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Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 3: The Sludge of Hi-Tech Expressions.

Several years ago, I had came up with one of the silliest music-related posts yet: Comparing iconic game show themes to NES versions of the same. Since there were a lot of game show games on the NES, I figured it would be an interesting little thing to write about. In addition, it was an exercise to see how composers took the Ricoh 2A03 sound chip on the NES and make good tunes out of them, while also seeing how accurate their arrangement of the show’s theme was.

Volume 1, published back in 2013, covered most of the first wave of GameTek game show games, which were all developed by Rare. David Wise, who at the time was Rare’s sole composer, did a fine job in most cases, even if it felt like he deviated from the source material in some cases, like with Double Dare.

Volume 2 was published several years later in 2019, and covered the post-Rare era of GameTek game show games from 1990-92, where various companies such as Softie, Incredible Technologies and Imagitec were now developing the games. In that post, we had we had fairly notable composers like Barry Leitch and Rob Wallace, to lesser-knowns like Leif Marwede and Mike Pierone give their own unique spins of the likes of stuff like American Gladiators, or in the case of stuff like Classic Concentration, completely original work.

But GameTek wasn’t the only publisher of game show games for the NES. There was another. One publisher that was known rather infamously for their average to poor quality games. As someone I know from the game show community once said, “If the game features this logo, stay far away.”

The bane of many a licensed game from the 80s to the mid 90s…

Hi-Tech Expressions is a fascinating publisher. They never created any original works, they were strictly a company who licensed existing properties and had contract developers make those games for them. The modern equivalent these days would be someone like GameMill Entertainment: Their bread and butter strictly making games based on existing licenses from TV shows or movies, rarely if ever making original IP of their own compared to similar publishers who’d go on to do bigger things, like THQ.

Most of Hi-Tech Expressions’ games were mediocre-to-bad, and their NES output was no exception. They graced us with three NES game show games, all in varying levels of quality. But we’re not really here to gauge if the games are any good, we’re here to see how accurate the composer’s tunes were to the theme song the show was based on. Let’s get to it.

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Fun House (1990)

If only the game was as cool and flashy as this title screen was.

The NES version (composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger):

COMPARED TO:

The Fun House theme from 1988-1990 (Composed by an unknown composer at Score Productions):

Fun House on the NES is a rather… bizarre beast. Rather than taking the Double Dare approach of trying to translate the action-filled gameplay of the kids game show to the NES, they opted to make a completely different game entirely. In Fun House for the NES, your character rollerskates around arenas while grabbing tokens and avoiding obstacles under a stringent time limit. It takes some of the elements of the TV show and slaps it into something that is only tangentially related to the source material. It’s the most oddball out of all the game show games I’ve ever played, that’s for certain.

This game wreaked havoc on my thumb for the brief amount of time I played it.

Lennard Feddersen of Ironwind Software came up with the original concept, and this game really feels like a reskin of an existing idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hi-Tech just took his proof of concept, slapped in 8-bit J.D. Roth and called it a day. (Feddersen would later make a spiritual successor to this game on the Game Boy a few years later called Out of Gas.)

It’s a funny coincidence that I get to cover another game composed by George Sanger, aka “The Fat Man.” I liked his music in the recent entry I made about Lexi-Cross, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. It’s clear Sanger wasn’t given the theme to adapt to the NES sound chip, so he opts for original tunes instead. It doesn’t resemble the rockin’ theme song from the show, but it’s a good tune in its own right.

8-bit J.D. Roth is… weirdly smiling at you.

The rest of the soundtrack has a fair share of catchy tunes, but they do sound a bit loud and shrill in spots. Most of the time, the music is overshadowed by the obnoxious sound effects. For a game released in 1990, it’s rather disappointing. The music’s probably the only good thing about it. Then again, I can’t think of a game where The Fat Man’s music was actually really bad.

Surprisingly, Fun House’s composer credit is currently unknown, as of 2020. A majority of the other Score Productions themes over the years now have proper credits, of which I’ve been using for the past “Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts” entries. I have an inkling that the composer might be Michel Camilo, Paul Epstein or even Edd Kalehoff, but until someone has proof, this will go uncredited for the time being.


