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I feel like I've hit the wall, both creatively and when it comes to gaming. I've so far ignored this current generation of games, as none of the "next gen" systems on offer feel like they have anything to offer me, and yet this creates a conundrum for me. I honestly cannot remember the last time a game absolutely blew me away, and yet looking back through the past, through my own memories, I can see dozens upon dozens of instances. Some of them were gaming "firsts", such as the first time I saw 'Super Mario Bros.' in action and realized games could be larger than one static screen like the arcades offered, my first encounter with 'Resident Evil' where I learned the potential games had to terrify, or the first time I wandered through a fully-realized 3D city environment in 'Grand Theft Auto III' where you could just drive around and explore without being tied to missions or even time limits.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize it's those "firsts" that have given meaning to gaming to me ever since I was little. Playing 'Dragon Warrior' on the NES, my first real RPG experience. Watching Sonic burn through stages at warp speed on the Genesis. Two-player racing battles in 'Super Mario Kart' and 'F-Zero'. Taking my first steps in the City of Vilcabamba level in Lara Croft's shoes within the 'Tomb Raider' demo.

'Tomb Raider' was twenty-one years ago, the summer of 1996, and while there have been other games like it, nothing has matched that feeling of immersion, of danger, of solitude and exploration. Twenty-one years. I was nineteen.

'Silent Hill 2' turns sixteen this September. I've never played another game that was so good I wanted to keep playing, but took me to places so awful to contemplate that I had to put it down just to process what I'd witnessed. I was twenty-four when Jess gave me the game for my birthday that October. Others have come close, but none have matched the horror of James Sunderland's journey through hell, searching for his wife Mary.

I could go on like this, but it just makes me depressed. I have close to fifty games in my PS3 library, and not one I can name has left me with the feeling that I've experienced something life-changing. Have I had fun? Absolutely! I loved the 'Tomb Raider' reboot of 2013. 'Bionic Commando: Rearmed' is a fantastic port/update of the NES classic. 'Just Cause 2' is awesomely explosive open-world entertainment, and 'Saints Row 2' and its two sequels have picked up the mantle 'Grand Theft Auto' ditched when they opted for gritty and obnoxious realism over the comedic joy and silliness that comes from playing a video game. Nathan Drake's antics in 'Uncharted' are entertaining, but is Naughty Dog doing anything different from what Core Design did years ago and Indiana Jones did a decade before that?

Even the lone game in my PS3 library I could name that gave me that kind of 'first' experience is nothing more than an HD port of two PS2 games. 'Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga' was ground-breaking in its mixture of fun and simplicity, but again, I'd played it already a few years earlier when it was 'Lego Star Wars' and 'Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy'.

Then I think: 'Dead Space'. 'Dead Space' came closest. It did a lot of things right. But just like the 'Alien' films, 'Dead Space' became a victim of its own success. If the first game was a claustrophobic journey through the unknown, the second was the big action set piece where the protagonist went from ordinary survivor to badass hero, and by the third it was clear the people behind the series had lost all touch with what made it great in the first place. So, for the sake of argument, I'll say 'Dead Space' fits the mold, the requirements, for what I've been seeking.

'Dead Space' came out in 2008. That was damn near a decade ago...what the hell happened to it (and to me)?

Scanning the shelves, my gaze settles on 'Heavy Rain'. 'Heavy Rain' was bloody magnificent, I don't care what the haters say, but 'Heavy Rain' came out in 2010. Seven years later, what is there to match it? What is there to look forward to when it seems so many game companies are playing it safe? Can the field evolve further? I don't mean in terms of technological gimmicks like motion controls, touch screens, and VR headsets. I mean in terms of 'firsts', and meaningful firsts at that.

'Parasite Eve' blew me away in 1998 with its cinematic storytelling and exploration of a New York City at the turn of the millennium under siege from a sentient biological threat. Its sequel ditched the RPG elements, opting for a more straight-up survival horror presentation, and its most recent incarnation for the PSP, 'The Third Birthday', abandoned the Parasite Eve name all together in favor of a pseudo-sequel starring an Aya Brea who feels nothing like the original, who sight-jacks her way through a tired third-person action shooter. Where is the sense in this?

Though I never played sports, save for a stint in cross-country and track in high school where I was average at best, I feel at this point in my life like a has-been, looking back on her youth, vainly trying to hold on to memories of her glory days on the presumption that things will never change, in denial of the fact that not only will things change, but that they already have.

Maybe I'm asking for something I can never have. People could point to the eruption of building sandbox games like 'Minecraft', but I've played 'Minecraft' and found it too complicated and too time-consuming for my tastes. I can watch other people play it on YouTube and enjoy myself vicariously through their creations and interactions with the world and other players, but I feel like I've aged out of the demographic who can pick up and play it or its ilk.

So here I am, stuck between two worlds, aged out of one and left pining for another.

The truth is, for me, there likely will never be another 'Tomb Raider' moment, another 'Resident Evil' moment, another 'Parasite Eve' moment, another 'Silent Hill 2' moment. Video games are no longer made for people my age. Controls are too complex, single-player is often an afterthought, and so much that we see walks the line of utter safety. Another 'Call of Duty', another 'Halo', another 'Medal of Honor', another clone, another me-too, another waste of my time.

Whether I outgrew gaming or it outgrew me, I don't know. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I have my memories, I have my flashes of inspiration, and I have the thankfulness that I was there to experience it all. I literally grew up with video games. But like so many of the friends I made as I grew up, life happened, people moved on, and so have I. Just as it would feel awkward to sit down with an old friend I haven't seen in fifteen years, it feels awkward trying to re-kindle my relationship with video games.

I want to be the same girl I was twenty years ago, reading through the magazines, eagerly watching the commercials, lapping up coverage of everything interesting me, visiting the rental stores to try new titles, cracking open new demo discs, and immersing myself in that world. I want to be. But I can't.

Whatever that was, whatever I had, I've lost it. It's left me, hopefully to take up root in someone else's imagination. I hope it's found another girl who watches trailers on YouTube and finds inspiration, who doesn't have room in her house for massive Lego builds but has plenty of RAM on her computer to play 'Minecraft', who grew up reading "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and now picks up the PS4 controller to play through 'Outlast' or 'Resident Evil VII'. I hope she finds what I lost, nurtures it, makes it a part of who she is, and goes on to draw inspiration from it.

Because I think it's done with me. And I don't see it coming back.


I've needed to write this since Wednesday morning, but I haven't been in the proper emotional state of mind to do so. I still might not be, and if that's the case, I beg your forgiveness but also your indulgence. Yes, this is political. No, I don't want to stir shit up. Yes, I want your comments. No, I won't delete dissenting viewpoints. Emotion ultimately fuels everything we do, but too much emotion can be as damaging to the body as overfilling the gas tank is to your vehicle. It's taken days to siphon off the excess of what I've felt since that first sinking feeling Tuesday night that Donald Trump would win the White House. Here's what's left: I'm hopeful, and I'm scared. Let's talk about fear.


For those of you who don't know, I'm a white, college-educated, college-town-dwelling lesbian from Indiana. Two years ago in 2014, my state declared same-sex couples had the right to marry. One year ago, the Supreme Court agreed and told the GLBT community to make with the festivities. And while I have only been married to my wife for a little over two years, I first met her in 1995, we began dating in 1996, and came out as a couple to our parents in 1997. This past October I turned forty, which means we've been together for half my life. She is my life. I would give up anything else, including my own life, before I would give her up.


But even in a reasonably-liberal college town, we've not been unscathed by bigotry's claws. I've been harassed on the street by people I don't even know, who don't know me, only that I'm holding hands with another woman. A decade ago, my car was vandalized: tires slashed, windows broken, the word 'Dykes' spray-painted across the hood. In 2003, my immediate supervisor was fired by the owner of the bookstore where I work because of discriminatory harassment based on my sexuality. Despite this, I was not raised to be a victim. Chances are, unless you're a very close friend, you don't know about these things because I had those fights, I dealt with them, I moved on, and chose not to dwell on them.


I have to dwell on them now, because I'm not at all sure when I'll have to have those fights again now that Republicans control the Executive, Legislative, and before long, the Supreme Court. I worry because of this:




That's the "First Amendment Defense Act", a bill introduced to the House of Representatives by a conservative Republican from Idaho in June of 2015. Its sole purpose is to promote discrimination under a banner of religious freedom, by forbidding the government from taking punitive action against any individual who believes that "marriage" is anything other than one man and one woman, or that sexual activity should be confined to heterosexual married couples only, and use that belief to deny services or any other benefit as long as those beliefs are "sincerely held" (as if there's any such thing as a litmus test for 'sincerity' when it comes to issues of law). Furthermore, it provides legal cover for those who choose to discriminate in this way regardless of the consequences to those facing the discrimination. I guess my sincerely held belief that public businesses and services should be open and accommodating to all isn't worth legal protection.


FADA currently has 172 co-sponsors. The sister bill in the Senate, introduced on the same day by a Republican Senator from Utah, has 37 co-sponsors. Both bills have been referred to separate committees and have seen no further action in over a year. That's the good news.


The bad news is Donald Trump has promised to sign FADA into law as soon as it crosses his desk, which means I will have no recourse or access to justice or equality if someone decides their personal religious beliefs overrule my basic humanity. This is not preserving religious freedom, it is giving aid and comfort to those who actively seek to hurt and debase others. Is this a United States of America any of us want? Add at least one, and possibly as many as four, Supreme Court nominations for the new administration, and there's a real chance people like the ones who introduced and co-sponsored these bills will go all-out in rolling back the rights of people like me. I could very well go to bed married and wake up to discover my marriage has been dissolved or rendered legally invalid for the purpose of all the rights it grants us, ranging from the ability to make medical care choices for the other in case one of us is disabled, automatic property transferal in the event of a death, legal exemption from the compulsion to testify against one another in court, to the simple matter of filing our taxes as 'Married, Filing Jointly' instead of 'Single', in all fifty states. (News flash to people who hate gay marriage: you've heard of the 'marriage penalty', right? Yeah, getting married if you don't have kids makes your tax burden go up. Splitting up our marriage means we pay less in taxes, so if you really want to stick it to us, leave our marital rights alone so we can continue our increasing financial support of our public schools.) This is terrifying, and we don't even have children to throw into the mix to complicate things further.


That's why I'm afraid.


But there's another word in the title for this blog post, and that word is Hope.


I derive that hope from the knowledge that Millennials now outnumber Boomers, and on a whole are far more accepting of those who aren't exactly like them.


I derive that hope from the fact that, in 2001, public opinion against same-sex marriage in the US stood at 57%. Today, fifteen years later, opposition to same-sex marriage sits at 35%. Even among Republicans, support has been growing slowly since 2012.


I derive hope from the fact that, in the two years since Jessica and I signed our marriage license in the county clerk's office, we've not faced a single problem of discrimination related to our status as a married couple.


I derive hope from the friends who are already writing letters to their representatives and senators, reminding them that the will of the people doesn't involve hatred of those who aren't exactly alike.


Most of all, I derive hope that Donald Trump did not mean all the things he said and promised, that he will take a more moderate stance, that the man we elected turns out to be more like the Donald Trump who wrote this book in 2000, the registered Democrat, the guy who appeared on Oprah back in 1988 calm, collected, and all business, throwing out reasonable ideas and suggestions for how things might be done differently.


Right now, it's too early to tell. January 20th is still two months away. I wish that hope was all I had. But fear's right there too, gnawing on my insides. I'm terrified of seeing what I've fought to have for so long taken away. I'm terrified for my wife, who is not a fighter, who doesn't get political, who just wants to live her life, and who has no idea how to confront bigotry head-on without breaking down. It's easy for people like her to lose hope...and I'm afraid I don't have enough in my own reserves to keep both of us going if the worst comes to pass.


So that's that. I'm afraid, I'm hopeful, and I know only one of those two can win. I need all of my friends now more than ever. Please don't turn your back on me.


The above song, "Santa Monica," comes from Savage Garden's self-titled debut album. It's the final track. Chances are, unless you're a huge fan of the band, you've never heard it. It got no radio play, there was no official music video, it's just one of those songs the world glosses over. It's also the one most completely out of place on the record. It's no pulse-pounding dance club track like their breakout hit, "I Want You". It's not a poetic profession of love like "To The Moon and Back" or "Truly, Madly, Deeply", their other two hit singles that year. "Santa Monica" is a quiet, low-key, un-rhyming introspective about being all alone in the middle of the gigantic mass of humanity such is California.

It's not the song I bought the album for. In fact, I had no idea what the song was even about before I heard it, but it is, in my opinion, the best song on that record. I've never been to Santa Monica, but I've felt exactly what Darren Hayes is singing about nonetheless. Replace "Santa Monica" with my college town and this is my life. It's been two decades, and I've still never found a song that captures and encapsulates 'me' the way this song does.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is a series of statements you respond to by indicating how closely you associate yourself with them, and your options are ranges of agreement or disagreement with those statements. There are a bunch of online versions of these tests you can take for free, most of them take about 10 minutes, and their results are fairly accurate. The answers you provide will be tabulated, and the test will return one of sixteen different personality types based on eight different characteristics and how you weigh towards each one (Introversion vs. Extroversion, Perceiving vs. Judging, etc...). The end result will be a four-letter code that corresponds to four of those letters, and probably a graph to show where you're closely aligned with both given aspects, or whether one side tends to greatly outweigh the other. If you want to take a quick one and see what I'm talking about, try this one:


I've taken this test numerous times throughout my life, and the result has been the same every time: INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). Those interested can read a nice, long description of what that all means here, but basically it means that at my best I'm a strong force for good and diplomacy, and at my worst my emotions grind me down into a bland wreck of a person who barely has the energy to interact with the rest of the world. Right now, that second part is where I'm at. It's a fight with myself I've been engaged with since I can remember, and INFP's are particularly prone to it because we live almost completely inside of ourselves.

I've never been afraid of emotions, but I have been afraid of what actions I know those emotions could cause. In other words, I don't fear anger, but rather I fear what being overcome with anger could lead me to do. I don't fear sorrow, but I do fear what could happen if I spend too long being sad. More than once in my life, I have voluntarily spent periods of time in a stress center, which is a euphemistic way of saying I've allowed another group of people complete control over my life because I, an otherwise functional adult, was incapable of doing so. This is not weakness and it is not surrender, it is recognizing a problem exists that I am woefully unprepared to handle by myself. It's no different from recognizing that, rather than attempting to treat a broken arm at home, I would heal faster and receive better care by going to the hospital. It is also a problem that stigmatizes a large population here in the United States. People who have no issue going to a doctor to receive assistance with a cancer diagnosis look at people who suffer from depression and ask, "Why don't they just grow up and get over it?" Imagine the absurdity of asking someone who had a leg amputated and replaced with a prosthetic, "I don't get it...why can't you just walk like everyone else? Why do you need a new leg?"

Depending on the day and my mood, I can get lost in a crowd of one. I could stand in the middle of Time's Square, on New Year's Eve, at midnight, and despite the crushing throng and overwhelming noise, the potential exists that I could feel just as alone as I am sitting here, writing this blog post in my office. My wife is outside working in her garden. My dog is outside running around, enjoying the sunshine. I am alone, and this is when I thrive. This is when I fill my reserves of energy, when I re-fuel the tanks that drain so quickly when I'm forced to be around large crowds of people. If I don't get this time, regularly, daily, I will retreat inside myself until I find it, and I will stay there until I feel safe enough to come out. This isn't something I can control, it's an automatic response like the nervous system reacting to pull your hand away from a hot surface. It is not something I enjoy. It's more like having an off switch that could be flipped by anything at any time, and never knowing what might activate it.

But I have made peace with it over the years. I'm 39 years old, and I understand things will be this way up until the point that I no longer exist. The cost I pay for not being an extrovert is enormous in this society: I don't have a massive social network of friends, I don't garner energy by spending time with people, and my refusal to participate in social events is often seen as dismissive of those involved. Movies get this wrong all the time, where the introverted girl with the glasses just needs someone to yank her into the spotlight and let her shine so she can finally see what it means to be living. This does not work any more than ripping the shell off a turtle and putting it under a heat lamp would improve its well-being. Doing so would, at best, severely harm the turtle, and at worst, kill it. The turtle does not need to be removed from its shell in order to live a better life, the turtle needs the world to understand that it needs its shell to survive the life it has.

