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Terrorist Takedown: More like Stereotype Shooter.

(content warning: Depictions of violence and war within.)

In 2021, it was announced that the previously canceled game Six Days in Fallujah was being brought back. With some of the original development team handling development, it naturally got a lot of backlash now just as it did back in 2009: by glorifying a specific military conflict as a good thing, and feeding into middle eastern stereotypes of them being nothing but terrorists. So much so that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked for major publishers to drop support for the game. It will likely come out to poor reception, if it actually comes out this time.

A promotional screenshot from the original 2009 version of Six Days in Fallujah. Sure looks generic until you find out the game’s backstory.

Seeing this made me think a lot about the glut of military games made in a post-9/11 world. While war games existed before that tragedy – Novalogic’s Delta Force franchise was modestly popular around the late 1990s – they ballooned to being rather ubiquitous once the War on Terror started. We got games like SOCOM, Conflict, lots of Tom Clancy stuff, even Battlefield dipped its toes into modern warfare. There were so many that actual US military organizations started getting involved, with games like as America’s Army and PRISM: Guard Shield. Nowadays, the only franchise from that period still around making similar war games is Call of Duty, but that might be considered a stretch by some.

Why all this preamble? It’s so I can talk about one of those games made by a budget label that cashed in on the War on Terror, and is a bad game, not just on a technical level, but a moral one as well. One game I’ve had for several years, going back to 2013, and this has lately been a year of looking back, so let’s travel to 2003 and look at one of the more bad games.

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Yeah, this cover looks incredibly generic alright.

Terrorist Takedown is the first installment in a franchise made to capitalize on the war on terror. Developed by Polish developer City Interactive, this would be one of their early breakout hits. Nowadays they’re known as simply CI Games, but their overall message has been consistent: Make games based on war conflicts old and new, and sell them in bargain bins everywhere. For Terrorist Takedown however, City Interactive didn’t have much of a presence outside of Europe, so another budget publisher, Merscom, handled the release here in the United States. Merscom even touted that some of the profits of the game would be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which I think is a conflict considering this game’s premise.

Probably the blandest menu screen I’ve ever seen.

There is no story to Terrorist Takedown. You play a bunch of no-name, faceless soldiers as you’re sent from one conflict zone to the next, taking down terrorists left and right by any means necessary. The “Terrorists” in this case are generic middle-eastern soldiers presumably meant to stand in for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but it’s kinda hard to tell in this game.

Charlie Don’t Surf this ain’t.

The missions themselves are rather varied: The first mission has you in a helicopter gunship mowing down anti-air emplacements and random soldiers. The second mission has you protect a convoy from enemy soldiers and RPGs. Each mission is similar in structure: Survive a conflict of terrorists while protecting objectives and not dying. At least it spices things up a bit, from using machine gun turrets to flying a helicopter, to controlling a targeting reticle on a surface-to-air-missile.

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Candy Crush: From mobile game phenomenon to short-lived game show.

As someone who loves the world of game shows, I’m honestly amazed that there haven’t been many game shows based on video games. We have game shows based on board games – Monopoly, Scrabble, Scattergories, stuff like that. We had game shows that used a bunch of video games as its base like Starcade and Nick Arcade (ugh). But rarely one adapted from a single video game.

There’s only been one other attempt to make a video game into a game show, and that was the rather short-lived adaptation of You Don’t Know Jack way back in 2000. Cut to 2017, where a major television network greenlit a game show based on a video game property that, while still big, was well past its prime. And it floundered for nine weeks in primetime.

No “saga”s to be found here.

For a brief period in the summer of 2017, CBS aired a game show based on the hit mobile game franchise Candy Crush Saga. Called simply Candy Crush, it definitely fulfilled my curiosity of “what would a game show based on a popular mobile game be like?” But does it actually work as a game show? Judging by how short-lived it was, the answer is “probably not.” Despite that, I’m still curious about it. I’d seen an episode before when it was still new, but I needed to refresh my memory on whether or not it was any good, or if it deserved to be sent to the trash.

Since this game show is based on a hit mobile game, naturally I had to play a bit of the game show’s inspiration first.

A sample Candy Crush Saga game in action.

Candy Crush Saga, the first in a long-running franchise by King Games, has a fairly simple premise: Using a board of various pieces of candy, one must try to match three of the same kind of piece by swapping two pieces connected to each other. Every level has a goal: hit a score threshold, eliminate a specific number of pieces, etc. Failure to do the challenge gives you the option of either spending gold bars – the game’s premium currency – to get extra turns, or losing a life and starting the level over. Each level introduces new hurdles to the gameplay, and there’s really no end goal, the levels keep going until you get bored or bother to complete them all, of which there’s over 1,000 levels worth.

I’m familiar with match-3 puzzle games – Bejeweled was played many a time in my high school years – but the sickly sweet style of Candy Crush Saga was a bit off-putting to me. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time the game often played itself, where I’d make one move and suddenly set off massive chain reactions for big points. But I understand the game’s addictive appeal, including how friends talked about the progress they made back in the day.