MTV’s Remote Control (1990)

Couldn’t choose a better color for your brick wall, there? The “TV” in the MTV logo’s cut off.

The NES version (composed by Nick Scarim):

COMPARED TO:

The intro to Remote Control from 1987-1990 (composed by Steve Treccase):

Thankfully, Fun House’s concept of making an original game that has only a tangential relation to the game show was merely a fluke, as Remote Control is a more straightforward adaptation of the show. It’s a rather ugly game and it’s missing some of the show’s more quirkier elements, including the game’s bonus round. I ragged on this game way back in 2014 when writing about TRL Trivia, but in reality, this version of Remote Control’s alright. It’s nothing to write home about, you could honestly do much worse.

At least they got the question style down pat.

Riedel Software Productions, or RSP for short, developed this game. RSP would basically be one of the go-to developers for Hi-Tech’s licensed games, making games well into the SNES era with wonderful works based on properties like Tom & Jerry and Beethoven’s 2nd. At one point, they were working on a Steven Seagal brawler called The Final Option that looks… pretty bad. We should be grateful that one never got released.

RSP would stick around until Hi-Tech Expressions shut down in the mid-90s, having only one known (according to Mobygames) game under their belt after that, an activity center game based on the TV series Wishbone.

Riedel, alongside Vince Desiderio, would later form a little-known studio known as Running With Scissors. Yep, a few of the people who made this game would later go to make the rather infamous Postal franchise. I mean, after basically slumming in games development for years doing nothing but licensed schlock, I can’t blame them for the career pivot.

Don’t patronize me, not-Ken Ober.

Nick Scarim, who goes uncredited in this game, takes Steve Treccase’s fairly catchy theme song and makes it a pretty alright rendition on the NES. Though, be forewarned: It’s the only tune in the game. It goes on for a good few minutes, but it’s entirely possible it’ll get on your nerves after a while. Worst off, it might actually get stuck in your head, like it did for me.

There aren’t any other incidental tunes in the game outside of some rather obnoxious sound effects and chirps. The game doesn’t even have the silly keyboard flourishes Treccase did on the actual show, which would’ve made it sound a lot less monotonous. It’s there, basically. Much like this whole game.

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Lexi-Cross: A futuristic game show game from the past.

Game show video games are a fascinating genre to me. Often criticized rather poorly by gamers who quite don’t get it, these sort of games are a fun little piece of entertainment for me. Some of the ones I like are straightforward adaptations of Jeopardy!, Concentration and High Rollers. They may have their own quirks, but they’re enjoyable well enough.

I even like the ones that aren’t based on standard TV game shows. I’ve written about ones using licensed properties like Outburst or MTV’s TRL, for example. But the ones I’m most interested by are the ones that aren’t based on any particular property or license, yet are clearly taking a few ideas from contemporary game shows. This one’s no exception.

Sadly, the host is not a female murder-cyborg who looks like a reject from Rise of the Robots. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Lexi-Cross is one of the rare video games that’s influenced by game shows, but is not based on a game show or an existing non-game show property. Published by Interplay and developed by Platinumware – mostly consisting of ex-Cinemaware employees – this game came out around 1990 and had been mostly forgotten. Unless you’re like me and you roamed Home of the Underdogs.

Yep, much like Blood II: The Chosen, Strife and several other games I’ve written about on this site at this point, that abandonware website rears its head once again. Home of the Underdogs made me aware of this game back in the late ‘90s. Considered a “Top Dog” on the website, given to games that were highly recommended by the site’s curators, combined with its game show sheen, made me incredibly interested in it.

Before finding it on Home of the Underdogs all those years ago, I had played a demo of the game on a Windows 95 machine. Since Windows 95 machines were just a pinch more powerful than 1990-era DOS machines, in rare cases the game would act rather strange, where the game’s “cursor” would act up and get stuck in a loop before crashing. Even when writing about this game for this article, I still worried of that particular bug occurring again, yet it never did in my several playthroughs of this game through DOSBox.