Who is the most difficult adversary a Warrior Nun faces?


She can get lost in a crowd of 10,000 or a crowd of just herself. She expends considerable energy dreaming of worlds that exist for no one but her, pursuing dreams that cannot possibly come true, and aspiring to goals that she cannot achieve, and suffers the heartbreak of seeing those dreams shattered, those goals unrealized, those worlds vanishing in the blink of an eye. And yet...

Here she stands. Or sits. Or reclines. Still dreaming. Still planning. Still making goals. Still idealizing the hell out of everyone, hoping for the best, knowing she'll be disappointed, she can't win, that just over the hill there's only another hill, and the aftermath of every battle leaves room only for a new fight to begin.

She would have it no other way. And neither would I.


Retromags member Softballchic and I spend a lot of time talking most nights, and it's often about video games: what we like, what we dislike, and what we're really good at. Last night the topic of achievements/trophies came up. On the PS3/Vita/PS4 model, acquiring every other trophy in a game rewards you with a final achievement, a Platinum trophy, which showcases that you've not just finished the game, but COMPLETED the game. By the time you acquire a Platinum in most games, there should be little ground left unexplored.

I only have three games in my collection which I have enjoyed to the point I went after the Platinum: Borderlands, Fallout 3, and Dead Space. Of those three, only Dead Space requires you to complete the game at the highest difficulty setting in order to earn the reward. Her question for me was why Dead Space prompted me to not only attempt but complete a play-through on "Impossible", and what made me inclined to do so for that game versus the many other games in my library that reward you for playing at a higher difficulty. Why, indeed?

I had to think about it for a couple of minutes, but I slowly worked out and talked through my answer with her as I gathered my thoughts. I did it for Dead Space because Dead Space made me think my way through the challenge.

Floating Corpse

Dead Space is one of the greatest, most atmospheric survival horror games of all time, and at "Impossible" difficulty (which isn't unlocked until you've beaten the game once), it gives you absolutely no quarter. Ammo is scarce, enemies have more health, and dish out significantly more damage to Isaac when they attack. A sequence early on in the very first level has you running from your first enemy encounter since you're unarmed; hectic on Easy or Normal during your first play-though, it becomes downright murderous on "Impossible" as a single mistake will result in that Necromorph tearing off your head mere minutes into play. Why would I do this to myself?


The answer is: "Because Dead Space understands difficulty balance far better than most other games, and requires the player to make active observations about the world around them in order to counter-balance that difficulty." In other words, Dead Space gives you all the materials you need to create a working hypothesis of how its world works, and from that infer what may be required of you if you set the game to a higher difficulty level. Not only that, it requires you to specifically adopt a play style which seems counter-intuitive in order to have the best chance of survival, and chances are the first time you play Dead Space, you will do exactly the opposite. An "Easy" run through Dead Space and an "Impossible" run through Dead Space are two completely different animals.


At this point, it's impossible to discuss playing the game without some spoilers. I'm not going to give away the ending or anything, but I am going to talk about weapons, encounters, and tactics for dealing with some generic situations which may spoil the tension if you know about them beforehand. You've been warned.

So Dead Space does the typical difficulty spike like every other developer does when it comes to Impossible" mode: enemies soak up more hits, and they hand out violent beatings the same way McDonalds now serves breakfast: all day long. The difference is, that's where most games stop with the whole "balance" thing. If an enemy you can kill in ten seconds on Normal takes fourteen seconds and twice as much ammo on Hard, many developers think that's all it takes to challenge the player. And I don't mean one or two devs, I mean nearly all of them, even some of my favorite studios which made some of my favorite games. This is how Naughty Dog handled Uncharted. Bethesda's done the same with every Elder Scrolls game since Oblivion. Bungie and Halo. iD Software with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. The list goes on. But isn't that kind of lame? If harder modes in your game simply force the player to fight longer and expend more ammo to achieve the same end result, then what are you really doing except making the player endure something more uncomfortable?

Plasma Cutter

Some developers, like Konami with Silent Hill 2 and 3, offer better choices. Those games let you fine-tune the experience, giving separate difficulty levels for combat and puzzles, which is awesome since Silent Hill's combat mechanics are a little on the loose side, and it lets you enjoy at least three different play-throughs where you can be surprised (and intimidated if you don't know your Shakespeare) by the puzzles. I don't mind this as an option, but it does make for a lot more work on the developer side, since now they have to come up with three or four times the number of puzzles they would traditionally.

Dead Space (and I'm only talking about the first game here, because holy hell do parts 2 and 3 fly off the rails at this point) handles the difficulty transition so elegantly you might not notice anything beyond the more powerful enemies, so let me point out how it succeds where so many other games fail. Dead Space requires the player to figure out the rules of the game's world, and adapt to fit them. For instance, my first playthrough was similar to everyone else's: I was looking for new weapons, anxious to walk around with a full arsenal of three or four guns/tools I could swap out depending on the circumstances. Because of that, I got ammo drops for all my stuff, and it seemed like the game handed out ammo in a random fashion: this locker had pulse rifle clips, this storage bin had fresh pack of blades for my ripper, and this guy dropped a canister of fuel for my flamethrower. By the end of the game, I had grabbed every weapon from the shop, had ammo for all of them locked away in my Storage area, and felt like a roving badass capable of taking on the world. This is exactly how the developers expected you to play the game for the first time, and if you try playing this way on "Impossible" you will watch yourself get torn limb from limb in a continual orgy of carnage because it will. Not. Work. This will come as a vicious surprise despite the developers giving you fair warning about it in three different ways. Were you paying close enough attention to pick up on them? Because I sure as hell wasn't my first time through.

The first is the presence of the "One Gun" trophy, a reward for finishing the game using nothing but the Plasma Cutter. By its very nature, this trophy's existence relays a crucial fact to an observant gamer: it is possible to finish the game using nothing but the very first weapon you find. This may sound the same as beating Resident Evil using only the knife, or Silent Hill 2 with nothing but the nail board, but it's not even in the same galaxy for three reasons: the plasma cutter is an obscenely powerful and accurate weapon in its own right; it can be upgraded throughout play using your limited supply of power nodes to do more damage, hold a larger clip size, and reload faster; and playing without the other weapons allows you to focus on upgrading it to the exclusion of everything else but your own suit, ensuring you can make it powerful enough to keep it viable though all twelve chapters. A Knife-only Resident Evil run, on the other hand, gives you no way of turning your blade into a zombie-dismembering, one-size-fits-all tool of the apocalypse.

Dead Space Inventory

The second is something you're likely to notice only if you're making a "One Gun" run, or are very observant when playing normally. With very, very few exceptions, the game always drops ammo for the weapons you are currently holding. There are a couple places where you will always get a pulse rifle clip or a rack for the line gun whether you're armed with them or not, but otherwise the game will only spawn ammo for the weapon(s) in your inventory. In other words, the more guns you lug around, the less chance you have of getting the ammo you need right then and there. At lower difficulties, this isn't a problem, since you can always spend money at the various shops to load up. On Impossible, this is a death sentence. Money spent in shops needs to go towards power nodes and upgraded rig suits, not more ammo for your oversize arsenal. Ironically, though it sounds like the worst idea in the world, one of the best ways to tackle Impossible mode is to limit yourself to just the plasma cutter, thus earning both trophies at the same time.

The third is Stasis. Your first time through the game, Stasis feels like such a gimmick, one the devs used to give you a new way of solving puzzles. Can't get through that short-circuiting door because it slams too quickly? Hit it with Stasis and run on by. Need to slow down a rapidly-spinning metal object so you can grab something behind it with your Kinesis attachment? Stasis to the rescue. Using it on enemies is practically an afterthought, with a couple of exceptions for a boss fight here and there, and up until the last chapter or two it honestly feels like cheating since it turns otherwise normal fights into "shooting fish in a barrel"-style carnival games. And while you can upgrade your Stasis using some of your valuable power nodes, it's hardly necessary considering how rarely you use it in life-threatening situations, how freely the game drops Stasis recharge packs, and how frequently you encounter the recharging stations after points when you've used your Stasis to get past a particular obstacle. Only a complete screw-up requires as much Stasis as the game implies you need, right? You can see where this is going. Only a complete screw-up requires as much Stasis as the game implies you need on the lower difficulty settings. On an Impossible playthrough, that Stasis meter on the back of your suit is all but a second health bar, because if you're not using it, then you're taking more damage than necessary, and if you're taking more damage than necessary, you're spending money on health packs instead of better armor, and that means you're dying. Those power nodes which feel wasted on Stasis upgrades during a standard run? Those are among the most valuable improvements you can make on Impossible, because mark my words, those recharge stations you ran by laughing at before will be the only thing saving you from violent dismemberment this time around.

Medical Center

Dead Space encouraged me to earn the Platinum not because it made the game harder, but because Impossible mode fundamentally altered how I needed to approach the game, thus making it an intellectual as well as a physical challenge. Its hard parts seem insurmountable when you start, but only until you re-wire your playing style to compensate. It's more than just making enemies tougher, it's forcing the player to pay attention, acknowledge their limitations, then turn around and use those limitations to their advantage. You don't brute force your way through Impossible mode; trying that shit will get your spine stomped into the deck plates. You finesse your way through Impossible mode, which in turn makes you feel like even more of a bad-ass once you've finished.


So what video games have you gone back to experience at higher difficulties? And did you enjoy playing them, or was your experience one of frustration and/or annoyance? Let me know in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading these ramblings from your humble Warrior Nun. :)


The recent death of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who starred in such memorable films as "They Live" and such immemorable ones as "Hell Comes to Frog Town" and "Sci-Fighter", really got me thinking about movies that were ahead of their time in one way or another. So I'm not boring my readers to death, I'm restricting myself to the five best examples that I believe fit this mold and I'm only allowing one John Carpenter flick on the list. That said, here are my picks:

5) John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

Let's get one thing straight: Carpenter's sci-fi horror epic is not a remake of the 1951 film "The Thing From Another World" no matter what you have been told. Literally the only thing (no pun intended) these two films have in common is a set-up which can best be described as, "A creature from another planet terrorizes a bunch of humans in an isolated setting."

Carpenter's film is what the 1951 version should have been in the first place had it not decided to ignore virtually all of the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story ("Who Goes There?") upon which it was based. John Carpenter did not remake "The Thing From Another World", he made a film which made up for the fact that the 1951 film failed to make it in the first place. His is perhaps the first cinematic apology where one director looked at the work of a previous one and said, "I'm sorry, he got it all wrong. Let's fix that." Or at least it's the first one that actually followed through on that promise.

Let's get another thing straight: I love "The Thing From Another World." It's a beautifully-shot, excellently-produced, competently-acted black-and-white scare-fest from an age when the biggest thing the Western World had to fear was the Red Scare of Communism. Like the 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", it holds up to this day as its own film. But let's not for one minute pretend it bears more than a passing resemblance to the original story which inspired its creation.

Carpenter's film was ahead of its time for many reasons, especially the practical effects and make-up of Rob Bottin which still hold up to this day, but it was hamstrung by a release date that saw its tale of alien invasion and body horror derailed by Spielberg's heart-warming story of a boy trying to help a gentle extra-terrestrial find his way home. After audiences were done crying over "E.T.", they weren't interested in viewing aliens as the bad guys and the film languished at the box office until people re-discovered "The Thing" in all its g(l)ory thanks to the video rental market.

4) The Blob (1988)

I don't care what you think about the 1958 original, where a going-on-thirty Steve McQueen tries to pass as a teenage heart-throb and manages to beat back his outer-world adversary using an ordinary fire extinguisher. On the other hand, I care quite deeply what you think about the 1988 remake which had exactly one purpose: to take everything they couldn't show in the 1950's and rub your nose in it until you felt the need to take a long shower.

The entire horror franchise is built around the idea that there are rules all great horror films follow which determine who's still alive when the credits start rolling, and the first thing director Chuck Russell does with his version of "The Blob" is to gather up all those rules into a neat little pile and urinate on them. The 1988 Blob-fest doesn't care if you're supposed to be the hero of the story. It doesn't matter if you're the guy riding to the rescue. It doesn't matter if you're a scrappy kid, or a beloved family pet, or a virgin, the hero's love interest, the heroine's love interest, the well-intentioned secondary character with the heart of gold, or any of the other tropes which should guarantee your survival because sometimes, though no fault of your own, shit happens and you're gonna die.

Russell's version of "The Blob" pre-dates "The Walking Dead's" 'anyone can die at any point for any reason even if it's just because the writer is a sadistic prick' attitude by twenty-two frigging years, which is probably why most people don't have the first clue it even exists. It doesn't help that neither Matt's younger brother Kevin Dillon nor Shawnee Smith (who you know from the "Saw" series even if you don't recognize her by name) are exactly big-name draws at the box office. This Blob got lost amid horror's declining late-80s years as movie-goers began to tire of horror films becoming nothing but sequel-generating cash cows where the bad guys were the most charismatic people on the screen and got the most cheers, even when they were butchering innocent teenagers. It fits into no molds of preconception, relentlessly toys with the audience, and does not shy away from showing any of the face-melting, body-digesting, small-town-consuming horror we've grown accustomed to seeing today.

Also, by some coincidence, the screenplay was developed by Frank Darabont, who would go on to create "The Walking Dead" a couple decades later, and features Jeffrey DeMunn, who would go on to play Dale on "The Walking Dead". Ain't life funny like that?

3) Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

"New Nightmare" bombed because audiences at the time didn't understand what Craven was trying to do. They went in expecting a brand new installment of "Freddy Krueger slices people up with his wit and razor-claws", and instead got their brains handed to them by a director postulating a more metaphysical reason for the existence of the horror film. As opposed to entertainment, what if horror films existed to take the 'bite' (or 'slash', or 'machete') out of something truly scary?

The idea of a horror film taking itself seriously at a meta-level was about as difficult a pill for audiences to swallow as the previous year's attempt to do it with blockbuster action flicks, "Last Action Hero." Audiences were not ready to see people like Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund playing Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund respectively. "New Nightmare" dared to forge new ground and ask some serious questions about the role of the horror movie in today's society, and it was met by yawns and jeers from an audience who only showed up to watch half-naked bimbos scream and run up the stairs when they should have been running out the front door.

Two years later, in 1996, Craven would be given a second chance to confront a similar theme with "Scream", but let the record show he tried to drag us into uncharted territory with "New Nightmare" first. Sadly, like with Crazy Ralph in the "Friday the 13th" films, none of us was willing to listen the first time.

2) Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

People went absolutely ga-ga over "The Blair Witch Project", a low-budget feature shot using no-name actors wandering around in a forest and arguing about who was more lost and exactly how screwed they all would be if they didn't get home by the end of the weekend. This "found footage" genre of film exploded overnight, garnering a ton of praise for its unique premise, and spawning a slew of imitators like "Paranormal Activity", "Cloverfield", and "[REC]". What everyone forgot was that twenty years earlier, Italian director Ruggero Deodato used this exact same "found footage" technique to frame "Cannibal Holocaust", his own entry into the splatter film genre.

You thought the marketing campaign behind "Blair Witch" was crazy, with all of its claims of being a true story? Well, none of the people behind the production of "Blair Witch" ever got dragged before a judge to find themselves indicted on murder charges. See, the no-name actors and actresses used by Deodato actually signed a contract before filming began, the terms of which required them to disappear from their own lives for a full year after Holocaust's release. In theory, this was supposed to lend credence to the whole idea that, while half of the film was comprised of actual footage shot by Deodato and using a named actor like Robert Kerman, the other half was comprised of the legit footage shot by a group of documentarians who were actually assholes and got what was coming to them. in other words, Deodato's intention the whole time was that people would think these people were really dead.

It didn't help Deodato's case that the special effects on Holocaust were ridiculously effective at conveying the death, impalement, and dismemberment of cast members, and he was forced, in the middle of an Italian courtroom, to re-create the film's most iconic effect (a woman impaled through the groin with the tip of the pole protruding from her mouth) to prove it could be done without actually driving a pole through a young girl's torso the long way. It also didn't help that the animal deaths shown on screen were not faked in any way, which kinda lent credence to the theory he might have been batshit insane enough to murder some humans if he thought doing so would pay off in the verisimilitude department.

