Hear Benj on the Retronauts Podcast

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Retronauts Episode 98 Mac Games

Since February, I’ve been appearing on episodes of Retronauts, a long-running retro gaming podcast traditionally hosted by Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey. Retronauts traces its origins to the now defunct 1UP.com, but it has moved along with Jeremy wherever he goes.

And that includes a move across the country: About five years ago, Jeremy relocated to sunny Raleigh, NC from San Francisco. After resigning from his editor-in-chief position at USGamer.net late last year, Jeremy decided to rely on Patreon to fund Retronauts as a full-time project.

Retronauts East Apple II Games ArtworkThere’s only one problem: Bob Mackey is still located on the west coast, and Jeremy can’t afford to fly out there every time he wants to record a show. So while Bob still creates episodes on the west coast, Jeremy started up a “Retronauts East” wing of the show featuring a local crew of regulars.

Fortunately, I am a Raleigh native, and I still live here. So the Retronauts East roster includes both myself and Ben Elgin, a Hillsborough, NC software engineer and a veteran of Jeremy’s Gamespite forums.

Since then I’ve been on five episodes (with another micro episode on the way), and it’s been a blast. Jeremy is a gin aficionado, and we typically drink a gin and tonic before or during the show, which is why you may hear high-resolution ice clinking in the background.

Here’s a run-down of the episodes I’ve appeared on so far:

Episode 87: Apple II Games
Episode 91: Early Sega Arcade Games
Episode 95: Early Batman Games
Micro 59: Atari Swordquest
Episode 98: Mac Gaming in the 1980s

There’s more to come. So stay tuned and enjoy.

[ Retro Scan ] My Sega Master System Adventure

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Sega Master System The Sega Adventure Poster scan Side 1 - 1987Hudson’s Adventure Afro (Side 1)

As a kid that grew up with Atari and Nintendo consoles in the household, I was always curious about Sega.

I remember seeing the Master System in a glass case at Toys ‘R’ Us, and it seemed exotic and wonderful with its 3D glasses and futuristic angular design. It felt like the cooler, anti-Nintendo.

But I didn’t get a Master System until around 1995, when my dad bought one for me used at a local used game store called Buy-Rite Video Games. At that time, Buy-Rite was located inside an indoor flea market mall off Capital Blvd. in Raleigh. It was a seedy, run-down place, but my dad enjoyed hunting for good deals at flea markets, and we regularly did that together on the weekends.

Buy-Rite Video Games Business Card Scan 1990sA short time after I got my first used Master System at Buy-Rite, we bought another one. As I browsed Buy-Rite with my dad on another occasion, I just happened to be there when I overheard someone trying to sell a Sega Master System to the store. I looked over and saw a young black kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, by himself with a green backpack. The owner, a mid-40s white guy, was being rude and giving the kid a hard time about it, and he refused to buy it.

After that, my dad approached the kid in the store and said we’d buy it from him. As the kid was excitedly showing me what was in his backpack, the owner of Buy-Rite stepped out from behind the counter and began openly yelling at all of us — about “trying to steal his business” out of his own store, or some such nonsense. My dad exchanged a few mildly harsh words with him, and the owner demanded that we leave. We did.

On the curb outside of the Flea Market Mall, we cut a deal with the kid. I remember we gave him $40 cash, and I got a great set of Sega Master System, controllers, a light gun, and a handful of games in much better condition than the one we bought from Buy-Rite — and for much cheaper, too. The kid was very happy, and I never shopped at Buy-Rite again.

It turns out the owner of Buy-Rite was a serial asshole — he kept gipping people for years, and finally shut down the store in 2005. Good riddance. (Watch him show up in the comments.)

Sega Master System The Sega Adventure Poster scan Side 2- 1987“Now, there are no limits.” (Side 2)

I’ve played a lot of Master System games since then, but my favorite is still Enduro Racer played with a Sega Control Stick, which I got from that kid back in 1995. (I wrote a big post about Enduro Racer back in 2006.)