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She’s so… angular. and robotic.

The world of Lexi-Cross takes place in the distant future of 2091, and there isn’t much of a plot to go on. You meet up with a contestant coordinator as you put in your credentials – your name, date of birth, preferred board colors and your home planet. While I decided to be a smelly human being on Earth for these screenshots, there’s nothing stopping you being an alien from any of the other eight planets in the solar system. Afterwards, you’re whisked out of this room, switching to a camera of the game itself.

It’s just like cyberpunk! Except it looks particularly more dated here somehow.

Our host is Chip Ramsey, and for the most part he just interjects once in a while and gives a brief rundown of the game and not much else. I can’t blame you if you forget that he’s there while you’re playing the game. To me, he looks like a cross between a Terminator and one-time Wheel of Fortune host Bob Goen. Considering how Wheel of Fortune was pretty big by 1990, this makes perfect sense. I’ve seen some people compare Chip to Chuck Woolery, but I’m not seeing it. I even made this joke image to prove my theory:

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who sees the resemblance.

There’s even a small robot model named “Robanna,” who doubles as your cursor in-game. This, combined with the host, shows that Platinumware was clearly influenced by the famous game show involving wheels and letters.

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Weekend Writing: About Sega’s 60th, Free Games and Game Preservation.

Rarely do I ever write about things as they’re happening. Often times I’m behind the curve and write about things after the fact. But this particular post felt so time-sensitive that I needed to push back another post that was gonna be hitting this week to write about this. I’m gonna talk about freebie games and the importance of game preservation.

Sega is doing a special event to celebrate their 60th anniversary as a company. Called “GO SEGA,” it’s a Steam sale that discounts many of the publisher’s games. From their PC breakouts like the Total War, Company of Heroes and Football Manager franchises, to established classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Yakuza. Hell, you can even get NiGHTS into Dreams… for free. (I heard this version is not as good as the Saturn original, but Good Enough for most people.)

This may look like a dinky mobile game, but I appreciate anyone remaking Combat even in 2020.

In addition to this sale, they’re releasing some free games. A top-down tank battle game based on Company of Heroes called Armor of Heroes. A mashup of Fantasy Zone and Endless Space called Endless Zone. A mashup of Streets of Rage 2 and Yakuza called Streets of Kamurocho. And finally, a polished prototype for a Golden Axe reboot called Golden Axed that ended up getting a bit of notoriety since some of the developers on that project, Tim Dawson and Sanatana Mishra, were surprised their unfinished hard work was being given away for free. (You can read both Dawson’s and Mishra’s Twitter threads about their involvement in the game. It highlights how even on unfinished work like this, that crunch culture is prevalent.)

Fun fact: I’ve never played Fantasy Zone. If this crossover is any indication, I’d have a real hard time enjoying it.

Those all sound neat, right? Free games inspired by Sega’s established franchises are always a neat little thing. Well, here’s the catch: They’re all only available for a few days, with them releasing a new game each day. (As of this writing, Streets of Kamurocho has just been released.) After October 19th, they’re gone for good, making them unable to be downloaded once the sale’s over.

So you’re probably asking: why are you so concerned? It’s free stuff for a promotional sale, it’s stuff that isn’t gonna blow people’s minds or anything. “You should be grateful they’re even giving out free stuff!” you might say. That’s a terrible line of thinking, and let me explain why.

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Carmen Sandiego Out of This World: A bizarre album based on the game show.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is one of those rather ubiquitous edutainment titles of the late 80s and early 90s. A geography-driven game, the goal is to find clues around the world to stop Carmen’s henchmen from stealing some of the most notable artifacts from around the world, eventually leading to stopping Carmen herself.

A fair share of computers around the world had Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? installed, probably alongside Odell Lake or Number Munchers. But as time goes on, the video games have become only one part of what people remember about Carmen Sandiego as a franchise. If you’re in that generation of ’90s kids like me, you probably remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? not from a best-selling video game series, but through a rather popular game show.