Deodato eventually got the charges dropped when he was able to get the supposedly-dead documentary film crew to show up in court (not an easy thing to do when your stars are living completely incommunicado in a pre-Internet and pre-cell phone age), thus proving that they hadn't been ground into cannibal chow in the jungles of South America. After that fiasco, the "found footage" genre of horror film fell out of favour for the most part until Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez proved it could be a money-maker again in 1999.

1) The Mist (2007)

I watched "The Mist" at a midnight showing on its opening day in November of 2007, by myself, in a theatre where there were maybe fifteen other people who, like me, had nothing else going on. By the time the credits began to roll, I felt like I had gone the distance with Rocky. The novella, by Stephen King, is one of my favorite short horror stories of all time, and I have a personal theory that the only person who understands how to translate King's work to the big screen is Frank Darabont. "The Mist", "The Green Mile", "The Shawshank Redemption"...all of the best films made from King's prodigious body of work have been helmed by this man, and it's clear he 'gets' King like no one else. I was expecting to have a great time.

What I absolutely was not expecting was to get the ever living hell scared out of me, my mind absolutely screwed with, and an ending that took the next logical step from where the novella leaves off. No, I'm not spoiling it--if you haven't seen it, I refuse to tell you anything else. Go watch it right now.

"The Mist", both the novella and the film, is a dark, dark journey down into the twisted roots of human psychology, groupthink, and what happens when all of society's rules go out the window and our safety nets we all take for granted are uprooted and blown away. But Darabont's film gleefully bends, twists, and shatters the rules of an ordinary horror film with a screenplay that goes out of its way to prove even the most well-meaning and heroic protagonists can be wrong, with devastating consequences. Like Chuck Russell before him, Darabont has no qualms handing out fatalities to the deserving and the undeserving alike. We don't even know the state of roughly half the people trapped in the market at the end of the film, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is a choice made in the ending, a twist from that in the book, which King himself was so impressed by that he's gone on record saying he wished he'd thought of it thirty years earlier when he wrote the story. Said twist has made "The Mist" one of the most debated horror films of all time, with one camp deriding it as being pessimistic and nasty, and another camp hailing it as a cinematic triumph.

I've never had a horror film brutalize me psychologically the way I felt after leaving the theatre in the aftermath of "The Mist." At the end of most films, you hear the audience start to stir, stand up, walk around, applaud, etc... At my screening of "The Mist", nobody got up. Nobody walked out during the credits. There was no applause. Only when it became clear Darabont wasn't going to offer up some slice of hope in a post-credit sequence did people begin to talk. It's a talk that keeps going to this very day.


There are a couple of Retromags members on my PS3 friends list, but I'm not sure if you all knew that outside of blasting Necromorphs in Dead Space, or ruling the city streets in Saint's Row, I spent an awful lot of time in Sony's online avatar-based virtual world called PlayStation Home. If any of my readers ever ran across me on there, feel free to chime in and say hello in the comments--I was "Areala" on there, just as I am here. I know, how original, right? :)

Anyway, I got involved with Home in December of 2008 once the Open Beta phase began and have been visiting

off and on ever since, right up until yesterday evening, 31 March 2015. That night, if you clicked on the Home icon, the virtual world launched as normal. Today, clicking on the Home icon results in the download of the new version of the software, v1.87, a 19MB file that updates Home for the last time. Upon launch, instead of the connection screen, a simple message is displayed thanking the user for his or her interest in Home, but informing said user that unfortunately the service has gone offline for good.

This came as no surprise to me, since Sony announced they would be taking the PS Home servers offline all the way back in September, giving us months to prepare for the closing. As one of my friends that night remarked, "In November, I was like, 'Five months? That's an eternity.' Tonight, I'm like, 'WTF I been doing for the last five months?'" It's true: no matter how badly we would deny it, the future always becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past becomes a story we tell ourselves when we want to remember the good old days. So today, while it's still fresh in my memory, before time and life strip the feelings away, I'd like to write my farewell, my tribute to PS Home and all of the fun, the laughs, the memories, and the friends I made along the way. I connected to the US server. Users in other territories may not recognize some of the spaces and will likely have different memories, as every territory (North America, Europe, and Asia) had their own servers with their own content, with crossovers and content migration being more the exception than the rule. Pics and videos incoming, just FYI.

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Speaking of videos, you probably noticed the one up at the top there. If this isn't the earliest video promo for PlayStation Home, it's at least the earliest one that I remember. Sony showed it on the giant screen on their Central Plaza area but also blasted it across the airwaves on TV stations. Eagle-eyed observers noted something strange about the graffiti on the wall: there seemed to be a 12-character alphanumeric code written there. Users who plugged the code into their PS3's

"Redeem Code" feature were rewarded with a pair of silly hats. As this video premiered only a few months after Home started its Open Beta period (which it never left over the course of six years), and the code expired a week or so after it was issued, avatars seen walking around with a bug-eyed Goldfish (male avatars) or an equally bug-eyed Shark (female avatars) on his or her head years later could easily be identified as someone who had been there for a long-ass time. Needless to say, for my last night on Home, I donned my shark hat in memory of those early days.

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If you never got involved with Home, or only booted it up once to see what was up and didn't give it a chance, it's difficult to explain just what about Home was so charming. Viewed from the outside, it could be called a simple cash grab by Sony. Much like Second Life and other virtual chat spaces, Home offered a plethora of digital items for sale: clothing and hairstyles to change your avatar's appearance, personal spaces for when the default Harbour Studio suite got too small, and a whole mish-mash of furniture, decorative pieces, appliances, gizmos, gadgets, and goodies with which to decorate those personal spaces and truly make them your own. Part graphical chat application, part multi-player Sims-style experience, the early days saw a very quick divide form between the folks who were willing to drop money on new clothing vs. the new players (or noobs) who were too young or too broke to fork over a buck or two for some new duds. It wasn't uncommon for new players visiting Central Plaza for the first time to get virtually shunned by the more experienced denizens, who turned up their noses and insulted the 'clueless noobs' for daring to pollute their social clique with their blue Home logo shirts and default jean and shoe ensembles.

This wasn't helped by the people who thought to take advantage of the relative anonymity afforded by the hordes of similarly-clad new residents by actively griefing other members of the community, either through overt comments about others' gender, race, or sexuality, or the less-overt-but-no-less-irritating act of simply parking their avatar as close to yours as possible and repeatedly spamming the Quick Chat macros (simple phrases like, 'Hello', 'Goodbye', 'Yes', 'No', 'I have no

keyboard', and 'Follow me' which were meant to help players quickly communicate the basics without needing to boot up the virtual keyboard) or starting a dance routine involving a thrusting pelvis and your avatar's virtual front-side or back-side depending on which they thought you would find more irritating. Yes, there were assholes a-plenty on Home in those early days, but eventually you learned two simple ways of dealing with it: stay out of Central Plaza, or hit the Select button to mute whoever was harassing you and report them to a moderator. Early on, when Home only had a few spaces, it was far more common to see a random Mod's voice pop up in the chat box, issuing warnings from invisible avatars and kicking users who were being abusive. I remember getting a good laugh when one of these would-be griefers decided to harass a moderator by calling his sexuality into question ("<Mod> is gay!") only to get frozen in place by the Moderator's developer tools and have to endure a "time out" where he wasn't allowed to move or talk to anyone, and attempting to send a personal message to the offender was met with the response, "<Avatar Name> is in time-out and cannot respond to you." Particularly egregious offenders could (and did) find their PSN accounts banned completely from Sony's servers, preventing them from playing online at all or even accessing the PlayStation Store to buy new content. These ban times could range from a few hours all the way up to a lifetime depending on the severity of the infraction and whether or not you were a repeat offender. I'll give them credit: Sony tried to control Home when it first opened. After a year or so though, with new public spaces cropping up all the time, and an online player base that expanded into the millions worldwide, finding a Mod was like finding a unicorn: people weren't sure they existed any longer, and didn't know where to start looking anyway.

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But what I remember most, and what kept me logging back in over the years, were the people. Whenever you gather together several million individuals into a particular area and give them creative control over their virtual lives (even if this only extends to their wardrobe and their personal spaces), you're bound to see some absolutely insane things. One of the earliest examples of this was a sort of playful cult that sprung up around a particular set of rewards one could earn from playing the Echochrome arcade machine in the bowling alley: the Homelings. Dressing themselves all in white and selecting a bald hairstyle from the default options, and presenting themselves as a sort of cross between the Borg and E.T., Homelings wandered the streets and pavilions of Home in their never-ending wait for the return of Mother (their mothership, as Homelings fashioned themselves as aliens cast adrift in the cruel digital world), and loosely organized into clans. No one, not even Sony, could have predicted the enormous swell of Homelings who would occasionally swarm into a public space and organize a chant in an attempt to summon Mother. Other Homeling groups were content to just gather in large numbers and dance the night away, to the bemusement of regular Home-goers and the terror of the newbies who didn't understand why all these similarly-clad, shaven-headed people were trying to recruit them into the Collective.

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But even though there were a multitude of Homelings wandering the servers, there were far more individuals than members of the collective, and ultimately I believe what drew so many people to Home for long periods of time was the ability to define one's self as one saw fit, and alter that definition at whim. This came slowly, as most of the clothing and reward items available to wear for the first few months were exactly what you would expect: simple, basic clothing. T-shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, gloves, and hats all showed up in the weekly updates, often weighted more heavily towards the male avatars than the female ones, but it took several weeks before Sony moved beyond the idea of just providing basic clothing. The first major clothing update involved two new outfits for both boys and girls, and was meant to help settle an age-old debate: both genders received Pirate and Ninja outfits. This was a theme Sony would repeat a number of times throughout the life of Home, including such things as Zombies, Hamsters, and Turkeys. Later additions to the clothing lines included characters and items from various video game franchises such as Street Fighter, Tekken, Little Big Planet, Killzone, Uncharted, Silent Hill, Dead Space, Resident Evil, and Ratchet & Clank.

The original outfit I gathered up for myself after deciding I wanted something to make me a little more unique was slightly nerdy/hipster. I wanted to create the look of a bibliophile, someone who might work in a library or a bookstore, but was off for the day: a pair of glasses, a green beret, a denim jacket, jeans, and a pair of red sneakers. I occasionally swapped the denim jacket out for something else, a simple t-shirt or a light tank top, but that was my projection to the world, and I was fine with it.

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Then it all changed. Shortly before Halloween one year, Sony opened a new shop in the Mall space, called "Costumes", and you can guess what they carried. Now, instead of dressing in normal clothes all the time, you could pick up an outfit you wouldn't be ashamed to go Trick or Treating while wearing. There were only a small variety at first: Roman toga, medieval warrior, etc. But the one which stuck out for me, which wound up defining my look for almost the rest of my years on Home, was the angel outfit.

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I've always loved angels. My tattoo is of an angel. My middle name is a variation on the word 'angelic'. So when I saw there was an option for me to walk around Home dressed up as an angel, I knew I had found what I'd truly wanted. The only thing I didn't really care for was the halo: since it was an angel costume, the halo was one of those stick-mounted ones you put around your neck which suspended the little golden glittery disc over your head by a few inches. By some coincidence though, another company had designed a number of various fantastical headgears and put them up for sale, things like an arrow through the head, devil horns and whatnot. One of the items on their list was a halo which levitated above your head, unattached to anything. Voila: I had my halo, and my angelic persona was born!

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I spent the next several months dressed up as an angel, though I got some funny looks and questions from people who wondered if I was aware Halloween was over, but given there were people running around dressed up like giant hamsters with fake axes imbedded in their skulls, this tapered off after a couple of weeks. Mostly, people didn't pay any attention to it beyond noting that they liked the outfit, and then we went back to talking about video games, or life, or whatever was on our minds.

Sometime around the start of 2010, I began to notice something odd. Whenever I was hanging out in a public space, whether it was the Central Plaza, the Gamer's Lounge, the Mall in front of the waterfall, or Sully's Bar in the Uncharted space, it wasn't long before a stranger would walk up to me and ask if I was a real angel. My response, as the question always came out of the blue, was to laugh and say, "No, of course not!" This often got a response similar to, "Oh, OK..." and the random person would walk away. I kept encountering this phenomenon though. Finally, one evening as I was sitting in the Lounge, another random person approached me and asked the question. I decided to see what would happen if I answered in the affirmative. And suddenly this person, who I had never met outside of this virtual space on PSN, began pouring out his soul, looking for justification that he was a good person, that he was not worthless, that he mattered. I read his messages as he slowly typed them using the virtual keyboard within Home to relay them, one sentence at a time. I just listened, only replying when he asked me a direct question. And afterwards, he thanked me for listening and not judging. As he walked away to join a group of people dancing on the second floor, I reflected on that and decided if anyone asked me that question again, I would always answer in the affirmative.

I met dozens of people in this way: people who had stories to tell, anxieties to share, questions to ponder. Maybe they were who they said they were, and maybe they weren't--in the virtual world it's impossible to tell if anyone is telling the truth. But their stories felt authentic: the army sergeant who, at twenty-four years of age, was feeling the burden of command after learning his unit was returning to Afghanistan for the second time; the nineteen year old who wanted to marry his girlfriend but wasn't sure their relationship could survive long-distance; the forty-something housewife who cheated on her husband over a decade ago during a moment of weakness and wanted to confess to someone; the eighteen-year old kid who was joining the Marines in an effort to prove himself to his own father even though the thought terrified him and he wanted to be part of the Coast Guard instead; a retired police officer who still hadn't gotten over the death of his partner all the way back in the 1970s, before I was even born. I heard many, many different stories during the time I walked as an angel on Home. All of them were important. All of them were personal. All of them were snapshots of the sort of lives going on all around us that we never think about because their lives are not our own.

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I spent my final night in Home sitting by a fire on the sands of the virtual beach in the Southern Island Hideaway, one of my favorite public spaces to hang out. Friends, some of whom I had not seen in months or even years, popped in and out as the evening went on and the time for the servers to close loomed nearer. Sadly I had to work early the next morning so I had to go to bed before the servers went offline around 2 A.M. my time. But while I was there, surrounded by friends new and old, I reminded myself the last several years had been totally worth it. Someone asked of the group sitting around the fire if we had any last words for Home, and numerous people jumped in to say thanks for all the memories, to wish one another well, to express their love and fondness for people they met there. My final words spoken on Home were, "So this, then, was our story...and we told it the best we could." They seemed as apt as anything else that had been said thusfar. And it was true: Home wasn't just a collection of spaces, clothes, furniture, mini-games and collectibles. Home was a collection of stories, all bound together between the pages of one single, massive online world. It was our story from the very start, and always had been.

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After sitting quietly for a few seconds, I stood up among the crowd of dancers and frolickers who had shown up to party down to the last fireworks display on the island and warped to my favorite Private space. Home had two kinds of spaces: Public spaces were those anyone could enter or warp to at any time. Private spaces were "owned" by an avatar, could be re-decorated to the owner's liking, and could only be entered by others via an invitation. In Home, your home literally was your castle and unless you rolled out the welcome mat, you were guaranteed privacy. My most-loved private space was the Rainy Day Apartment, a small studio apartment situated in a building with a corner-balcony, and a beautiful view of a harbour that could have been any number of different locations in the real world. Dusk had fallen, raindrops drizzled from the clouds passing overhead, and all was tranquility.

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Within the Raindy Day Apartment, I had assembled a small bathroom, a kicthen/dining room area, a reading space with a comfortable chair and plenty of bookshelves, and a water-themed meditation section with a tub for relaxing in after a long day. But I didn't head to any of those areas...I simply went to my bed and laid down. While on the bed, there were a variety of poses one could choose for laying out. I chose the one which put my avatar on her side, then settled her in to sleep for one last time before I pressed the 'Quit' button.

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In my mind, it was important to do this before logging off for the final time. If my avatar was asleep, she would never 'feel' the universe fade out around her as the server powered down. Whatever she dreamed in that now-endless virtual sleep would be her company through eternity, and as we all know, dreams can house an infinite number of adventures. Maybe this world is nothing more than her imagination--unlikely, but there are always possibilities as a certain green-blooded, pointy-eared Vulcan was so fond of telling his captain.

In closing, I'm reminded of a lyric by the Counting Crows: "If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts." Maybe PS Home was more like a dream than we realized, a film in which every avatar walking the virtual landscapes was director, producer, screenwriter and lead actor. And if memories truly are films about ghosts, then I hope the movie you've just finished reading, my movie, my story, has not been a boring one.