What you’re looking at here is a promotional Sega poster that came with a Sega Master System game — maybe one of those I received that day at the Flea Market Mall. I think the poster was originally folded up and placed inside a plastic SMS game case next to an instruction manual, although it is possible it originally came in the Sega Master System console box itself.

[ From Sega Master System Poster / Flyer, 1987 ]

Discussion Topic: What’s your favorite Sega Master System game?


See Also:

Lessons from the Master: The Zen of Enduro Racer (2006)
Nintendo vs. Sega: Christmas 1987 Shootout (Retro Scan, 2010)
Benj’s 1989 Christmas List (Retro Scan, 2013)

[ Retro Scan ] Vectorman “Play to Win”

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

BlueSky Software Vectorman Play to Win Sega Genesis Advertisement Scan - 1995IT”SSSS AWEESSSOOOMME

I was a big fan of Vectorman back when it first came out. Around that time, I bought a used Sega Genesis from a friend (my first), and I rented a copy from Vectorman from Blockbuster (or did I rent an entire Genesis itself first — my memory is hazy on that point). I was blown away by Vectorman’s fluid animations, great sound effects and music, and tight overall feel of the game. I still think Vectorman is one of the best games on the Genesis.

This ad comes from Wizard (the comic book magazine), and in a two-page spread, it took up one whole page on the left and about a third of the page on the right. I have cropped out the remaining 2/3 of the right page which was unrelated to the ad.

That right portion, by the way, describes Sega’s “Play to Win” contest that tied into the game. Apparently, certain randomly distributed Vectorman cartridges contained in-game messages that advised the player to call a phone number and claim a prize. The top prize was $25,000 and some other perks, which you can read about on Wikipedia. The contest was a clever way to entice people to play the game at a time when 16-bit systems were on the way out.

[ From Wizard, December 1995, p.10-11 ]

Discussion Topic: In your opinion, which Sega Genesis game had the best graphics?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super High Impact

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Super High Impact Football Game Sega Genesis Arcade Ad Advertisement Scan - 1992The NFL really needs to do something about these bone-crunching incidents

People seem to be talking about football a lot these days, and I’m not quite sure why. To appease the raving hordes, I thought I’d throw out a Football retro scan. In this case, it’s for Super High Impact on the Sega Genesis.

I’ve never been a fan of Football video games in general — my favorite is probably still Tecmo Bowl for the NES. Nostalgia for that game’s intro music alone is enough to get me to play it a couple times a year.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, November 1992, p.15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your all-time favorite American football video game from the pre-32-bit era?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Genesis Does Contractions

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Sega Genesis advertisement Genesis Does What Nintendon't advertisement - 1991Before the Sega Scream, there was the Sega Insult

This is a rather famous early ad for the Sega Genesis that I have never featured until now. It played upon the dramatic graphical differences between the Genesis and the NES, claiming “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Sega is comparing its console to the 8-bit NES here, and not the Super NES — Nintendo’s 16-bit machine had not yet been released in the US, allowing Sega to get a jump on the next generation in the American market.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, January 1991, p.50-51]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What year did you first get a Sega Genesis? What were your first games for it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Interactive Comics

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995WHAM! POW! ZAP!

I’ve been intrigued by this Sega Electronic Comics System prototype since I first saw it in Popular Science’s What’s New section back in April 1995. Here is an excerpt from that very magazine.

As far as I know, this device never made it into production — in fact, the only mention I can find of it on the Internet as of this writing is this post on the Collectors Society forums.

Apparently, the Sega Electronic Comics device worked in conjunction with a tailor-made paper comic book that one would place onto the device. A series of pressure-sensitive buttons beneath the comic book could be pressed to somehow direct the narrative of the book. (Perhaps like Choose Your Own Adventure — i.e. if you do this, turn to page 3.)

This reminds me of the comic book device Tom Hanks’ character outlines in the film Big (1988), albeit without any type of electronic screen. The crazy thing is that 15 years after this Sega Prototype, you could buy an iPad that could store and display thousands of entirely digital comics in a much thinner form factor.

