affiliates (1989 July/August offered the opportunity to do game testing for Nintendo; volume 32 was a trip to visit Rare and brainstorm ideas for a game). Another odd thing was that, while this magazine was aimed at kids (probably), a number of the contests revolved around R-rated movies (Robocop 2, Total Recall, and Hudson Hawk).
I thought I scanned a bunch of the more interesting examples before shipping off the magazines, but I can’t find them now.I found the scans and have updated the post.
1988 July/Aug – Super Mario Bros II cover
1st prize (1): 10 games of your choice
2nd prize (10): Super Mario Bros II
3rd prize (50): Nintendo Power jersey
Notes: The contest page boasts OVER 60 BIG WINNERS; indeed, mathematically, there will be 61 winners. Also, according to the poll, it looks like the licensed library was roughly 87 games large at the time.
1988 Sep/Oct – Castlevania II cover
Theme: R.C. Pro-Am
1st prize (1): 10 games of your choice (presumably of the entire licensed library)
2nd prize (5): 14-inch scale model quick drive RC model car
3rd prize (10): R.C. Pro-Am game
4th prize (50): Nintendo Power jersey
Notes: Again, “OVER 65 BIG WINNERS” when there will be exactly 66 winners.
1988 Nov/Dec – Track and Field II cover
1st prize (1): trip for 4 to Disneyland (4 days/3 nights)
2nd prize (600+): various NES games and accessories
Notes: Trip to Disneyland; now we’re talkin’. I’m not sure if I mistyped that 600+ figure for 2nd prize winners. Seems off. 60 2nd place winners would be more in keeping with the contests up to this point.
1989 Jan/Feb – Zelda II cover
1st prize (1): A set of NES accessories
2nd prize (10): Zelda II game
3rd prize (50): NP jersey
Note: This one claims over 150 winners when the prizes only seem to add up to 61.
It’s amazing that game consoles track your achievements automatically in this day and age. Why, back in my day, I had to document every one of my achievements by hand. And you’d better believe I liked it that way!
I was really proud when I won my first NES game (though I probably shouldn’t have been — it was Konami’s Life Force while using the notorious Konami code). No matter, I still remember it as the first game I ever won. When I had gone on to win my first 10 games, I had no trouble recalling their titles and the order in which I completed them. After about 10, it got harder to keep the list straight in my head, so I started to record the titles on these little yellow pieces of paper and hang them on the wall near my NES.
I recently came across the list neatly rolled up in a box. It’s time to photograph it, post it, and then let the physical item go.
Here are a few achievements that stand out now, especially since I have spent the last decade or so reading internet reviews about how ridiculously difficult certain games were (a.k.a. games that were Nintendo Hard):
The Adventures of Bayou Billy
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I have read no shortage of retro-reviews indicating that anyone who claims to have won these games is a filthy liar. Well, I did win each one fair and square, back in the day. Never used a Game Genie, although I did often have Nintendo Power advising me. I’m not saying the games weren’t difficult. In fact, Battletoads had me downright stressed one summer as I was determined to win it and rented it 3 times in a row to achieve that goal. Afterwards, I wrote a letter to Nintendo Power with some tips and strategies I discovered along the way and they actually wrote a letter back, congratulating me for finishing Battletoads!
Another achievement I must mention is that I once made it to level 63 in Duck Hunt. Trust me, that’s the kind of accomplishment that comes from a hot summer afternoon of total boredom and nothing else to play. I wouldn’t recommend trying to beat that record.
On the flip side, I thought Mike Tyson was remarkably difficult to beat in Punch-Out!! Here’s a situation where most people I knew claimed they beat him on their very first try. Not me; I worked for weeks to beat him and I was briefed on all his tells and strategies well in advance.
Anyway, here are my achievements: 100+ games completed, mostly during a period of 3 years. Note that I counted the second quest of The Legend of Zelda as a separate game (#4 in this list). That’s controversial. It was certainly different enough to be a separate title.
I recently unloaded a large swath of my personal video game collection. I gave the items to friends and to video game museums, free of charge. As is my custom, I took photos of everything I gave away, just for sentimental effect. I thought I’d post the photos in order to give readers ample opportunity to exclaim “OMG! You should have tried to sell whatever presumably rare item on eBay for hundreds of dollars!” It’s out of my hands now. Don’t worry, though. I didn’t give away all of my video games yet. I basically got rid of everything that’s not on optical media. Here is my complete game collection and I still have around 700 DOS/Windows games.
Click on any image for a much higher resolution photograph.
NES Console Lot
Official NES top loader: The SNES-style NES control deck; it still has the $99.95 price tag on it which is what I paid for it used. Hey, it was worth it. I bought it in (I think) 2002 and the thing was far more reliable than any standard front-loaders that I still owned at the time (all since discarded).
RetroUSB’s NES PowerPak: I was one of the first people to buy one of these. It took me about 3 years to finally get around to trying to use it and I couldn’t make it work. I didn’t try very hard, though, and I didn’t care enough to try harder. I hope the new owner has better luck.
2 new style controllers; 1 old style controller
1 Light Zapper Gun (in the original grey styling; purchased 1989)
NES Cartridge Lot #1
Dragon Warrior II is certainly the most valuable of this lot.
I completed RE4 nearly 2 years ago and then swiftly moved on to something else in my life. When I powered on the game this past weekend, I saw some new menu options that I vaguely recall being unlocked after winning the game. One of the bonus options is called Assignment Ada wherein the player assumes the role of a supporting character named Ada Wong who is tasked with a subquest of collecting 5 MacGuffins.
This <10min quick play on YouTube has me thinking that I worked entirely too hard to clear the Assignment Ada bonus game:
This speed run is predicated on the fact that the enemies in the game are famously slow on the uptake and don’t react quick enough while the player sprints right past them.
The first time I reached the boss of the assignment, I thought he might have been impossible to beat. Much of the battle seemed to consist of so-called quicktime events where failure to press a random pair of buttons at the precise moment when prompted results in immediate death. RE4 is generally a quite popular and accomplished title, which makes it that much more ironic that it has 2 big features that receive so much criticism, including these quicktime events (the other point of contention is the escort mission, which I am probably alone in enjoying). These event junctures instantly transform a game of skill into a game of chance.
I quit in frustration the first night and gave it another go the next night. This time, I mostly honed my combat technique and studied the most efficient and, more importantly, stylized methods for dispatching foes. When I made it to the boss, I was extremely well-equipped with both weapons and health items. With enough practice I finally took him down.
And then I watched the above video and figured out that there was a much quicker way to take care of him. Figures. Reminds me of a certain boss in Resident Evil: Code Veronica (this guy, the Nosferatu)– first time around, he finally succumbed after I threw every single weapon in my cache at him. The second time through the game, I finally noticed the remarkably useful, specialized weapon nearby that the game was doing everything it could to nudge me towards.
Anyway, the good news is that Resident Evil 4 is still fun.