Another Year Passes

Holy crap, it's been well over a year since my last blog post. How on earth does that happen? I guess 2014 just got away from me, that's all. There's really nothing else I can say beyond that. I haven't abandoned the blog or anything, I just don't have all that much to say about gaming at the moment.

Most of my work here on Retromags as of late involves the magazine database. Just as few minutes ago, I put the finishing touches on the index for issue #50 of Computer Gaming World, and before the day is out I'll probably do issue 51 as well. Why not, after all? :)

For those who didn't see the topic posted on the forums, Indiana legalized same-sex marriage on June 27th. That day, my partner Jessica and I made our way to the county clerk's office to obtain our license. We exchanged vows, a kiss, signed our names on the certificate, and it was official: I was now Mrs. Areala.

Things seemed tenuous for a while afterwards. The attorney general filed a challenge, and suddenly it wasn't clear if we would be considered legally married or not. After several other states challenged, the cases as a whole were brought to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and we could breathe again. A further challenge to the Supreme Court was met by the court electing not to hear the case and side with the 7th Circuit's ruling.

It looks like the Supreme Court will be deciding this case before too long though, because the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled the opposite way in another case involving a different state's ban on same-sex marriage. So it's back to holding my breath, wondering if the rights every other married couple obtains automatically will be stripped away from us, our license invalidated, and the discrimination against me for having fallen in love with another woman continued. Guess we'll be filing our taxes separately again this year, even though the Federal government says we're legally married. All I can do is keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that reason will win out over fear.

I don't discuss politics on the Internet mostly as a personal choice, because you know what they say about opinions. But this last year has certainly been a rocky one for myself and my wife. We have been together now, living exclusively as a couple, for seventeen years. That's longer than most heterosexual marriages last in this country. I'm as committed to her now as I was the day I took the chance to tell her that I'd fallen in love with her, and I'm still as ecstatic about our lives together as when she whispered back, very quietly, that she loved me too.

Video games are slowly evolving to include same-sex relationships among the characters, and more to the point they're positive ones, not flamboyant stereotypes. It shouldn't be too much to ask for the same treatment by the real world. :)

In any case, the blog's been quiet for a bit because I'm been working to scan covers and index magazines, not because I don't have anything to say. There's only so many hours in the day, and I have to prioritize. So I haven't abandoned writing here, there just hasn't been anything worth saying more than working for the site over the last year. I hope you'll forgive my silence. :)




Dear Daddy,

I hope it's OK that I call you 'Daddy' because it's all you ever heard me call you when I was a little girl. I suck at buying cards, so this letter will have to suffice. Basically, I just wanted to let you know that I love you, I hope everything is well, and that I've been trying my best to be the sort of kid you'd be proud to claim as your own.

A huge part of who you are influenced my formative years. Whether it was a quick trip into town to pick up a bite to eat at McDonalds, helping me play the Gorgar pinball machine down at the local pizza joint when my arms were too short to reach both sides, or bringing home that old TRS-80 computer and showing me how to shoot the aliens with the joystick, a lot of who you are rubbed off on me.

Dungeons & Dragons, video games, comic books, and that off-beat sense of humour, you passed all that on to me. Your love of fantasy and Tolkien in particular, your enjoyment of Lovecraft, and your skill with writing? Yeah, I picked those up too. Your creativity and dislike of math? Perfect fit.

I have so very few memories of you from when I was little. I remember Civil War re-enactments, trips to the park, getting up in the morning to say hello to you as you came off an overnight shift and went to bed. I remember somehow completely failing to be the perfect daughter, being so unbelievably stubborn about unbelievably dumb things that it's a miracle you decided not to abandon me to the wolves.

I remember our first dog, a big, brown, country stray with floppy years, who showed up on our porch and hung around our house for several days, all the while you telling mom not to feed him because if we did, we'd never get rid of him. I remember getting up one morning with mom to find you outside on the back porch, sharing some of your breakfast with him, because he looked so hungry and you didn't have the heart to send him away. And I remember you building him his very own dog house over by the garage, lining it with a nice bed of straw, setting it up on cement blocks, even shingling the roof, so that he'd have a place to say warm when it was cold, a place to stay cool when it was hot, and a place to stay dry when it got wet. Because that's just the kind of person you were: once you took anyone or anything into your heart, you did anything to ensure they were taken care of.

Daddy, in a couple of months, it will have been thirty years since you died. I think about what life would have been like if that had never happened. I think about what it might have been to have you at home, helping me with homework, encouraging my talents and helping shore up my weaknesses. I wonder if, three decades later, you would be proud of who I am, who I've become, where I am in my life right now.

I'll never know. And each passing Father's Day, it hurts more. I'm reminded that you're not here. I can't pick up a phone, I can't write you an email, I can't send a text or a Facebook message or a physical card and say, "Hey, I'm thinking about you. Thanks for helping me turn out the way I did." All of my grandparents are gone. I can't call Grandpa C. to let him know what a great job he did raising you. I can't call Grandpa B. and thank him for helping my mother become the strong, caring woman she is today. And I haven't been able to do so for many years.

I don't know what the next decade is going to bring. I'd like to think you'd be really good friends with my in-laws-to-be. I'd like to think you'd approve of my choice of partners, that she'd be everything you'd want your kid to have out of life. But the simple fact is, I don't know and I never will.

Be that as it may, I'm still writing you this note because I've never forgotten you, even thirty years after you were taken out of my life. I'll always love you. And in my heart, I know that no matter how much time and space separate us, I'll always be Daddy's little girl. Happy Father's Day.


blog-0557128001360185365.jpgMagazine demographics often come into play when deciding what ads agencies will submit to a particular publication. In the case of this ad, which came from the very first issue of Next Generation magazine in 1995, their attempt to reach an older, more mature audience meant they got stuff that wouldn't fly in the pages of EGM or GamePro, which were targeted at a younger teenage audience.

Check this out though: that's an offer to write a horror fiction story for a video game inspired by Clive Barker, to be published by Virgin Interactive. In 1995, Virgin OWNED the graphical adventure market thanks to "The 7th Guest" and its sequel, "The 11th Hour". These were two of the best-selling CD-ROM games of the 1990s, and the opportunity to earn writing credit for penning a tale for a Virgin-published game would have meant near-instant celebrity.

Alas, despite the ad's lofty promises of an intense life experience, it wasn't meant to be. So what happened here?

Short answer: we don't know.

The ad doesn't mention the game-to-be by name, but with a little detective work we can narrow it down. There were a lot of games involving Barker's writing or his properties (Hellraiser, etc...) that never saw the light of day, but Virgin Interactive was set to publish only one game involving him: Ectosphere.

Barker's presence in comic books was growing by leaps and bounds in the mid-90s. He was writing for, or licensing his stories to, Marvel, Dark Horse, Eclipse, and HarperCollins at various times. One of those comics was Ectokid, written for Marvel Comics under their Razorline imprint (an imprint created just for Barker, I might add).

Ectokid's nine-issue run tells stories of Dex Mungo, a fourteen-year-old boy with a unique gift (and curse). Dex's eyes don't work quite right. His left one's just fine: when he looks through it, he sees the real world, the same as you and I do. But his right eye sees beyond reality, into the spirit realm. To help him get through life, Dex wears a patch he slides from eye to eye depending on which version of reality he wants to view. Most of the stories in this line weren't written by Barker, but by other talents in the comic industry at the time (trivia note: Matrix creators Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski penned five of them).

Imagine the possibilities for a horror adventure game designed with an interface where, with the click of a button, you could "slide the patch" and reveal a completely different world. Properly handled, Virgin could have published something that made their previous hits look like ziplock baggie distributions from the 1980s.

So what the Hell(raiser) happened? I have no idea, and neither does anybody else according to my research. Virgin applied for a trademark to the Ectosphere name in 1994, but the trademark is now considered abandoned due to non-use. Every reference to the game I've found simply labels it "unreleased" and there's nary a screenshot or box picture to be found.

One other lingering question remains: since it's unlikely Virgin didn't get any response to this ad, who eventually won the position? My best educated guess would be David Sears. You may not know him by name, but Sears' first game-related job was co-adapting Harlan Ellison's story, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" to the PC adventure market with Ellison himself (and a fine job they did too). He went to work for Virgin Interactive afterwards. He's also been the creative director behind the first three SOCOM games on the PS2, MAG on the PS3, and Fireteam Bravo on the PSP.

One of the best things about video game journalism is tracking down and solving little mysteries such as this, seeing what might have been. On the other side of the coin, four of the most painful words in the English language are, "What might have been?" What might have been indeed...


blog-0131432001360177488.jpgOne of the best things about flipping through old magazines is, of course, the ads. Doesn't matter whether you're looking at EGM or National Geographic, the ads always hold up a mirror to the culture of the time period. Advertisers know that twenty years later, neither anyone's going to care about the way an ad looks, nor will they be mocked for it by future-dwelling homo sapiens.

Because of the internet, they're also wrong.

Video game ads don't often approach this level of hilarity, but my lord, just take a look at Captain Mullet here mugging for Gaiares on the Sega Genesis. Nowadays, this sort of thing would be a pre-order bonus from Amazon.com or Gamestop, but back in the day you didn't pre-order games, you just showed up and bought them whenever the hell they came out. Sometimes retailers like Sears or Babbage's would pay to get some promotional content they could give away in the hopes of getting customers into their stores. Sometimes this stuff was neat.

Other times...well, let's just say wearing this shirt to school would have ensured two things. First, you were definitely not going to get that girl to notice you. Second, you were going to get the mother of all wedgies.

There's good geek cred and bad geek cred. Good geek cred back then (September of 1991, when this ad ran in GamePro) would have been owning the Genesis. Bad geek cred: wearing this shirt in public. Advertising hint: if you feel the need to explain how to properly pronounce the name of your product (and you aren't a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals), come up with a new name.

It's probably a collector's item these days (the game's no slouch in that department either). Just...if you're going to wear it, please have the decency to sport a proper hairdo. Oh, and Nair your upper lip too. The dirt 'stache is so 1989...


My PS3 suffered the Yellow Light of Death problem today about an hour into my playtime of the Silent Hill HD Collection which I had just purchased today. *sigh*

Skyrim FINALLY gets its DLC released on the PS3 this coming week, and for the first week it's available, Bethesda is offering it at 50% off to apologize for taking it so long to get here. Gonna miss out on that sale, because there's no way I'll have my PS3 fixed in time. *double sigh*

Sending my PS3 in to Sony to get it repaired will cost me $150. In return, I will get a refurbished unit (plus my SH HD disc), and will lose all of my saved game data and whatnot. My DLC, trophy information, and all that stuff will be fine, since it's tied in to my PSN account, but all the progress I've made in my games will be shot to zilch. *triple sigh*

My one saving grace? It's the $20 Silent Hill HD Collection stuck in my dead console as opposed to the $60 Dead Space 3 I was considering buying earlier today. Thankful for small favours...


blog-0244742001359585244.jpgEven if you played the daylights out of Resident Evil, even if you can beat the game handily with an S-ranking and one hand tied behind your back, you've never seen Resident Evil quite like this...

EGM previewed the original Resident Evil for the Playstation back in issue #75 in their "Next Wave" column. This was over two years before the game made it to the US, and still very much in its beta stage. And wow, what a difference a couple of years makes! Click that picture to your left and check out this treasure trove of retro goodness.

The polygon count for characters in these images is far lower than the final product, but what's even more awesome is to see the two-player mode not only discussed in the text, but shown in the screenshots! Yeah, that's Jill tagging along with Chris in several of those images. Way before it had a street date announced in Japan, Capcom was forced to ditch the two-player mode. These pics from EGM are one of the only ways to get a glimpse at what could have been. It's not until the PS2 era that we get a truly multi-player Resident Evil experience, so the idea we might have had it in 1997 is intriguing to say the least.

A few other changes are also immediately obvious, like the room with the snake encounter. And what are those weird things on the floor of the wallpapered hallway? Everyone remembers the dobermans busting through the windows in the final version...were those some sort of wriggling insect enemy they did away with? Dead chunks of a gun-blasted zombie? The world may never know...

In any case, enjoy this forgotten look at this genre-defying Playstation classic!


blog-0446272001358018124.jpgI didn't make the connection until just now, but the cover to NP#11 is obviously an homage to the original clay modeled cover of the premier issue. We're now nearly two years into Nintendo Power's run but their momentum is only building from here on out. If you need to ask why, just take a look at that cover again: they're talking about the biggest, most hotly-anticipated video game release in NES history. Hey, piezanos, it's Super Mario Bros. 3!

But first, more big news rocking the Nintendo World: Nintendo Power's going monthly! The magazine will still come out every other month, but they won't leave you hanging in the off-seasons. Instead, they're going to release six game-specific strategy guides that will walk you from Title Screen to Game Over. And all for the low, low price of $15 a year. And SMB3 will kick it all off. Nintendo cleaned up on this promotion, but there was a bigger one coming in just a few months that would force virtually every kid in the US to beg mom and dad for a subscription. More on the major give-away later on. For now, it's go time!

We kick things off, as always, with Player's Pulse and the mailbox. Letters keep flooding in, so it's only right the first one is about a boy and his apparently-waterproof NES. Store your Nintendo in a nice cardboard box, and it too can be protected from the ravages of basement flooding! An idea so good, the guys in Washington are considering it themselves. Next, a note asking about a double-Mouser encounter in Super Mario Bros. 2 (that's called a bug, and while our programmers try to squash them all, a few still manage to get through. Be happy you saw it, it's a rare glitch!). A letter thanking Nintendo for not telling him how to beat the final boss in Strider because the feeling of accomplishment was so much greater figuring it out for himself (we told you, now keep playing and see what else you can master!). A letter from a concerned sister reminding everyone that setting limits on Nintendo is the key to maintaining good study habits in her house (we agree, make sure you're not neglecting your school work!).

Video Spotlight has three profiles again, two being the rather pedestrian variety (I'm awesome because I've beaten XX games, sometimes play all night, and never use slow motion to cheat) and one who stands out from the pack in a good way: Andy Cunningham of Rocky Mount, NC is a 14-year old computer enthusiast, programmer, and game designer who aspires to work for a large software company one day and has already developed his own complete game called Super Dachshund with "ending screens, full stages, 20 different evil enemies and 8 incredibly challenging bosses." Man, finally, a Power Player who can really look back on his appearance in the magazine and smile for a good reason. Andrew Cunningham, if you're out there and you read this, please let us know what's going on in your life now! smile.png

Be honest, this was why you picked up the magazine in the first place: an eight-page blowout on Super Mario Bros. 3. While it's little more than a preview at this point, with some stage maps, an overview of the game's eight worlds, and a look at the various new power-ups and types of blocks you'll encounter, it's more than enough to whet the appetites of Mario maniacs everywhere.

I was never big into simulations, so the four-page Silent Service feature was pretty blah for me. Still, the game looks like it tries very hard to squeeze a whole submarine's worth of playability into the little grey cartridge. Military enthusiasts and sim lovers had been playing this on the PC already since 1985, but give props where they're due: it was developed/ported by Rare (yes, that Rare) and published by Konami's Ultra Games imprint and garnered decent enough reviews.

Another Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, and Nintendo was there, as this Nintendo Power Report shows. There's a ton of stuff coming down the pipeline, so prepare yourself for dozens of new releases in every genre imaginable. Trying to cover every game they talk about in these two pages would be futile, but there were some titles mentioned here that failed to materialize, like a port of the PC fighting game Bruce Lee Lives and an American version of the infamous Japanese adventure/RPG Sweet Home. Cosmic Epsilon, a SHMUP from Japan, also never makes it stateside. Another game called Play Isle is mentioned, though research tells me it must have either been canned or released under another name as I can't find anything about it.

Fresh from the arcades, it's Pinbot, the pinball game that plays you. Well, not exactly, but about all you can do with three pages on a pinball game is explain the table and give some pointers of things to watch out for. Nice if you're into pinball, but otherwise...meh.

The next three pages go to the home console version of Midway's extremely popular skateboarding arcade hit, 720 Degrees. Once again, skate-a-holics will be right at home with the maps and tips. Gamers more interested in keeping both feet firmly on the ground will give it a pass, and never the twain shall meet.