Hearing some guy go “Tasty” when I do big combos is rather offputting, combined with the ’70s looking font being used everywhere.

Fun fact: Until this article, I had never actually played any of the games in the Candy Crush series. Mobile and Facebook games are not something I dabble in too much these days – save for the occasional blog post like the most recent post about Bingo Story’s cross-promotion with The Price Is Right – but I figured it would be wise for me to finally get in on the game just for a better frame of reference on what the show was about. It was alright, but I stopped at around level 147 due to the game constantly losing connection and making it difficult to make progress. I wonder how far my friends ever got.

But enough about Candy Crush the video game. How the ever loving heck do you make a game show out of it? Let’s find out.

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I mean, you’re certainly not getting someone like Todd Newton to host your big money game show.

This show was hosted by actor/TV personality Mario Lopez. Getting a somewhat-notable TV personality to host your game show is the expected for game shows in the modern age, and does surprisingly well despite not having a lot to do. Naturally, there’s a bit of post-production voiceover in spots, but otherwise he seems nice, friendly, and genuinely wanting to be there. He gets a B+ in my book.

Shockingly, this is not Mario’s first foray into game shows, as he hosted the second season of the oft-forgotten, yet fascinating Masters of the Maze in the mid-1990s. Now that’s an interesting kids game show that nobody really remembers.

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Bingo Story presents The Price Is Right: Stuck in Contestants’ Row.

I’ve been struggling to find motivation to play new games lately. I’ve gotten a bunch of games thanks to them being on deep discount, but then I don’t play them and just default to playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War instead. However, I did finish Battleborn before its shutdown for a recent blog post, and I did finish Wolfenstein: Youngblood with friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 less than a few weeks ago. But trying something new is a bit harder for me lately, more so than normal. This is due to motivation and several outside factors.

Yet during this time, I somehow got roped into playing a free-to-play mobile game for the first time in probably years. Only because it had a game show themed event to it. And anything that combines game shows with video games just piques my interest instantly, so I couldn’t resist trying it.

Well, I will say that developer Clipwire Games clearly didn’t half-ass this art wise.

Starting in February, the free-to-play mobile game Bingo Story got probably one of the most unexpected crossovers yet: A two month long event featuring the popular game show The Price Is Right – one of my favorites, whether we’re talking about the current version, or classic 1980s episodes thanks to The Price Is Right: The Barker Era on Pluto TV – with one of the more unusual crossovers I’ve seen yet. And I played Cookie Jam, a Candy Crush clone that had cross-promotion with Wheel of Fortune late last year for a blog post that didn’t go anywhere.

I don’t think I really need to explain bingo, but it is a fairly simple game: Balls numbered 1-75 will be called one at a time and your job will be to mark the balls called on your card and eventually get a bingo – often times just five across in any direction horizontally, vertically or diagonally; getting the corners of a card, or covering the entire board – a blackout. First to do so wins and gets a prize. At least this is how it is in the United States, it may vary in other countries.

It’s mostly associated as something usually elderly people play, but it is a game that’s somewhat entertaining for all ages if you wanted to play something simple for a little bit. It was definitely something my mother’s family were into, as I was roped into bingo halls many a time while vacationing in Seattle.

While I can’t say I’m a bingo fan, I am fascinated by things related to bingo, including game shows like Lingo, and video games that use bingo elements such as Slingo. So wanting to capitalize on the bizarre nature of this event, naturally I had to try this.

Yeah, this feels like a modern mobile game alright.

I was wondering how the heck Bingo Story was going to incorporate one of the longest-running daytime game shows into a bingo mold, and the answer seems to be “put in the most basic of effort while also doing some relative deep cuts.” Let’s Come On Down and see what’s the next item up for bids, shall we?

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A normal session of Bingo Story in action. Hope this isn’t too convoluted.

Bingo Story plays differently compared to conventional bingo: You’re playing by yourself, and you’re given 30 balls to daub on your marker to make as many bingos as you can. After marking a few numbers on the card, you can activate a powerup that vary from auto-daubing random numbers on your card, to doubling your overall score, to other event-related items. Once all 30 balls have been called, you have the opportunity to stop and take your final score, or spend bingo tokens to call 5 more balls, repeating until you run out of tokens or blackout both cards.

Once done, your score is added to a leaderboard where you can get rewards at the end of the event – usually lasting no more than a few days – where you’ll get rewards like more powerups, various amounts of currency, stuff like that. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ironically, despite being called Bingo Story, there is no story mode to this game whatsoever, the “Story” refers to the game’s motif of using storybook characters to prop up the game’s style. Admittedly I was disappointed finding this out at first, but I learned to get used to the fairy tale motif the game normally has.

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Covering the end of Battleborn: A MOBA with an identity crisis.

I never thought I’d be starting 2021 with an article about a game that’s shutting down. While I’m often behind the curve and don’t play games until years after the fact – some of last year’s posts being about games that are 5-10 years old – this particular game is one of the rare times I was at least fairly current with.