(Rockapella intensifies)

Also called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, it was a kids game show that was about the wonders of geography. This show was co-produced by PBS stations WGBH and WQED, and aired on PBS stations all around the country. Hosted by actor Greg Lee and featuring actress Lynne Thigpen as “The Chief,” it featured kids playing gumshoes at ACME Crimenet, answering geography questions to stop the theft of an artifact of the world from one of Carmen’s henchmen, with the final round having the winning gumshoe try to find Carmen herself to win a fabulous trip.

This show holds about as much nostalgia for kids of the 80s and 90s as most of Nickelodeon’s well known game shows did. It definitely rivals some of the greats on that network, what with it’s cool style, entertaining form of education, and fun quiz elements, giving a silly but fun vibe to the whole show. It lasted about 4 years on PBS before pivoting from geography to history, with a follow-up series called Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego? lasting two more years before ending production.

Naturally for a show that’s modestly popular like Where in the World… is, there would be loads of merchandising. The common T-shirts, video game adaptations, the works. Since the show featured a capella band Rockapella singing throughout the show’s 250+ episode run, naturally a soundtrack CD was also released. But there’s more than one soundtrack made for Where in the World…, and that one’s been mostly forgotten. Let’s talk about Carmen Sandiego: Out of this World.

Look at how happy Greg Lee is.

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Admittedly, I’m writing about this primarily because of an article I read about the game show that has been making the internet rounds lately. Christian Carrion of Buzzerblog, a noted blog about game show news, did some investigative journalism about a rumored long-lost episode of the show called “Auld Lang Gone,” where a contestant was visibly injured in the bonus round, causing it to be unaired. You can read about that tale over at Buzzerblog here, and it made me think about this album as a response.

This album features 10 songs about various things, from pop-driven songs about geography, to twangy country about families, to songs about bugs and Carmen Sandiego herself. A lot of these songs have fairly simple, cutesy lyrics, which tells me this album is clearly aiming for a younger demographic. Which is not a bad thing, children’s music can be fun and exciting like its adult counterparts without being fluff Yanni-esque fare.

So, you’d think an album based on the game show where a bunch of guys sing a capella would have Rockapella show up everywhere, right? Well, technically yes. Prominent member Sean Altman produces and co-writes most of the album with longtime collaborator David Yazbek, and does a handful of backing vocals on a lot of the album.

If you want to listen along with me, I’ve put up the entire album here. Legalities aside, the album’s been out of print for over 25 years, and with the exception of two songs here, the album isn’t available on YouTube or streaming services like Spotify. If that ever changes, or a record label objects to me having this music for some kids album freely available to download, I will take the link down.

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Shellshock Nam ’67: A Vietnam War game from an unexpected developer.

There was a brief time around the 2000s where there were a bunch of shooters based on historic events. Medal of Honor in 1999 kick started the craze of World War II-themed shooters, which lasted well into the late-2000s. During this time period, there were a lot of games based on conflicts new and old, most of them shoved off into the annals of obscurity.

During this brief period, there was also an unusual spike in Vietnam War games. Despite the Vietnam War being one of those pointless wars in retrospect, there were games that covered the conflict, usually in a sanitized safe “Americans vs. the Bad People” form. Basically, less like Apocalypse Now, more like The Green Berets.

There were a fair share of these games around that time. Stuff like Battlefield Vietnam, the Vietcong games, and Men of Valor. I’m gonna cover one of those Vietnam War games, and it’s by a developer that you wouldn’t expect have made a game like that, especially considering their legacy.

This reminds me of something, but I can’t quite place what.

ShellShock: Nam ‘67 was one of the many Vietnam War-era games made during that brief period that kinda came and went. But it was one of the earliest games developed by Guerrilla Games, that Dutch studio that’s known for the Killzone series of games, and the critically acclaimed Horizon: Zero Dawn.