I may not have been a fan of the last two features, but A Boy and his Blob more than makes up for that. This four-page spread features a map of the entire freakin' first world along with fifteen tips and pointers for making your way past the puzzles. It also gives a run-down of the various jellybeans in your arsenal, what functions they perform, and how many you start with. This is priceless information for anybody who rented this game without the instructions, and I made good use of it on my way to restoring order to Blobolonia.

Howard and Nester hit the courts for a game of beach volleyball against a couple of muscle-bound thugs. Howard gives some tips, Nester ignores them, and winds up eating about ten pounds of sand in the ensuing carnage. Cute. smile.png

The misnamed Wrath of the Black Manta (who should really be the Purple Manta, since that's the colour of his outfit) owns the next two pages. It's a short preview, not much to go on, just a couple of stage maps and a tip for beating the first boss, but it's better than nothing and this is a game well worth checking out. It's no Ninja Gaiden, but we've got a few months to go before Ninja Gaiden II arrives in the USA, so what can you do?

Astyanax gets four pages after its short preview last issue, and it's all maps and tactics for the first five worlds of the game. My brother liked this game a lot more than I did, so for him it was worth it. Also, some slightly risque artwork of the very topless Medusa boss on the last page, with only a couple of strategically placed snakes and a sword covering her bosom. Surprising to see, especially for Nintendo of this era. smile.png

Top 30 find the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sitting at the top of the pack again, along with a surprise jump up the polls by Mega Man II, consigning Super Mario Bros. 2 to the bronze position by just over 1,000 total points. Duck Tales debuts in the #9 spot, just under Ninja Gaiden at 8 and Super Mario Bros. 3 at 7. All the other "new" games listed are down towards the bottom of the pile, and they consist of the likes of Wheel of Fortune, California Games, Paperboy, and Jordan vs. Bird. Flash-in-the-pan stuff that won't be around long enough for people to remember its place.

A couple of heavy hitters in Previews this issue, leading off with Square's soon-to-be-inaccurately-named Final Fantasy. There's not much they can show yet, so it's mostly text hyping it ("More absorbing than Legend of Zelda! More challenging than Adventure of Link!") with some screenshots interspersed. They're right about one thing though, it does set a new standard for the console RPG and launches a franchise that's still around over two decades later. Code Name: Viper gets two pages as well, but even back then I remember thinking lead character Kenny Smith looks like he's running around without pants on. Even my mother commented on this. smile.png Super C, the sequel to the beast that is Contra, gets the last three pages...

...as well as claiming the artwork side of this issue's Poster. The reverse is a tremendous world map of Dragon Warrior, along with a list detailing what items are sold in each town and where some of the game's special items like the Rainbow Drop and Silver Harp are located. Quite useful for first-time explorers.

If the last few issues have proven nothing else, it's that Nintendo Power loves them some Dragon Warrior and wants you to love some Dragon Warrior as well. To that end, in case you haven't gotten the idea by reading all the pages of coverage they've been feeding you for the last year, they present the Dragon Warrior Text Adventure. It's actually a pretty fun idea, writing up a 64-paragraph Choose Your Own Adventure in the spirit of the game. It's not a patch on the real thing, of course, but I played through it a few times and enjoyed it. Your mileage may vary.

More game on the horizon for your Game Boy. This short feature is really only useful for the Nemesis stage maps, as the remaining quarter-page writeups with screencaps on Malibu Beach Volleyball, World Bowling, Heiankyo Alien, Boomer's Adventure in Asmik World, Flipull, Qbillion, Bases Loaded, and Daedalian Opus are hardly enough to whet one's appetite. Outside of Super Mario Land, there are few truly compelling reasons to own a Game Boy at this point. A small blurb at the end reveals some upcoming titles by LJN, Ultra, Data East, Tradewest, and Mindscape. The proposed portable T&C Surf Designs title never leaves the surf shop, and the Skate or Die-style game Ultra is working on smacks the pavement without its helmet on. No big loss in either case, I suspect.

New Games absolutely explodes this issue, with eight single-page looks at Tecmo World Wrestling (is it just me, or does "Mr. Tattoo" Mark Rose look like a drag queen?), Abadox (a grotesque, inner-space-themed SHMUP that I loved as a kid), Bases Loaded II (I prefered the RBI Baseball series), Baseball Simulator 1.000 (think of it as a cross between Bases Loaded and Super Dodge Ball with the players being able to throw physics-defying pitches, the fielders able to perform truly insane feats of speed and dexterity, and the batters able to impart special aspects to the ball after a successful hit...great, great fun!), Al Unser, Jr. Turbo Racing (a Forumla-1 racing game with 16 tracks and cars fitted with nitrous oxide for the occasional speed boost), Battle of Olympus (Broderbund's video game take on the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and the Underworld), Xexyz (a side-scrolling action game where you rescue bathing women from fates worse than death...not kidding here), and Rescue: The Embassy Mission (think Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six but on the NES).

Quieting the cries of frustrated gamers everywhere is the job of Counselors' Corner, and there's plenty of troubles to be squashed this month. Nintendo's game experts explain how to get into Nockmaar Castle in Willow, locate Erdrick's Armor in Dragon Warrior, find the key to the African mines in DuckTales, gain entrance to River City High in River City Ransom, cross the room of flames and acquire the flute from the acid fountain in Shadowgate, and how to get the mother's crown in Legacy of the Wizard (an answer so complex and convoluted that it requires two full maps with marked travel routes to explain). The profiles this month feature a woman, Denise Borovskis, whose hobbies include Aerosmith (what??) and beach bumming, but her favorite game is The Guardian Legend, so I'll let it slide for now.

Who doesn't love a good cheat code? Classified Information dumps the skinny on some serious tricks and glitches this issue, including the infamous code to head straight to Tyson in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (007-373-5963, a string of numbers I've had memorized longer than most of the telephone numbers I've ever known), the trick to playing the other World Circuit hidden in the game, and a similar trick to go straight to the ending credits without throwing a single punch. There's also a 64-life code for Bad Dudes, the "use the Time Stopper on Quick Man" hint for Mega Man II, a simple way to score bonus points in Cobra Triangle, a temporary infinite magic trick in Hydlide, a couple of continue codes for Double Dragon II as well as a hint for getting some extra lives in reserve, a continue code for Dino-Riki, some in-game help for a couple of levels in Cybernoid, and a password to make you an instant millionaire in Vegas Dream. Solid goodies all around.

Video Shorts unveils the Castlevania-esque 8 Eyes, The Magic of Scheherazade, Heavy Barrel, King of the Beach, Magic Johnson's Fast Break, poor man's Double Dragon clone Target: Renegade, the virtually unplayable Marvel's X-Men from noted kuso game publisher LJN (which somehow manages to score straight 3/5s in every category), Destination Earthstar, Top Player's Tennis, Vegas Dream, popular TV gameshow port Win, Lose or Draw, unpopular TV gameshow port Remote Control, Top Gun II, Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum, pinball sim Rock 'n Ball, and three titles for younger gamers: Puss 'N Boots, Fisher Price: Perfect Fit and Fisher Price: I Can Remember. A couple gems buried in a mountain of Meh.

Back to the scoreboards for some NES Achievers. We have our first titled gamer on the charts, as Dr. Richard L. Carman finished Dragon Warrior. We also have our first four-person tag-team entry with Joshua & Susan Lara and Tony & David Czerniecki posting a score of over nine million in The Guardian Legend. Also two people from the same place (Rancho Cordova, California) sent in scores for Sqoon. A friendly challenge, perhaps?

NES Journal starts off with the World's Second NES Power Trivia Quiz, a multiple-choice questionnaire testing your knowledge of all things Nintendo, including why Howard Phillips wears bow ties, how much damage your system would suffer if you dumped a chocolate milkshake inside, what to do if you catch a mistake in Nintendo Power, and what Mario and Luigi's last names are. Mostly obvious answers here, but a few amusing wrong ones too make it good for a chuckle. Jack Ra of Clifton, NJ wins the "design a jersey" contest. More tour dates for the 1990 Nintendo World Championships. And...hey, here's some Nintendo merchandise (like the Super Mario Bros. Super Show on VHS, or the Bike Cop bicycle alarm) you might want to consider picking up, hint, hint...

Before she was Leonard's ex- on "The Big Bang Theory", she was Leonard's girlfriend on "Roseanne". Sara Gilbert gets the spotlight in Celebrity Profile this issue, where she waxes ecstatic about her experiences with Mario, Link, and A Boy and His Blob. She seems like she'd be fun to hang out with.

Hello Pak Watch! Ninja Gaiden II, Crystalis, Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, Golgo 13: The Mafat Conspiracy, Solstice, Castlevania III...are you TRYING to kill us with anticipation, Nintendo? All four games in the "Gossip" sidebars actually get released, as do the other five games on the "Gossip Galore" page...that's better odds than you'll get from any psychic in this day and age.

Next Issue hints at some great coverage, with full features on Final Fantasy, Dinowarz, Super C and Burai Fighter. Now's not a good time to let your subscription expire, aspiring video warriors. Howard Phillips recaps the number of games covered in this issue, and thanks everyone for writing even though he can't personally read/respond to every letter. And finally, it's time for the 1989 Nintendo Power Awards! Fill out the ballot and you too could win a handful of fantastic NES games just for voting! Too many nominees to go into, but we'll cover the winners once they print the results in a future issue.


blog-0983265001351704806.jpgDigging through the collection, I unearthed this gem discussing a really awesome-looking game being developed by Accolade for the Genesis and Super Nintendo. I'm pretty familiar with the bulk of the Super Nintendo library, but I didn't remember ever seeing this title on the market. Was it yet another unreleased game previewed by EGM, this time in their January, 1994 issue?

A quick trip to GameFaqs confirmed my suspicions: Fireteam Rogue was in development in the mid-90s and then axed before completion. Another quick trip, this time to Google, loaded me down with plenty of information on this gem, making me wish like anything it had been finished.

At first glance, Fireteam Rogue sounds more like a tech demo than anything else. Using various data and graphical compression algorithms, Accolade was proposing to take a 40MB game and stuff it into a 2MB game cart. Insane? Possibly. But just imagine if they'd managed to pull it off.

Accolade was promising 100 hours of gameplay experiences, including side-scrolling action levels and Mode 7 shooting stages. Evan G. (with the help of some credited scans from Retromags!) put together a slew of awesome information over at SNES Central that's well worth reading as opposed to having me just rehash it here including a number of screenshots. In addition, he's got two different alpha prototypes of the SNES version available for download, a link to the comic book Accolade put together to support this game, commentary from a couple people involved in its development, and a variety of FAQ sheets, handouts, letters and other goodies for perusal.

In the end, like so many other unreleased games (and sometimes even ones that do make it to market), it seems like this one came down to too much time and money spent on hype and too little time and energy devoted to development. The important thing is even though it wasn't released, it wasn't forgotten either. And who knows--maybe in the future, we'll see a more complete version and can be better equipped to judge for ourselves just how great a loss the gaming world suffered for its lack.

Until then? Well, we'll just have to keep digging through the archives. I hope you'll keep searching with me. :)


EGM - A Day In The Life

blog-0098008001350761021.jpgEvery so often, the magazines from back in the day would give us a peek behind the scenes so that the rest of us would know (or at least have a vaguely better idea) what those weirdos whose names all appeared on the masthead at the front of the magazine did for the magazine besides the obvious.

So for their 50th issue, EGM treated us to a four-page spread of insider information, Photoshopped antics, personal photos, and other goodies. In case it's not obvious, this is one of the best reasons to collect and preserve these magazines. Information on the games they covered is ubiquitous today, but this stuff is not.

If you need a better reason, then how about the fact that Review Crew guru Martin Alessi is a member of none other than these very forums? This guy's been there, done that, and owns several dozen tractor trailer loads of t-shirts to prove it.

What I wouldn't give for a blog of memories from HIM here (hint, hint, Mr. Alessi, if you're reading...)

In fact, let's just say that we've got a lot more pictures than the ones posted above (which the gallery decided to run right-to-left instead of left-to-right, because screw me, that's why...*sigh*) featuring the good gentleman. Digging the 'stache yet? There's more where that came from. Threats? Me? Oh no, just reporting the facts, ladies and gents.

Just reporting the facts.


blog-0132782001349237646.jpgToday marks the fifteenth anniversary of Gunpei Yokoi's death.

Many things we take for granted in the gaming world today can be tracked back to this man, including the cross-shaped directional pad (NES), portable gaming systems (Game Boy), and Metroid (every freakin' Nintendo system except the N64).

Not bad for a janitor.

Yokoi was a simple custodial worker and maintenance man at one of Nintendo's hanafuda (playing card) manufacturing plants, where he amused himself in his spare time by tinkering and building gadgets. One of these toys, a sort of extendable grasping claw arm, was seen by Nintendo's president Hiroshi Yamauchi during a visit to the factory. Fascinated with the idea, Yamauchi asked Yokoi if he could develop the idea further into a sellable product. Yokoi agreed, and the Ultra Hand was born.

It was 1966, and Nintendo sold over a million of them to Japanese children. Impressed with Yokoi's ability to innovate, Yamauchi asked him to create some more toys for Nintendo. He did so, and thus from humble beginnings rose one of the greatest video game innovators of the twentieth century.

Yokoi came up with the idea for the Game & Watch as a way for bored businessmen to kill some time while waiting between meetings or while riding the trains to and from work. He advised a struggling Shigeru Miyamoto in game design theory to help him develop the game that would eventually become Donkey Kong and the franchise-launching Mario Bros.

From there, he helped produce the now-legendary Metroid on the NES, followed that up as project director for Kid Icarus, then came up with this little-known doo-dad called the Game Boy. Thanks to Yokoi, Nintendo has dominated the portable console market for more than twenty years, laughing at every would-be challenger who tries to dethrone them.

In other words, if you've played or enjoyed a video game since 1985, chances are you owe a Mother Brain-sized debt of respect to this man.

He resigned from Nintendo to start his own company in 1996 following the failure of a Virtual Boy system which was rushed to market too early and priced far too high to appeal to a broad consumer base. While they unveiled the Nintendo 64 at the Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in November of 1995, Yokoi was placed in a far-off corner of the trade show to demo games on the Virtual Boy. Needless to say, he was all but ignored by the attendees who were far more interested in Nintendo's forthcoming "Ultra Famicom". I think at that point, I'd have chosen to retire as well.

Tragically, Yokoi was killed on October 4, 1997 when he was struck on the highway after getting out of his own vehicle to ascertain damage sustained in a collision with another car. Although rushed to the hospital, he died roughly two hours later. And the world lost a great innovator who in many respects never stopped being that humble custodian from 1966.

Nintendo's American president, Howard Lincoln, said of Yokoi, "He had a great sense of humor, a great smile...a very generous and outgoing fellow. He made a tremendous amount of creative contributions to Nintendo and the video game business over the years. People play Game Boy all over the world, and that's Mr. Yokoi's." And all you have to do is look at his picture up there to know Lincoln was right.

Like so many of the people who have inspired me over the years, I never got the opportunity to meet Gunpei Yokoi. Given the above remark by Mr. Lincoln, all I can think is how sorry I am that he's gone. When you can miss somebody whom you've never even met...well, I think that says something.

Arigato gozaimasu, Yokoi-san. I hope one day we can share tea together.


blog-0237265001349296766.jpgRemember Socks? He was the black and white feline counterpart to former US President Bill Clinton. Children everywhere used to write letters to Socks (and his canine bro, Buddy); the best of these got collected and published in a book entitled, "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy." Everybody loved the First Pets, so what better way to show your appreciation for all their trials and tribulations around the White House than to immortalize one in a video game?


So somebody at Kaneko has this bright idea for a video game starring Socks. Upper management does their round table discussion thing, and out of all the other ideas you know were being tossed around, this one was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' and given the green light. What was it up against, the audio designer's son's idea for a game starring an anthropomorphic popcorn kernel who "puffs up" to fight evil with his extra-buttery powers?

Wait a minute, that's not a bad idea. Anyway, anyway, where were we? Oh yes, Socks.

Now if the story ended here, it would be totally understandable. Video game concepts are born, struggle and die slow, horrible deaths every single day. For every game that gets a complete, finalized release, there are probably between five and ten that get cancelled sometime between the concept and initial development phases. And if that's what had happened to Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, then this would be no more interesting than reading about other games that never made it to the shelves. Think The Cheetahmen II, or...you know, on second thought, don't.