[ From Popular Science, April 1995, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you use an electronic device to read comic books? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Mega Man 8

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Capcom Mega Man 8 Sega Saturn advertisement - GamePro February 1997You are getting sleeeeepy

Mega Man 8 remains notable in my mind for its resistance to polygonal 3D graphics at a time when the media perceived that as a requirement for sales success (in the PlayStation-dominated console era). I remember renting it and being impressed by its fluidity and gameplay, although it was too difficult and frustrating for me to play for more than ten minutes in a sitting.

But then again, all the side-scrolling Mega Man games have been that way for me. I’m still partial to Mega Man 2, 3, and X, though.

[ From GamePro – February 1997, p.115 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite entry in the main-line Mega Man (1-10) series?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Turbo Touch 360

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Triax Turbo Touch 360 controller SNES Super NES Genesis EA Sports advertisement - 1993Man, that basketball player is pissed.

The Super NES / Genesis era coincided with a second golden age of third-party video game controllers and peripherals (the first golden age being the Atari 2600 era). If you browse through the Retro Scan archives, I’m sure you’ll see quite a few.

One of the stand-out gimmicks of this era arrived courtesy of Triax Technologies: the Turbo Touch 360. Representing a series of controllers for various platforms (SNES, Genesis, and NES with IBM planned, but I’m uncertain if it launched), the Turbo Touch line relied on a touch-sensitive pad in lieu of a traditional D-pad.

Using the touch pad, you didn’t have to physically push down on the D-pad to register movements; instead, you lightly slid your finger over the cross-shaped touch pad, sort of like a laptop touch pad. Ideally, this should result in quicker movements, but it could also result in more errors.

There was another supposed benefit to the touch pad technology as well. This 1993 Chicago Tribune article positions the Turbo Touch as a cure for game-induced thumb blisters (at the suggestion of Triax’s marketing staff, as the article suggests).

I’ve heard a lot about people getting thumb blisters over the years while playing video games, but I’ve never actually seen it happen. That’s because I’ve only heard about it through game peripheral advertisements. Such blisters are plausible, of course, but you’d have to push down on the D-pad very hard and rub it around over a long period of time. Maybe my thumb skin is just tough or something, but it’s never been a problem for me.

(Full disclosure: I did get a blister in the middle palm of my hand by rapidly rotating a Suncom Slik Stick over and over for about an hour while playing Decathlon for the Atari 2600 in the early 1990s)

I’m not saying that no one ever got a thumb blister from playing a video game, of course (do a Google search) — just that it wasn’t the epidemic that companies like Triax have led us to believe.

Call me skeptical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the the video game thumb blister meme originated as a marketing angle in an era that aimed to be loud, raw, and edgy (think “Play it Loud“, Sega scream, etc.). What could be edgier than actually getting physically injured while playing video games? That’s intense!

I actually own a Turbo Touch 360 pad for the Genesis that I never got around to trying for some reason (I bought it at a thrift store when my Genesis was packed away). Right now I have no idea where it is. Perhaps I should dig it out and put the promise of touch-fueled gameplay to the test.

[ From EGM or GamePro, circa 1993]

(I scanned this back in 2006, at a time before I wrote down the publication source and page number of every scan. I’m sure it came from a 1993 issue of EGM or GamePro. When I run across the ad again, I’ll update this post accordingly.)

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever gotten a blister from playing video games? Tell us how it happened.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Fighters MegaMix

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Sega Saturn Fighters MegaMix advertisement - 1997Even polygons get mad sometimes

[ From GamePro – August 1997, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you’re old enough to remember it in the arcade, what did you think of Virtua Fighter the first time you saw it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Saturn Manual Cover

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Sega Saturn Instruction Manual Cover - 1995The Saturn: No Connectors Required

Why am I showing you the cover of the Sega Saturn manual but not the manual itself? Because I can — ha ha ha!

Such power.

That, and I like the photo.

[ From Sega Saturn Instruction Manual, 1995, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s the best Saturn-exclusive title?