This was the only game released during that in-between phase in their career, after their brief Game Boy phase as Lost Boys Games, but before they were a cog in the PlayStation machine. In a sense, we’re going back to their humble beginnings with this one. I always like looking back at developers before they were well-known, and this one’s no exception.

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(Warning: Some plot spoilers follow.)

This would probably have more impact if this intro wasn’t narrated by Steve Blum.

You play as a nameless soldier as they rise up the ranks from rookie to special forces, as you find “King Cong,” a general by the name of Ngo Diem who leads the Vietcong. There really isn’t much else to the plot, you’re dropped in parts of Vietnam, you kill Vietcong, you destroy a few sampans and tunnels, rinse and repeat. In this case, the set pieces are what makes the game interesting, rather than the characters.

How the heck is this gunner hitting me? I’m behind a rock, for chrissakes.

Shellshock is a third-person shooter, which is unexpected considering Guerrilla’s pedigree for mostly making first-person shooters. Left click shoots, right click zooms in, Q to crouch, and there’s even leaning and diving to prone. You can hold a bunch of weapons, and you have a health bar that can be refilled by medkits. Shellshock does have a few tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out from its peers.

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Some Weekend Writing about Far Cry 4.

I rarely abandon games. Mainly because of the infamous “sunk cost fallacy”: I spent money on this, thus I must play it in its entirety to get all of my money’s worth. Even for a person like me who doesn’t buy a lot of games these days, there’s that fear of wanting to not let even a game I bought on deep discount go to waste. With that thought process in mind, I would drag myself through a game that I wasn’t thoroughly invested in, just to see the ending and sit through a 30 minute long credits sequence.

This post talks about my most recent case of suffering from that sunk cost fallacy. Amusingly, it’s a sequel to a game that I’ve written about on this very blog in 2014, the year that game’s sequel came out.

One of the rare occurrences the fourth installment isn’t as good as the third.

Far Cry 4 is a game that basically pulled a bait-and-switch on me and a friend, and in many cases did things backwards compared to the previous game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. How can a sequel bungle so many things that the previous game got right? Well, let me explain why this game is a disappointment to me.

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There are a handful of games I own that fall into this category of “here to play it in co-op with friends” than to be invested in the story or the characters. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the game’s world, but I tend to use it more as a social experience to talk with friends rather than anything to be deeply invested in.

For me, Destiny 2 is a good example: While there’s a unique, interesting world with a rather neat amount of lore to it, I honestly couldn’t care less about any of it. Thus I just roam around areas and kill enemies with friends. Most “looter shooters” fall into this format with me, but at least Bungie makes up for it with cool designs and some rather picturesque visuals.

Friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 suggested that I get Far Cry 4 way back in mid-2018 as it would fit that criteria of “playing it in co-op with friends.” It being on deep discount for $13 probably helped too. The two of us have played games like the Saints Row series entirely in co-op and we had a fun time playing through them. Far Cry has a similar free-roaming nature of causing chaos in a digital world, so I took the plunge. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the few highlights during our co-op session. Don’t ask me why he has a shovel handle stuck in his arm.

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Devolverland Expo: Playing around in a virtual E3.

2020 has been quite the year. A roller coaster ride that sees no signs of stopping, and there’s no way to get off the ride. COVID-19 has really sidelined a lot of projects, such as E3, the famous video games expo usually to show off the hot new games. The ESA actually canceled this year’s E3, after going for a good 24 years straight before that. As a result, many publishers have been live streaming their events from the safety of their homes. That includes the rather infamous Devolver Digital.

Devolver Digital’s been around the video game landscape since 2009, taking up the mantle of B-tier publisher releasing out there, off-the-beaten path games like Hotline Miami, mostly to critical acclaim. They’re also the absolute masters of the advergame, releasing a free game to promote a movie or a holiday event.

Since E3 was canceled, Devolver Digital opted to follow its peers by doing a livestream of their conference instead, complete with the oddball sketch comedy that’s rather goofy and ridiculous. After doing the usual announcements of their upcoming games like Shadow Warrior 3, Serious Sam 4, and Fall Guys, they advertised one more game. This one was different, and was free to play right that moment.