Here's the thing though. Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill was planned from the start to be a political parody, not just another "me too" cash-in on the 2D platformer market. The First Cat has to dodge shifty politicians and battle bosses designed to look like past political figures like Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and even presidential hopeful Ross Perot so he can get to POTUS in time to warn him about stolen nuclear weapons? Hellfire and damnation, this might have worked!

Not only did this game get the green light, not only did it get ads in prominent gaming mags of the day (this one's from the January 1994 issue of GamePro), not only did it have completed box artwork, but it was finished. Done. Completed. It went gold. This sucker was locked, cocked and ready to rock, a fully-loaded 16-bit saga waiting to blast off on the Super NES, with reviews in GamePro, EGM and even Nintendo Power which overall gave it a slightly above average rating.

Then Kaneko said, "Sorry guys, no more USA division." They closed up shop, headed back to Japan, and left poor Socks high and dry. Not surprisingly, no other US publishers stepped in to save the venture leaving US gamers to wonder what happened to that game about the President's cat.


blog-0929072001349142031.jpg"It's Gotta Be The Shoes." With that five-word tagline, Reebok launched a sneaker fad for the 90's over which people went absolutely apeshit. And just as with every other great product innovation, there had to be cross-promotion. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ate Pizza Hut pizza, Modern Warfare soldiers drank Pepsi, Alan Wake used Energizer batteries in his flashlight, and vampires wore Pumps in that classic NES title, Drac's Night Out.

What's that? You've never played Drac's Night Out? You've never heard of Drac's Night Out? Eh, doesn't surprise me since Drac decided to stay inside at the last minute (maybe he had a fang-ache). Whatever the reason, the game was never released (though a prototype build eventually found its way onto the Internet years later).

Consider Drac's Night Out one of the better casualties in the product placement wars. I mean, let's face it, there's no way in Transylvania a game boasting a protagonist clad in the most expensive athletic shoes produced at the time was going to be any good, right?

Depends on who you ask, I suppose. Opinion on the prototype seems sharply divided: some lambaste it for being crap, others embrace the fact that it's unfinished and consider what might have been. But now, thanks to the magic of Retromags and a copy of GamePro issue #15 from Oct. 1990, you can see why history and preservation is so important. Here's yet another awesome example of why gaming magazines rocked back in the day. The editors got to play works-in-progress, and their requirement of a multi-month lead time on their publication dates meant it was entirely possible for them to review a game only to have that game disappear or re-emerge as something completely different later on.

In any case, the object of Drac's Night Out is two-fold. First, one must deal with the interlopers who've decided to crash your castle. Once they've been murdered by your exceptional variety of traps, you move on to the next phase which is to take your carriage to town and find your true love Mina for a little midnight snack of the red variety. No, not Twizzlers. If you're really having problems in town though, there's a solution: strap on your Pumps, give them a couple of pumps for good measure, and suddenly you can run faster and jump higher than any vampire in history! Whatever happened to shapeshifting into a bat, transforming into a dog, or assuming mistform? More to the point, who had athletic shoes in 19th Century Europe? Nobody ever said video games were historically accurate.

So here you can see yet another reason to comb through the annals of gaming yesteryear. I certainly never knew Drac's Night Out was planned for release, and would have had no reason to go searching for information on it had it not been for this article.

Have you unearthed any long-buried secrets from your time spent browsing through the Retromags archives? Why not tell us about them on the forums! We'd love to hear about your finds.


blog-0358625001349129416.jpgI frigging love Parasite Eve for the Playstation. It's one of my favorite RPGs of all time (small wonder, since it's written and directed by the guy who directed Chrono Trigger and designed Final Fantasy IV on the Super NES, and scored by Yoko Shimomura who did the music for Breath of Fire, Kingdom Hearts, many incarnations of Street Fighter II, and Legend of Mana among others), and I've felt it never received the recognition it deserved coming as it did in the wake of Final Fantasy VII and being set in modern-day New York with a science fiction theme.

One of the things I enjoy about older game magazines is looking through their previews for games and seeing the changes they underwent before going gold. And since a couple of my previous blogs have been poking fun at GamePro, I figured I could balance that out by writing something nice so people don't get the impression I hated them.

So, right here, we've got a one-page preview from the Sept. 1997 issue of GamePro showcasing Squaresoft's upcoming release of (yay!) Parasite Eve!

What I love so much about this is that none of the pictures that you see, save for one, are scenes that actually appear in the game. Rather they are amalgamations of elements put together for the purpose of giving a sense of what the game will look like. They're also at a much higher resolution than the final game elements, which means they're probably being shown on a development computer.

Starting at the top and going down, we have the following:

1 - Aya fighting with the animated skeleton of a T-Rex. While this happens in the game, it takes place in the Museum of Natural History, not out on the city streets. That backdrop depicting the police barriers and cop cars is used during a single cut-scene where Dr. Maeda is introduced. No rampaging dinosaurs to be found.

2 - Aya and Dr. Maeda having a conversation in Carnegie Hall. Aya and Maeda do talk several times throughout the game, but Carnegie Hall is seen only in the first chapter of the game where it practically burns to the ground, and in the game's "bad" ending which you automatically get on your first play-through. The pair talk outside of Carnegie Hall, but this specific camera angle isn't used in the game.

3 - Aya fighting the mutated alligator. This set actually does appear in the game in a slightly modified architectural format as the sewer system below Carnegie Hall. The mutant alligator shown here looks nothing at all like the final version in the game (which completely lacks eyes and spits electricity). Also at this point in the game, Aya's still dressed in her evening gown, not jeans and a leather jacket. She also doesn't fight the alligator on this part of the set, but rather in the more confined tunnels further back.

4 - Aya and Daniel in the precinct. This is the only set shown in these pictures that looks exactly like it does in the game. There are usually a couple of other detectives (Nix and Warner) who hang out in this area, but chances are their models weren't completed yet.

5 - Another look at Aya in the sewers from a different angle. Again, with some modifications, this set actually appears in the game but Aya's attire at this point is her evening gown, not her typical detective outfit. Aya visits another sewer later on in the game dressed this way, but the set used is far more industrial in nature as opposed to the artistic architecture showcased in the first sewer sequence.

6 - Daniel, Aya and Maeda all talking on the Brooklyn Bridge. This particular set is used during a cinema sequence depicting the evacuation of New York, and can't be visited during the game itself. There are numerous times the three converse, but it's generally either in Precinct 17 or the Museum of Natural History.

They get the release date wrong (it doesn't come out in Japan until March of 1998, and we don't see it until September of that same year), but since release dates change constantly this isn't a mistake on GamePro's part; they can only print what they're told, after all.

So, why read old game magazines? To see stuff like this, of course! :)


blog-0433654001349126789.jpgToday on Retrochick Retroblog, we're going to remind everyone why grammar is important, even when you're dealing with video games.

To wit: please open the image on your left. This is the second page of a two-page-spread ad for the PS1 game Fighting Force, developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive. It comes from the Sept. 1997 issue of GamePro. I'm sure it ran in other magazines, I just happened to be reading this one when I spotted it. The first page contains an image of a guy holding a broken glass bottle, and some screenshots from the game, so it doesn't concern us here.

But this page does. When ad copy is written incorrectly, you get phrases like "skinny ass arena" which don't mean what the writer thinks they mean because somebody left out one teeny-tiny little important piece of punctuation.


The hyphen. That blink-and-you-miss-it dash just above.

What the writer should have written was "skinny-ass arena". Hyphenating "skinny-ass" means we're understanding that the word "ass" is attached to the word "skinny," and in this case is used to indicate the writer believes the arenas depicted in fighting games are not only small but also lame, unworthy, beneath contempt.

Without the hyphen, things change. We are left with the impression of an unusually narrow, butt-filled arena. An arena of asses that, for whatever reason, is skinny. The shorter side of a stadium at a monster truck rally, I guess? I don't know.

I'm reasonably sure that everybody who read this ad knew what the writers were intending to say (English grammar being remarkably pliable when it comes to things like this). At the same time, what they meant to say isn't what they actually said. Which made me laugh.

And then made me cry a little inside.


blog-0432281001349043010.jpgIn the days before the Internet started shoving a cruel, pointed stake into the hearts of video game magazines, we had no choice but to trust the reviewers who got paid to do what we all wished we could get paid to do: play lots of video games and then write about it.

The guys and gals of the gaming journalism world were supposed to be our lifelines, making sure we didn't buy the crap and didn't miss the gold. Usually they were on the money. But sometimes...well, deadlines can do strange things to writers. Sometimes they drop the ball.

Golden example: everybody open the image to your left, taken from the January 1998 issue of GamePro. Try not to scream.

Yeah, that's an effective 9.75 out of 10 score for none other than Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi, one of the absolute worst Star Wars games ever released.

Minor Trivia: MoTK is incorrectly named, as the only actual practitioner of the Teräs Käsi combat form is Arden Lyn. The game's proper name, as shown in the opening story credit crawl, is really 'A Master of Teräs Käsi.' When you can't even get the name of the game correct on your own packaging...*sigh*

Now I'm all for believing that everyone is entitled to her own opinion, and maybe Scary Larry (err, sorry, 'Scary Skywalker') just really, really thought MoTK was the bomb. But I also believe in balance. Surely he wasn't the only editor in the GamePro offices playing this title, even if he was the one who got to write the review. Was no one else consulted on this? Was the build of the game he played somehow substantially better than the finalized version? We may never know.

Just to compare, here are the scores from a number of other contemporary review sites and magazines (scores converted to a 10-point scale for sake of comparison):

EGM - 6.75 out of 10

Gamespot - 4.4 out of 10

IGN - 4 out of 10

Next Generation - 4 out of 10

OPM - 6 out of 10

PSM - 6 out of 10

Notice what all of these reviews have in common? They all rank Teräs Käsi as a "poor to average" title, which is even more generous than I'd be with this steaming pile of Bantha poodoo, but none of them is in the same galaxy far, far away as Larry.

Now if the review actually backed up those numbers, I'd say that's just the way the cookie crumbles. But Larry's own review serves to render his numerical ratings completely meaningless.

Graphics are such a personal choice that rating them alone is almost meaningless. Teräs Käsi looks fine for a PS1 game; it's not a 5/5 for me, but hey, different strokes (Larry himself acknowledges they don't break any new ground). Doesn't affect the gameplay one bit really, so I don't care. Likewise, you know a CD-based Star Wars game is going to have awesome audio since it's got the full backing of John Williams' iconic score and Ben Burtt's instantly-recognizable sound design for blasters, lightsabers and TIE fighters. So go ahead, let's just give it the benefit of the doubt and give it those 10 easy points.

Because the next rating is Control, and Larry, I feel the conflict within you. You give it a 4.5, but then say this: "Slowdown during heated matches also hampers the controls." OK, that's it, cut in the sub-light engines. Everybody, out of the Y-Wing. Sometimes you can live with a modicum of slowdown here or there, but one genre above all others requires an ABSOLUTELY steady frame rate at all times, and that's the one-on-one fighting game. In a fighting game, slowdown equals death, pure and simple. When "slowdown [...] hampers the controls" of a fighting game that's it. Game over. You don't get a near-perfect score for control. You don't get a 4, or a 3, or a 2, or a 1, or even a .5. You get a ZERO. You're Porkins at the Battle of Yavin. Thanks for nothing, airman.

Which brings us to Fun Factor. Once again, when "slowdown [...] hampers the controls" of a fighting game, you don't get a perfect score for Fun Factor. You get a big fat zilch. You're Admiral Ozzel at the Battle of Hoth, as clumsy as you are stupid. Larry's correct when he writes "Masters of Teräs Käsi should entice a wide variety of gamers." Unfortunately it enticed them to let the hate flow through them, which probably isn't what he meant.

So, what did Scary Larry leave out of this review? How about lightsabers that behave more like Gaffi sticks, blasters that need time to charge up before firing, small fighting stages that make cheap "Ring Out" victories more common than actual KOs, AI that waffles between amazingly competent (busting out 7-8 hit combos with no problem) and amazingly stupid (running a circle around behind your character only to fall off the stage and hand you a win), terrible character balance (Jedi and Sith stomp all over their mundane opponents which makes sense, but doesn't make for a very compelling reason to play Han or Chewie), a storyline that makes no sense even within the Expanded Universe canon (so the Emperor sends Darth Vader, Arden Lyn, Mara Jade, Boba Fett, a Stormtrooper, a Tusken Raider[WTF?] and a Gamorrean Guard[WTF?!] to hunt down Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia [both in a bikini and bounty hunter costume because shut up, that's why!], Han Solo, Chewbacca and a random bounty hunter named Jodo Kast...but it takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, so there's no reason for them to be fighting on Endor, Cloud City, Dagobah, Jabba's palace, the Emperor's throne room, or Hoth; Leia won't be disguised as a bounty hunter or enslaved to Jabba for another three years; Luke hasn't built his green lightsaber, trained as a Jedi or lost his hand to Vader yet but he's in his one-gloved RotJ costume...sorry, I can't go on), zero reward for beating the game (expect a 3-second video clip at best...some characters like the poor Stormtrooper don't even have endings) except for some unlockable characters for doing it on Jedi difficulty with particular fighters.

Which game was he playing, exactly?

Thankfully I experienced Teräs Käsi as a rental at someone else's house and thus never made the horrifying discovery that I'd bought a turd. I can only assume there were GamePro readers who didn't share my luck.

Have you ever been misled by a game magazine's review into purchasing something that turned out to be a dud (or on the other hand, ever been led away from a game given a bad review only to discover years later that you actually enjoyed it?) I'd like to hear about it either in the comments section or on the forums. :)


"Hooo boy, Areala, do you really want to go here?"

Yes, yes, I think I do. Because it's my blog, and it's my opinion, and you're all entitled to it. Besides, what's better than potentially starting a gigantic flame war over music and personal preferences? OK, besides sex. Right, nothing! So here's the deal. I'm going to list some covers that are better than the originals and explain why. You're all going to tell me how correct I am or that I'm going to burn in hell for blasphemy, and either way we'll all have a lot of fun and maybe even learn something!

01 - Chris Isaak - Only The Lonely

Don't get me wrong, I love Roy Orbison dearly, but holy cow did he get this one wrong. If you're going to sing a song about how only lonely people understand what you're going through, perhaps you shouldn't do it with backup singers and a poppy, upbeat tune that makes it sound like something you'd want to listen to on the way to a bubblegum beach party.

Isaak's interpretation strips away all the gloss and performs it the way it should be performed: haunting, personal, and most of all...lonely. Just him and his guitar. And that's what real loneliness sounds like.

02 - Kenny Chesney - I'm On Fire

Springsteen's version of this song is perfect in every way, except that he sounds like some sort of creepy stalker intent on doing harm to the object of his desire. Now usually I'm not a fan of the country/rock crossovers, but Chesney has several things going for him. First of all, his voice is incredible (easily one of the greatest male vocalists working today), and secondly he can almost completely ditch the twang of his country voice when he wants to, which he does here to great effect.

Contrasted with The Boss, Chesney's version sounds innocent and contemplative, more like a guy looking out his window at home and wondering aloud to himself. Back in the day, Chris Hanson would have been on Springsteen's narrator in a heartbeat. Chesney leaves things firmly in the realm of this quiet, unassuming guy who wouldn't hurt a fly just dreaming about a girl he'll probably never have and wishing things were different. Both versions of this song are great, but let's face it, Kenny one-upped Bruce on this one.

03 - Nirvana - The Man Who Sold The World

It's often not difficult to tell when someone's covering a song they didn't write, and this is doubly so when anybody covers David Bowie because, let's face it, if you're not an alien from outer space or the Goblin King, you've got no zarking idea what it means to be David Bowie. On the other hand, sometimes someone covers a song so well you wish they'd been the one to write it in the first place, because screw the original writer, it belongs to them.

Such is the case with Nirvana's take on TMWSTW. Bowie's version is depressing, to be sure, but hearing Cobain belting out these lyrics is nearly soul-crushing especially when you consider that at the time he performed this song he was closing in on his final days on Earth. Nirvana's narrator for the song sounds like he's been dragged through the gutters of life, seen things no man should ever have to see, and depressingly lived to tell the tale. There's just no way to compare the two. Bowie sang it, Nirvana owned it. End of story.

04 - Rod Stewart - Downtown Train

Most of the people who read this blog probably have no idea that Rod Stewart didn't write this song (I certainly wasn't aware that Tom Waits penned it back when Stewart's version started getting radio play in the early 90s). But that's beside the point. Stewart may not have written the song, but he certainly gave it a life it never had from Waits who sounds as though he doesn't really care one way or another what happens to himself or the girl he's looking for.

Stewart's version is much, much lighter than Waits' under-produced, understated one, and for some people that's precisely the reason to hate it, but I'm in the opposite camp. Stewart's version captures that mystery, that youthful sense of joy, where one still believes in the ideal that love can strike between strangers on a cloudy New York evening. Plus, the final minute of Stewart's version, which ends with a solo piano medley playing over some subdued night train sounds, is tranquility to the Nth degree. It's close-your-eyes-and-lay-back-in-bed beautiful.

05 - Gary Jules - Mad World

"This is the way the world ends," so goes the saying, "not with a bang, but a whisper." And if that's the case, Gary Jules' cover of Tears For Fears' Mad World is the song that will lull each and every one of us to sleep at the end. There's no reason, no reason at all, for a song about the insanity that is day-to-day life to be so damn relaxing.

Tears' version has a Britpop sensibility about it, and there's nothing at all technically wrong with it. It's poking fun at the insanity of day-to-day life. But once Gary Jules slowly unfurls his depressing, dramatic rendering of the song, you've completely forgotten how the original version even sounded. Jules finds nothing funny about the fact that the dreams in which he's dying are the best he's ever had: he's resigned to it, and that makes it all the worse. The calming, matter-of-fact way he presents this gives the song a life it never had in its initial incarnation. That he covered it for the film Donnie Darko only makes it that much more powerful.

06 - A-Ha - Crying in the Rain

Carol King wrote it, the Everly Brothers made it famous, but A-Ha owns them both with this little-known take on the classic oldies tune.

Folk rock sensibilities might be the last thing you expect from the group that brought us 'Take On Me,' a tune which almost single-handedly defines the 80's. And yet, somehow, these guys pull it off. Dammit, they pull it off, and I can't help it. It's now the definitive version of the song in my mind. There's really nothing else to say about it.

07 - Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

Buckley doesn't really change much of anything up on his cover of Leonard Cohen's original. But his delivery is smoother, more melancholy and (dare I say) a little romantic with just him and a guitar.

Cohen's version has raw power behind it, what with that chorus backing him up, and there's no denying that whoever's singing it gets the advantage of enough Biblical symbolism in the lyrics to move even an atheist to tears. But for my money, Buckley does it just right, with the perfect mixture of irony and loss.

08 - Ugly Kid Joe - Cat's in the Cradle

If anything's going to get me crucified and flamed for this post, it'll be my opinion that UKJ's cover of Harry Chapin's classic is better than the original. But that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

I think the biggest reason is that Ugly Kid Joe injects more emotion into their version. There's nothing technically wrong with the way Chapin sings the song, but the overall emotional rhythm is flat and unwavering. You listen to it and you have the sense that maybe dad doesn't even think there's anything that he could have done differently. UKJ's version, on the other hand, is angry and, at the end, faintly horrified at the way things turned out and are still going. There's a circle here that's going to remain unbroken. Chapin shrugs his shoulders, Joe lashes out in rage and sorrow. Give me the emotion over the neutrality any day.

09 - Type O Negative - Cinnamon Girl

Neil Young's original has this ethereal, almost dreamy quality to it, sounding every bit like a guy getting high between shows and fantasizing about how great it's going to be once he's made it in the biz. It's a fun little song, with an upbeat tempo, the sort of tune Neil Young's been turning out for decades.

Which is why it's such a shock when Type O Negative chucks it in a coffin, lashes it to the trailer hitch of a hearse, and drags it through the mud, only to have it come out sounding like it actually has some soul behind it. Peter Steel's voice is almost the anti-Neil Young: where Young's voice is higher, flightier, and folksier, Steel's is lower, rougher and downright abrasive at times. There are plenty of pop songs you wouldn't have wanted this guy getting anywhere near back when he was alive, but Type O's take on Cinnamon Girl proves that even the weirdest ideas can bear exceptional fruit.

10 - Mary Elizabeth McGlynn - Always On My Mind

Brenda Lee's 1972 song of love-gone-astray has been covered by everyone from Elvis to Willie Nelson to the Pet Shop Boys. If you were getting into music in the 1970s or 1980s, there was a darn good chance you knew how to belt this one out when someone requested it in the club. It's a simple tune, with a neat set of lyrics behind it, and it's no wonder everyone fell in love with it.

Then came "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories" where Akira Yamaoka re-scored it for much darker sensibilities. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn's treatment of this song draws it into the depths of suicidal despair. Elvis and Willie Nelson called you up to let you know they were thinking about you, and the Pet Shop Boys wanted you to dance to their beat. McGlynn is looking at your picture just as she's slashed her wrists, and this song's the last thing on her lips as she's bleeding out; there will be no second chance to get things right. Haunting, otherworldly, vaguely nightmarish, it's everything a song from a Silent Hill game should be, and it utterly demolishes every other version out there to achieve it.

11 - Johnny Cash - Hurt

This one's such a gimme it's almost not fair to include it on the list, which is why I gave it the eleven spot. Trent Reznor's version is gothic, angsty, and in great desire of inflicting serious damage on the people who caused him pain when he was younger. It's a dark and brooding song about working through one's anger at the world. You know, like most other Nine Inch Nails pieces.

But even Reznor agrees that once Cash decided to cover it, that was game over ("It's not mine anymore," Reznor said in reaction to viewing the video). It's Cash's song, through and through, sung from the point of view of an older man looking back on his life and telling the young buck across from him, "Sit down, son, and let me explain a few things to you." When Reznor says he'll make you hurt, you believe him: he's probably carrying a knife or a baseball bat and not afraid to use it. When Cash says it though, it's twice as frightening. He's not going to punch you in the face or knife you in the ribs, he's just going to lay out your whole life before you and show you each and every awful thing you'll do and have done to you in return. You'll be done with Reznor's hurt after a stint in the hospital. Cash's will stay with you until they close the lid of your coffin. That's true power.


Teased By An Asylum

blog-0607359001345506828.pngAre you crazy?

Well, whether you are or not, you should consider the research. For example, did you know that ten out of every ten people polled by Hanwell Mental Institute's top-rated researchers tested positive for at least one mental illness, and eight out of those ten tested positive for two or more? And that three of those remaining eight were found to have a staggering five or more mental illnesses according to the soon-to-be-released DSM-V?

Are you sure you're not crazy? Remember: a classic sign of insanity is refusal to accept the possibility that you might, in fact, be insane.

Hanwell is here to help. While they're not accepting new patients quite yet (doors open in 2013, I'm told), the doctors and staff, as led by the team of completely certified, 100% absolutely sane Senscape developers, are willing to show prospective new inmates...er...patients around the grounds. Perhaps you've read their literature, but you're not sure if Hanwell is right for you. We here at Retrochick's Retroblog (all three of the personalities that have allowed themselves to be identified thusfar, at any rate) want what's best for you. You need help. You need compassion. You need to see why Hanwell makes a difference.


You'll notice the cafeteria features a state-of-the-art sound system, capable of piping in soothing music through those speakers. A beautiful baroque classical sun dome provides generous amounts of natural light. There's plenty of table space, but not so much that you'll feel ostracized from your fellow patients. And with three daily meals, Hanwell's prepared to offer up everything a growing body needs, with almost all special dietary considerations met!


The infirmary was established in 1912, and yet feels as timeless and modern as most hospitals built within the last ten years. You know they're serious about medicine when they have dedication plaques hanging above the doors. Hanwell's been there for 100 years--they'll be around for another 100 as long as they have this kind of solid history behind them.


Hanwell has been featured in all the journals, newspapers, and trade publications as a reputable and noteworthy establishment, with safety and security of both doctors and patients held to the most exacting standards.


At Hanwell, "[C]omfort is job two (since cures are job one)". Safety and security are provided by heavy locked doors with all glass tempered and covered over with thick, metallic gratings. Staff know where their keys are at all times, and are duly reprimanded for leaving them laying about where inmates could find them. And as you can see, the only thing coming between you and a good night's rest is one of Hanwell's custom-designed bed frames, imported directly from the manufacturers in Germany and Poland. A good night's sleep brings you one step closer to a cure!


While we're at it, hygiene is job three, and Hanwell is proud to offer the finest in sanitary shower facilities, with full tile floors and cold water sprays. Best of all, these facilities are open for the use of patients and staff alike, with none of that traditional 'residents get the chaff while the nurses get the wheat' value system.


Sinks, counter tops, even mirrors: all are made of the finest stainless steel, straight from the factories and mills in Indiana, and secured to the floor by industrial-strength bolts, guaranteed to never rust, chip or fade no matter how much abuse they take. Accidents can happen, but Hanwell prides itself on making sure they're as infrequent as a visit from Hally's Comet.

Well, there you have it: a look at the finest our mental health system has to offer. But if this amazing insider look hasn't got you convinced, why not come down for a self-guided tour? You can see a small part of what Hanwell has to offer at no charge, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Just head on over to http://www.facethehorror.com/teaser and download the interactive Asylum Teaser today!

Offer expires while you wait. Operators are standing by...



blog-0760965001344635694.jpgI always thought somebody should make some kind of board game based on the Aliens universe. They've made plenty of video games based on the property after all, on everything from the 2600 to the modern-day consoles with the pending release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. There was also a fun "Aliens vs. Predator" collectable card game released in the 90s. Surely somebody somewhere thought about a board game, right?

Well, they did. It was called "Alien", it was released in 1979 as a board game tie-in to the film, and...well, let's just say video games aren't the only crap produced by licensing agreements. Your mission was to use YOUR alien to kill the other players while trying to stay alive long enough to get to the escape pod and screw everyone else out of life. You know, just like what DIDN'T happen on screen. *sigh* OK, so any other bright ideas?

Turns out there was. Called "Intruder", it came out in 1980 and while it's not officially part of the Alien mythos, it does a damn sight better job of portraying the isolation, horror and teamwork aspects of the film than the official version. Best of all, it's built for solo play. After I found out about this, I had to track down a copy (thanks, Craigslist!). Here's the rundown on why you might want a copy for your own.

"Intruder" doesn't try to copy the Alien film exactly; it plays a lot faster and looser with the storyline than purists will be comfortable with. But that doesn't matter. It replicates all the important parts though and manages to create a fairly tense atmosphere through the use of mystery.

At the start of the game, you have your crew (an assortment of command types, scientists and engineers) all working in different sections of the Prometheus, a scientific research station, when something goes wrong. An alert plays over the intercom and one of the specimens (known as the Intruder) escapes from its holding pen, upsetting a number of other research animal cages along the way. All of them scatter throughout the station, and it's up to the crew to find and destroy the Intruder before it kills them all. Face down, all the critters and the Intruder get mixed up and distributed across the map. Now you don't know what's a harmless puppy or a zealous xenomorph. Great.

Your crew now have to decide what tactics they're going to use to defeat the Intruder: do they set out at once with a bunch of cages to try and catch as many lab animals as they can to eliminate confusion, or do they try to manufacture some makeshift weapons (like shock prods or flame units) and wait for it to come to them? Do they try to tranquilize it with some sleep darts and re-cage it? Lure it into the freezer to put it on ice? Bust into the armoury and grab some gas grenades and blaster pistols? Lure it to the outer deck and blow it out the airlock? Panic, set the self-destruct system and get to the escape shuttles? A combination of all of the above?

Well, who wants to be a hero, right? Unfortunately, time is not on your side. So while you can spend time breaking out the heavy weapons or researching makeshift weapons, any time you're not spending trying to catch the Intruder is working against you. Because just like the movie, as time goes by, the Intruder gets stronger. It starts at Life Stage 1 (facehugger) where it's relatively weak but still deadly enough to kill the unwary. At this point, it's still possible to get it into a fresh cage by force alone. But leave it to its own devices long enough and it'll mutate. At stage 2 and each subsequent stage, it gains new powers and your options for dealing with it diminish: it might develop an immunity to fire, making those flame units worthless; it could grow strong enough that no cage can hold it; God forbid, it might even develop the ability to clone itself (and then you're REALLY screwed). Leave it alone too long and you can wind up with a creature immune to vacuum which shrugs off blaster fire and poison gas like mosquito bites and lays eggs everywhere. Hence, the self-destruct option.

What follows is usually a mad scramble of personnel to cobble together some cattle prods while a few brave souls venture out with portable cages and try to pick up a few of the distractions and maybe tranquilize the Intruder if they're lucky (and it's not immune). The Intruder (and all the hidden markers) move randomly via die roll, and the game map has all potential exits from each room marked with numbers so it's kind of self-running. The element of luck is also invoked when fighting the creature, trying to catch/cage an animal, and when the Intruder mutates and gains new powers. Finally, the Intruder gets a nice dose of indirect help each time it kills a crew member: this sends the rest of the humans on the ship into a panic and forces them to reconvene in the Command Module at the center of the ship to decide what to do next. In an amusing instance, killing an Intruder (if there's more than one on board) also triggers this, but as a "Yay, we got it!" celebration instead of a panic. Then the noises start coming through the air vents again...the designers clearly understood the horror film tropes. :)

At the end of the game, you're rated on victory points based on how well/poorly you did: speedily dispatching the creature gives you bonuses, while losing members of your team results in penalties. The game can also end in a draw condition if you are forced into the "least attractive" options available, like self-destructing the ship or blowing an Intruder with the 'immune to vacuum' attribute out the airlock. Nobody said it was gonna be easy...

While the rules for Intruder read like they were produced by a group of lawyer computer programmers, with sections, subsections, and sub-subsections galore, they're actually very easy to follow despite being pretty dense. There are a lot of state-based rules set up to account for various actions (such as under what conditions an escape shuttle can be launched, how the self-destruct sequence can be set, when the door to the freezer can be opened, what happens when caged animals are dropped in panic, etc...), so learning them all can take a while. Consulting them in conjunction with playing several games seems to be the easiest way.

Depending on factors of luck, the game can be over in a matter of a few turns or drag out over 30 minutes or more. There are rules in place for multiple players, so it's not strictly a solo venture (though it works best in this capacity, I think), and it plays fast enough that you can get in several games over the course of a few hours.

I really like Intruder, and I recommend it for anyone who's a fan of the Alien movies and enjoys playing games with healthy doses of randomness and suspense.


blog-0703912001344468312.jpgIt's been a while since my last one of these, and I find myself desiring to get back on the horse, so let's get this party started up again, shall we? Hold on to your seats boys and girls, and LET'S READ!!

Hot damn, this issue brings back memories. Aside from the first issue, this is the earliest issue of the magazine that I still own in physical print format (I had issue #9 a long time ago, but it met with a gruesome accident involving Kool-Aid that I'm still not willing to discuss). In any case, this one was quite timely as Batman fever swept the nation and Nintendo raced to capitalize on the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson film by authorizing the release of a Batman video game. Sunsoft to the rescue! And let's not forget, we've still got Super Mario 3, Shadowgate and Double Dragon II, along with that double bonus Tetris tip book (which a sidebar in the table of contents reminds you NOT TO REMOVE!) and World of Nintendo catalogue. Rip open those covers, time's a-waistin'!

Mail Bag opens the issue with a rumour that Mario's had some 'cosmetic work' done to improve/change his nose over the years (screenshots provided!). We also learn that Game Counselors not only have to be awesome at video games but also require a high school diploma along with excellent writing and telephone skills (not to mention a Redmond, Washington address). Nintendo Power only wants to review games that are out or close to being released at this stage in the game, so they're not talking about pre-releases and such the way their competitors do. Also, they read and respond to every letter they receive even if said letters don't get printed in the magazine. How in the name of Gannon did they do this (the editors report they receive thousands of submissions every month) without going batshit crazy?

Three players get on the coveted Video Spotlight this time around. The first two are pretty run-of-the-mill, being a college student who uses the NES to take a break from the reality of chemistry labs and research papers, and an 11-year old who enjoys helping out the other kids in the neighborhood with their gaming woes. Number three though manages to go all-out in terms of shark jumping, including a photo of himself at age 16, standing beside his Nintendo shrine (complete with R.O.B. off to the side and posters for Mega Man II and Blaster Master on the walls), and admitting his schoolmates call him "Nintendoman" (wonder if he puts that on his resume these days?). Ah, Jeff Gilkey, we salute your nerdity. Hail, hail!