At least Devolver Digital doesn’t have to share space with the big publishers or controller companies.

Devolverland Expo is a bit more self-indulgent than the previous efforts. Developed by Flying Wild Hog – the Shadow Warrior reboot developers – it’s a first-person game that gives you the experience of being at a convention without risking yourself getting sick.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this kind of promotional game. I’ve written about them doing this twice before: The Expendabros, a standalone expansion to Broforce that was based on the then-recent The Expendables 3, and Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike, a pixel-style difficult platformer made by the same people who made Enter the Gungeon. I’m not surprised they decided to go back to that well once again, this time with something fairly relevant, considering current events.

I mean, this looks less tacky than seeing an ad for Medal of Honor: Warfighter

The plot is simple: The Devolverland Expo was going to be this big event to show of the hot new games, but due to unexpected events, the expo was canceled. Despite that, the player decides to head to the convention hall anyway – which is a loose representation of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is usually held – and after doing some quick hacking on a power box near the entrance, access to the Devolverland Expo is granted.

COME TO THE ROBOT ZONE, HUMAN

Since Flying Wild Hog are known for their first-person prowess like Hard Reset and the Shadow Warrior reboot, the game is also a first-person game. Though, it’s more of a first-person exploration game than an FPS. After entering the expo hall proper, there’s robots roaming around that’ll capture the player if they’re in line of sight for too long. But you’re not defenseless, as there is a convenient weapon that’ll give you a bit of an upper hand.

Those red neon lights makes me think that’s a prize for a game show, rather that a promotional item at a booth.

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Stacked with Daniel Negreanu: Poker without Guns.

There was a time around the 2000s where you just could not avoid poker on television. Thanks to Chris Moneymaker making a decent bank in an online poker tournament, Texas Hold’em Poker got real big and started being the next big TV filler. Every channel had a poker show, from Bravo’s fluff-driven Celebrity Poker Showdown to NBC having a late night poker show to fill in the gaps between Last Call with Carson Daly and Early Today. Even Game Show Network had not one, but two poker shows under its belt.

Then in 2011 there was a lawsuit involving some of the major poker websites possibly being involved in money laundering, and the poker boom was over. While there’s still mild demand for Texas Hold’em, it’s pretty much gone back to the pre-2000s era of popularity.
During this poker boom, there were poker video games being made left and right. Some based on existing poker brands like the World Poker Tour. In some of these games you got celebrity endorsements, or actual professional poker players. Today, we’re gonna cover one of the more notable poker video games that’s not something like Poker Night at the Inventory.

This title screen is preceded by a fancy animation involving poker chips flying everywhere. Clearly the budget was spent on this.

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is a fairly unique poker game. It’s likely the first video game poker game featuring a notable poker player in the title, making it somewhat of an oddity in the sea of poker games around this time. Developed by 5000ft Inc, this is their final released game, and it’s amusing it had to be a licensed poker game. Considering their previous titles were stuff like Army Men: Green Rogue when 3DO were pumping out Army Men games like they were going out of style, this is likely a marked improvement.
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Kid Poker himself, in one of the tutorial videos you could watch to get tips from him about poker. Man, I’m getting Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku flashbacks…

For context, Daniel Negreanu is a famous poker player. Nickname “Kid Poker,” he’s won 6 World Series of Poker bracelets, 2 World Poker Tour titles, and a handful of other tournaments here and there. Often appeared in many of the TV poker shows, he’s probably one of the more charismatic personalities to endorse your poker game. Though, I would’ve killed for a poker game starring the infamous Phil Hellmuth.
Let’s see if this poker game stacks up to the competition, or if it should have folded its hand.

Hopefully this casino isn’t sponsored by Randy Pitchford.

Stacked starts by letting you either play random poker matches with changeable settings, or through the game’s long, challenging career mode. In Career Mode you’re given a stack of cash to start, and any tables to play to your liking, with limits/no limits in place. Some are cash games given to bolster your cash in game, but the others are standard table tournaments with buy-ins where you can win money if you reach a certain standing in the tournament.

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Revisiting Old Secrets: Year One (2012).

Throughout most of 2011, I had this idea to start up a blog about random gaming junk. Stuff that was on my mind, interesting little games and things that I had found. The previous outlets I used for this – community blogs on GameSpot, IGN, and Giant Bomb – felt like I was writing a lot of words to an audience of nobody.

On January 3, 2012, I registered a domain on WordPress.com, and “You Found a Secret” was born. The “Area” was added to the title a few months later, after I realized I was misremembering what finding a secret was called in Quake. Never bothered to change the address, though.

A portion of the original site, courtesy of the Internet Archive. I kinda miss that little intro paragraph on the right.

The next day, the first Secret Area post was published: A repost of an old article back in 2010 from another WordPress blog I’ve since abandoned; but then started proper with the article about MTV2’s infamous Video Mods show. The first month was a steady stream of random articles before settling down to the more standard 1-3 a month I’ve kept up with ever since.

When I moved off of WordPress.com and onto the asecretarea.com domain in early 2019, the process meant that a lot of posts needed some slight adjustment. At first it was just merely updating links so they weren’t directing to the old site. But as I looked back at what I wrote seven years ago, I immediately thought “I could do this better.”

Thus I started my personal “Renovation Project.” Initially going in chronological order before changing it to editing certain articles depending on my mood, the goal was to update a lot of the older Secret Area posts so they were up to a more acceptable standard. I’ve written about 150 or so posts in the eight years I’ve ran this blog, and I was intending to update about 75% of these.

One of my early posts was about a bargain bin shooter called Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. Made by the guys who also made KISS: Psycho Circus, it’s an entry that I recoiled in horror when I read it initially. There were lots of things 2012 me did that I don’t do now: Belittling game developers, lots of swearing, making terrible analogies like I was a poor man’s Angry Video Game Nerd, the works.

Seeing that post caused me to do some drastic rewriting in spots to seem less harsh and more in my current neutral tone. Another article I wrote about tactical Quake mods was made in time for the then-upcoming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, alongside mentioning the (now-defunct) Tactical Intervention. A fair share of these older posts felt like something I wrote in the moment as of 2012, and really didn’t hold up nearly as well several years later.

This is what the Renovation Project was to me: To give these articles a new life. To correct a wrong, basically. Rewriting them so they’re more general purpose and aren’t of the time I wrote them. The overall goal is to make these blog posts readable and interesting no matter when you’re reading them.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Music Kits Series 5: Of Masterminds and Missing Links.

I never thought I would ever come back to this. After a steady stream of music packs released throughout 2014-2016, I assumed Valve was done with the whole “CS:GO music kit” concept. After the Radicals Box hit in 2016, there had been nary a peep when it comes to that kind of content.

Then something changed. Throughout 2019 to 2020, Valve started slowly doling out individual kits, which was a better strategy to me as I could basically write about them when I had enough music kits to review. Then in late April of this year, they just dropped a pack of 7 new kits, which means I had to throw those plans immediately in the garbage.

It’s weird. The last major music kit release was in 2016, so to see them go from absolute silence to adding new ones every few months is a surprise. Especially with the spread of musicians we have on offer this time.

While I don’t play much Counter-Strike: Global Offensive these days – Call of Duty: Warzone has been my current vice, as my previous article could tell you – I still find some charm in the game. Global Offensive does things that seem absolutely baffling by modern shooter standards, yet works perfectly well without feeling too old school and too modern. That Valve has mostly stuck with it while adding elements of its competition like character skins makes it interesting to look at as a game, even if I’m not as invested as I once was. But we’re here to talk about the music, and talk we shall.

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To start, I’ll cover the four music kits released in the interim between the Radicals Box and the Masterminds Box. Like before, I’ll cover information about the musician in question, whether the music itself is good, and whether it fits in the context of Global Offensive’s gameplay. I’ll finish it off with a verdict. So let’s get started.