Right, on to the meat and potatoes of the issue. There's a new caped crusder in town. He's Batman and there's six pages' worth of info, including maps for the first three full levels of the game and a plethora of tips for beating both the average joes populating the various levels and the mean bosses that lord over everything. Also, "Killer Moth flys over Gotham City Hall" (emphasis mine). Really, editors? *sigh*

All is forgiven though as we move on to the six-page Shadowgate feature. This is one of Nintendo's earliest forays into what is considered traditional adventure gaming, with them even calling it a "PC-type mystery adventure" (accuracy fail, Nintendo: Shadowgate was released for the Macintosh first). Nevertheless, Shadowgate is a freakin' merciless game and Nintendo provides enough of a walkthrough to let players with no prior adventure experience learn the ropes of puzzle solving before quitting in frustration. I freely admit to abusing the hell out of their little map and and every other tip they provided as I was trying to solve this one.

The Making of Super Mario Bros. 3 bored the hell out of me when I was a kid, but re-reading it as an adult it's absolutely fascinating! The pictures alone are worth the entry fee, as they showcase designer notes, character sketches, and level designs all planned out meticulously on a grid-style system. Miyamoto passes off information about where he got the ideas (the Chain Chomps, for instance, were inspired by a bad experience he had with a dog as a youngster), and why certain elements of the game (like the raccoon tail) came out the way they did. There's also a look at the CGCAD hardware designers use to create sprites for the NES hardware, and a full-fledged profile of a (VERY young looking) Miyamoto-san towards the end. Perhaps the most amazing thing the article divulges though is that Super Mario 3, one of the most complex games created for the NES, was the end result of two years' work done by a staff of "over ten people". Miyamoto's profile also makes reference to games he was currently working on for the NES (including Super Mario Bros. 4 and Zelda 3, both of which would be released on the SNES), and alludes to his work with designer Shigesato Itoi on a modern-day RPG (presumably this is "Mother" or one of its sequels) which sadly never sees the light of day in the US. This article is a total gem of historical win, well worth reading even today.

Following that, we have six more pages devoted to Willow. This basically picks up where the last Willow feature left off, with a bunch of useful maps and tips that take you right up to the endgame (let's face it, any walkthrough that leaves you with the most powerful weapon, shield and magic before the final battle has to be useful). Willow's a very good NES game as I've mentioned before, one of the best licensed movie-to-game conversions ever made. If you haven't played it, the terrorists have already won.

Revenge! It's on everybody's mind these days, especially Billy and Jimmy Lee. Previously seen feuding over Billy's girlfriend Marian, the Black Shadow Warriors have done the unthinkable and united the twins by violating the 9th rule of Fight Club ("Don't fucking shoot Billy Lee's girlfriend. We're serious about this one!"). Oh yeah: shit just got real in six pages' worth of Double Dragon II: The Revenge. I love this game, and still remember the day my brother and I conquered it on the Supreme Master difficulty. The feature showcases a few of the moves available to the Lee brothers and gives the low-down on how to breeze through the first five missions. The maps are cool to see, but since the game is so linear it's not like you can get lost it's not like they're terribly important. The first five missions are essentially preschool mode, so leaving gamers to dangle just when the going gets tough is pretty cruel on Nintendo's part, but nobody said they had to be nice all the time.

After the heavy stuff, we drop it down a notch for a look at Super Spike V'Ball. Ordinarily, sports games rank somewhere around "average" to "meh" on my scale of interest, but the fact this one's more arcade than simulation and the ability to use the Satellite to get four players around the TV at once for some serious two-on-two makes this one more exciting. Cameos from Billy and Jimmy Lee as the street-tough "defensive-style" team only make it better. At only two pages it's a short feature but then again, how much really is there to be said about beach volleyball?

Clash at Demonhead! That's right, before it was a band in the Scott Pilgrim comic series, it was a pretty darn fun action/adventure game. OK, so Nintendo's translators butchered the daylights out of the storyline (really, the main character's name is Billy "Big Bang" Blitz? REALLY, Nintendo? Ya sure ya wanna go there?). That doesn't mean the game's crap. Even so, I'm of mixed feelings about this feature. It's four pages, which is fine, but even reading it several times you'd have difficulty grasping exactly what the game's all about if you hadn't played it before. The first-person narrative feels a bit too forced as well. Crappy feature, great game.

Of course, turning the page all is instantly and forever forgiven as River City Ransom cracks its knuckles and prepares to throw down. This feature of sheer badassery is a Cliffs Notes for Gamers that takes players straight through River City High School and leaves off just before the encounter with Simon at the end of the game. RCR as many of you already know is one of my favorite video games of all time, so I'm naturally going to be biased, but I don't care. This game rules, and I'll take six pages about it over twenty pages about virtually any other game in the NES library any day of the week. This was when I knew Nintendo Power liked me. Really, really liked me.

Great greased shellbacks, what on earth happened to the Top 30? We've got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flying up to the top of the charts from the #5 position last issue (beating out Zelda 2 at the second spot by more than three thousand points), Mega Man II falling to the #6 spot from it's high-flying appearance at #1, and Super Mario 2 slipping another rung to the third spot. Metal Gear and Marble Madness make their debut on the charts. In an amusing error, Contra is colour-coded as being a hot mover despite losing eight positions from last issue, and Strider is listed as a new entry to the charts despite the fact it held the #9 position two months before. Super Mario 3 shows up at #13 despite the fact it's not available in the US, and there's a ton of new games replacing older ones at the bottom of the charts. It's madness, I tell you!

As if the River City Ransom article isn't awesome enough, we also get the best poster so far distributed with the magazine. On one side, there's a killer Dinowarz art piece. On the reverse though, we get the full shop information for River City Ransom. This thing reveals the effects of every single buyable item in the game (with the exception of the goodies from the hidden shop) making it almost mandatory for anybody who's trying to beef up their characters without wasting cash on useless stuff. This poster got more use than some full issues of the magazine around my house. I love RCR.

Time for some portable power with a simple four-page feature on some upcoming titles for the Game Boy. Golf gets a full page (*yawn*), then puzzle games Boxxle and Kwirk share the second (slightly more interesting). Then it's a half-page on Solar Striker (woo!) and half-page of previews for titles that may or may not be coming soon. Boomer's name is corrected (it's not "Bronty" as previously reported), and there's a preview for an RPG called "Selection" that makes it to US shores under the title "Sword of Hope" a year or so later, which is a much better title all around.

Previews, previews, we want previews! Here comes four pages on Super Mario Bros. 3 showing off Mario's new costumes, power-ups and level features. Just enough to whet your appetite until it gets released in a few months (and admit it, you were all salivating at this point). Burai Fighter, a scrolling shooter made by now long-defunct studio Taxan, gets a couple pages to show the map of stage 1 and some hints for using your eight-way firing skills to waste the enemy. It gets a sequel in 1991 for the Game Boy (Burai Fighter Deluxe), but not long afterwards, the studio folds. Pity...they were decent shooters. Astyanax's two pages don't leave much room for anything but a look at the cinema sequences, a very small (VERY SMALL!) map of the first stage, and some discussion of pick-ups and the storyline. I never cared for this game, but my brother loved it...I think I'm in the minority. A pair of pages devoted to Dinowarz follows...it's a nifty game sort of like a cousin to Blaster Master where you play half of the game as your normal human self (Professor Proteus) and the other half is spent piloting your giant golden Godzilla knockoff against the forces of evil (in this case, Dr. Branius). Being a preview, there's only a one-stage map and some info on your special attacks and powerups. I think this gets a full-fledged review in another few issues.

Dragon Warrior strikes again, this time in the form of Howard & Nester. Nester seeks the Stones of Sunlight beneath Tantegel castle, but as is his way, is determined to do so the hardest way possible instead of Howard's suggested easier route. Hilarity (sort of) ensues. Funnier for younger kids, though the bunnies made me smile. :)

Counselor's Corner gets mobbed with questions about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? this issue. Where are the magical buildings (we'll give you directions), how do I get past the warehouse guard (the baseball bat he's holding is a pretty big hint, don't ya think?), and where can I find all four pieces of the will (we'll tell you where they are in general, but you have to work for a living). Counselors also explain how to beat the fourth guardian in Legacy of the Wizard, the way to get past the dancing zombies in Monster Party, where the Ring of Dwarf can be found in Faxanadu, the trick to beating level 7-3 in Adventures of Lolo, how to find the hidden town of Ambrosia and the Shrine of Dexterity in Ultima: Exodus, and the key to escaping Level 6 alive in Air Fortress. While you're there, check out the killer pink shirt and mullet sported by game counselor Jeff Hazard whose favorite game is Amagon. Righteous, dude...totally righteous.

Everybody's favorite section of the magazine comes next! That's right, it's Classified Corner, where we tell you all sorts of shit you shouldn't even know about! Like how to turn the stars on the enemy robot's background into little chickens in Mega Man II! OK, bad example. How about the now-classic ICARUS FIGHTS MEDUSA ANGELS password for Kid Icarus and the TGL password for Guardian Legend? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!! Some other Guardian Legend trickery involves buying out an entire shop with Slow Motion activated, but I could never get this to work on my game. Some passwords for Godzilla, the charge-up punch from Bad Dudes, a continue code for Kung Fu Heroes, a way to abuse 1-ups and coin collecting in Super Mario Land, and a password for Rambo that grants the buff one unlimited energy. Also at the end of the game you can turn Murdock into a frog, but we're not going to tell you how, so nyah. What the hell, NP? A rather obvious trick involving killing a bunch of enemies repeatedly to milk items for Faxanadu is lame. Unlimited continues in Robocop is better, and the stage select cheat for Bubble Bobble is extremely helpful. The convoluted trick for power players in Baseball Stars is pretty cool, as is the 21-life code for P.O.W. (it's a shame the game is such a P.O.S...). A scoring trick for Gyruss is useful for those trying to rank in the magazine. Finally, there's a trio of tricks for Duck Tales that involve swatting certain items for extra treasure, how to get to the bonus stages, and a way to exploit the game to get unlimited lives. All in all, not a bad haul.

I'm having trouble figuring out the major difference between the Previews section and New Games, since they're both short features on upcoming titles. In any case, this issue we have one page each devoted to helicopter sim Interceptor, retro board gaming sim The Chessmaster, and the dual-cart Power Pad dud Short Order/Eggsplode (though the article on it is written in a rhyme scheme that sounds awesomely bad if you rap it out with a friend).

Video Shorts has no shortage of mini-previews this time: Archon (ported from the PC market), All-Pro Basketball, arcade hit Roadblasters, historical sim Genghis Khan, action/shooter Cybernoid (hands down one of the hardest NES games ever made IMHO), Dig Dug II, Championship Bowling, and Twin Cobra all get mentioned.

Once again, NES Achievers is back showing off the talents of gamers spending too much time on the system and not enough time on their homework (I kid because I'm jealous, guys...) Girl power shout-outs to Elsie Anderson for finishing Dragon Warrior, Norma McQuaid for finishing Faxanadu, Karen Spignese for a high score on Adventure Island, Nicole Oppedisano for maxing the score on Kid Icarus, Janet Myers and Ann Wargowsky for completing Legacy of the Wizard, Jennifer Feliciano, Nadia Hogg and Connie Warley for beating Adventures of Lolo, and Kelly Maher and Barbara Renteria for maxing out Super Mario Bros.!

Some great history here in NES Journal. First we get pictures of the Players' Poll winners from the July/August issue as they get to tour Nintendo HQ in Seattle, meet and swap gaming trivia with Howard Phillips over breakfast, listen in on game counselor calls at the pro center, tour downtown Seattle with a bunch of guides, take in a Seahawks game at the King Dome, and preview the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, River City Ransom, Super Spike V'Ball and Batman. Every kid's dream back then, I tell you what... Then we had the Super Dodge Ball Cup World Finals, where the best of the best at the make-believe sport got to show the world who was boss in head-to-head competition, with Nelson Tam bringing home the gold ultimately. Every finalist got some nifty Nintendo swag including a customized Super Dodge Ball jacket, an award plaque, and "audio equipment" (a bit vague here...are we talking a stereo, a CD player, a Walkman, what?). They also got to meet Howard Phillips, tour Nintendo Headquarters, and even say hello to president Arikawa-san. What an awesome prize!

Ah, but then...Nintendo turns to the dark side with an ad for their brand new Captain Nintendo 900 number (for non-US readers, a 900-number is a phone call charged to your bill usually at a very high per-minute rate). In this case, it's pretty steep: the two minute call will run you a buck-fifty each time you dial it, and the message changes weekly. Six bucks a month could easily wipe out the allowance of your average kid back then. Dirty, Nintendo, very dirty.

Also, buy the official Nintendo Cleaning Kit (for only $9.95) since it's a lot cheaper and faster than shipping your deck off to Nintendo for fixing! And just in case that won't work, Nintendo's in the process of opening up authorized Nintendo repair facilities like the ones already in California in many other areas around the country, so maybe one will be open near you soon. AND! The 1990 Nintendo World Championships are coming (er...already came...um...will be coming in the future but since this is the future they left already and...God, this is confusing!) Surprisingly enough, they actually showed up for a few days in Indiana though I didn't get to go. I'm not bitter though. It was just a simple, once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know. We could have visited my cousins any time. Just sayin'...

This month's Celebrity Profileis the awesome Stephen Furst, who rocketed to fame as the lovable "Flounder" in the classic frat comedy Animal House, played a doctor on the soap opera St. Elsewhere, and a priest on the short-lived cable TV series Have Faith. The interview references an upcoming collaboration between him and Howie Mandel called Howie & Rose, but as luck would have it the pilot never gets picked up so the project ends where it began. Too bad. But he has fun, talking about playing Nintendo with his kids and how much better at it they are, despite the fact that he sometimes gets in as much as four hours a day of practice. :)

More previews, previews, previews in Pak Watch! We've got warnings about the coming of Super C, Remote Control, Wrath of the Black Manta, Snake, Rattle 'n Roll, Adventures of Lolo 2, and Wall Street Kid. In addtion, there's some gossip (some of it juicy, some not so much) flying around: LJN's gonna scare you silly with Nightmare on Elm Street! Arcade hit Heavy Barrel's coming to the NES! Acclaim's pulling a cash grab with a license for Total Recall (we all know how this steaming turd turned out...), and they've also got a port of NARC coming down the pipes. Absolute's throwing down the snowboarding gauntlet with Heavy Shreddin'. Mad Max is on the way courtesy of Mindscape (boo, hiss!). FCI, who brought you Ultima: Exodus (yay!) and Hydlide (BOOO!) have an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game on the way. Yes, this is the infamous Heroes of the Lance which nearly wrecks the franchise for console gamers. In another head-meet-desk announcement, they're making a sequel to Metal Gear called Snake's Revenge. Why they didn't port the real Metal Gear II from the MSX in lieu of this unofficial abomination is beyond me. And Play Action Football won't make it out until the 1990 season due to programming delays (no great loss there).

Howard Phillips writes his closing letter to all the fans again after missing out last issue due to space constraints. He's excited for the upcoming CES, but since the Nintendo Fun Club no longer exists, he's been making more personal appearances and rating/reviewing more games for the company instead. They're now calling him "Game Master" and he wants to know what we think. I don't know about the rest of you, but as far as I'm concerned, that title's just fine, Mr. Phillips. :)

Finally, the Player's Poll Contest this month is for a chance to see an exclusive sneak preview of the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. In fact, you're allowed to bring up to 25 friends so you could instantly become the most popular kid in your class (or alternately the most hated if you chose to go alone). If you don't win the grand prize though, there's plenty of second-place winners...fifteen, to be exact. But I seriously have to question what the hell Nintendo was smoking to come up with a prize like this. In following the whole "movie" theme for this contest, they're giving away one licensed NES game pak as well as a copy of the film it was based on, with choices drawn at random from Batman, Friday the 13th, Ghostbusters, Godzilla, Karate Kid, Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Predator, Rambo, Robocop, Superman, The Three Stooges, Top Gun, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Willow. I count half a dozen R-rated films in that list. The average age of your readers at this point is 12, Nintendo. All you cheerleaders out there: gimme an F, gimme an A, gimme an I, gimme an L! What's that spell? "FAIL!"