Like before, I’ll link to a YouTube video or to CS:GO Stash if you want to listen along.

The Verkkars, EZ4ENCE

DESCRIPTION: The Verkkars rise through the Finnish charts with a heart-pounding tribute to ENCE. Can it really be so EZ?

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user ThEMaSkeD), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

The first of the interim kits, this was released as a promotional kit after the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament in 2019. The Verkkars are an electronic dance band based in Finland, the same country that Major qualifiers ENCE are from.

ENCE is an eSports team that consists of noted Finnish CS:GO players, including allu, one of the replacements for Fifflaren in the classic CS:GO Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, and was a fairly reliable player during his tenure with that team. Combined with some other good players from the Finnish CS:GO scene, they came to be the underdogs of the tournament, getting as far as the finals in Katowice.

The downside was that their opponents in that final were Astralis. Or as I like to call them, The New England Patriots of Counter-Strike: A team that you can’t deny their high-tier skill and abilities while playing, but they are absolutely boring to watch them dominate everyone. (Surprising no one, Astralis beat ENCE 2-0 in the final, winning their second consecutive Valve-sponsored major.)

This was clearly made as a promotion for the team ENCE, and the title is a reference to a line that people were spamming in Twitch chat about the team when they were at their peak. The song itself is… okay. It’s bog-standard EDM. It really didn’t grab me.

Then the chorus got stuck in my head. The whole song is in Finnish (except for some sampled English dialogue from a tournament that plays during the breakdown), but the tone of the chorus just… hits the right notes to just get stuck in my head in the most obnoxious way.

I put “EZ4ENCE” in a category I’ve called “terrible god damn earworms,” where a specific portion of a song – usually the chorus – gets stuck in your head in all the worse ways and never ever leaves you. The Verkkars’ ENCE anthem is in the same league as Paul Oakenfold’s “Starry Eyed Surprise,” or Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” which is quite an impressive feat.

If you’re a fan of the team, it’s a good pack. If you’re not, Mord Fustang’s Diamonds does the same kind of EDM stuff but without the earworm chorus. Even listening to it again for this review has that damn chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

EZ4ENCE, ENCE, ENCE

Dens putted upperbelt

Putted upperbelt…

VERDICT: Only recommended if you’re a fan of the team. Otherwise I lightly recommend it, get it on the Steam marketplace.

Scarlxrd, King, Scar

DESCRIPTION: Scarlxrd blends heavy trap beats with a flow and delivery that creates his own unique subgenre. With this exciting blend his live shows capture the attention of everyone in the crowd.

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user George), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

Okay, I don’t want to be That Person, you know, the one who doesn’t “get” present-day music. But I do not understand the trap genre of music, and I certainly don’t understand Scarlxrd. (That’s pronounced “scar-lord,” if you’re wondering.) He’s a young musician that makes mostly trap music, a sort of electronic rap genre that admittedly I don’t know all that well. Scarlxrd’s style is mixing trap music with some Japanese style and unusual character replacements for flavor.

It’s a shame that it’s not good music. The song itself, also called “King, Scar,” is obnoxious, prodding noise. It’s really hard to listen to, where Scarlxrd basically yells his lyrics in a harsh, robotic tone, while sticking with the very swing-like rhythm of him screaming hey and amplified bass that makes it sound like my speakers are being blown out.

Since I don’t enjoy the song itself, which plays in the main menu, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the kit. Any track that’s just the introduction with the prominent toy box sounds are the best part because it doesn’t go full force, in-your-face about it. But then the vocals kick in and it becomes outright unbearable. This doesn’t even have the “lightly bang your head along” factor that some hip-hop has to me, it’s just too brash to really enjoy as a song, even as a music kit.

Keep in mind, there’s probably good music in this genre, hell probably even by Scarlxrd himself, but this is a bad, bad music kit. If anything, this song now rivals Hundredth’s Free in the “great if you want an obnoxious MVP anthem” category, which I didn’t know there was competition.

VERDICT: Not recommended. Straight up. This will probably be the only one in this list that I can say I actively dislike.
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