When I’m reminded that a game that I paid money for is shutting down, I might as well give it one last hurrah. It’s a shame the game in question is a bizarre genre mashup, made by one of the more infamous game studios of the 2010s.

If only the game looked nearly as cool as this introductory cutscene.

We’re talking about Battleborn, a game by developer Gearbox Software. At the time, Gearbox was mostly known as the makers of the fairly popular Borderlands series of first-person Diablo-like looter shooters. Battleborn would end up being their first original franchise made by them in the 2010s.

This bundle was released around July of 2016, not long after the game’s release. Being part of the $15 tier, the highest one, was already a warning sign.

My experience with this game was getting this in a Humble Bundle. To be specific, the “Humble 2K Bundle 2,” a collection of games published by 2K, such as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, NBA 2K16, Mafia II and Duke Nukem Forever. Battleborn was unlocked at the $15 or more tier — the highest tier, and a few friends of mine decided to chip in that $15 and give the game a try.

We eventually tried a bit of the game’s campaign mode, then we all dropped the game and moved on to other things. For me, I had forgotten about the game’s existence, even as recent as 2019 when I wrote about a Loot Crate featuring the infamous “Thanos Oven Mitt,” which featured a Battleborn pin as part of that month’s theme. The game just faded away into obscurity.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be writing about the game had the news not broke in 2020 that 2K was shutting the game down on January 31, 2021. In early 2020, they had already shut off purchases for premium currency in the game, and the announcement of the game servers shutting down seemed to feign as much interest as the game did when it was released.

So let’s take a look at the game touted as being “badass,” when in reality it was just bad and ass.

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A lot of action going on at once. Hope you can follow along.

Battleborn is a rather unusual game. It’s a first-person MOBA — think League of Legends or DOTA2 — with some elements of real time strategy and tower defense. 

The gameplay mostly involves killing enemy minion bots and protecting your own minion bots to destroy an enemy sentry drone. Throughout your journey, you’ll kill said enemy minion bots that’ll drop shards which you can use to build turrets or drones, or to upgrade gear to give you and your squad buffs. Defeating enough minions or other players will give you the chance to level up your character with passive buffs for your character’s abilities. Kill enemies without yourself getting killed. Fairly commonplace stuff for the MOBA genre.

These cutscenes really feel like concept art repurposed for the final game.

There is a story mode, split between eight episodes that last about 40-60 minutes apiece, which consist of a bunch of rag-tag soldiers trying to stop an evil villain from destroying a planet for materials. Or something like that, the plot is mostly doled out through an introductory cutscene before the episode starts, and a lot of the plot is told throughout the game, but I couldn’t really tell you what happens in it. All I know that there are multiple enemy types and a few warring factions, which probably remind me a lot of different factions from other games like Destiny 2 or Halo.

The MOBA elements still come in play in the story mode, as you can select a character, upgrade their abilities upon leveling up, and even purchasing a set of gear items with shards that can buff certain character and team abilities. Even the story missions are designed similar to the standard multiplayer, where players are basically defending minions or a boss to get to an objective while killing enemies throughout. 

Players share lives and accumulate points through random crates strewn around the game world, and the points seem to really only matter in giving experience for your character and your overall rank in the mission. Exclusive to the story missions are power-ups you can pick up that can lower your ability cooldowns, boost your overall speed and give you extra shields.

A bit of the “Meltdown” mode in action. Naturally played with bots since finding matches these days is impossible.

Since it’s a MOBA, the game has a versus mode that plays more like traditional MOBAs: Squads of five shepherding minions through enemy areas to destroy sentries, while trying to protect their own. There’s not a whole lot else to say about this, it’s no different than other games in the genre, but it has more of a shooter/slasher bend like Smite.

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Cybermania ’94: An extremely ’90s video game awards show.

It’s that time of the year again. The Game Awards, an awards show that’s ostensibly about giving awards to the biggest games of the year, has come and gone. A continuation of the Spike Video Game Awards from years past, The Game Awards is peppered with occasional celebrity guest talent and reveals for hot new games. It’s more of a spectacle than an actual awards show.

I really don’t enjoy watching these shows. Especially during the Spike era, which was peak “dudebro TV” where one year they literally had models body painted to look like the games being awarded. I wrote about some of the more “notable” moments of the awards show back in 2012 – updated in 2019 – that you can read about here if you wanna see how I felt about them, and how I feel about The Game Awards now.

So instead, I’m gonna head back into the past. To look into the days when video games were just considered a technical marvel and not quite a billion-dollar industry done to shill sneak previews like it’s a mini-E3. An awards show that was only attempted once, yet is quite the embodiment of the 1990s: Cybermania ‘94.

Yep, this is totally ’90s as hell alright. I mean, when you get pop artist Peter Max to do it, what do you expect?

Airing on TBS in late 1994 (natch) and filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood, this award show was the prototype to the future Spike VGAs and Game Awards. In 1994, video games were starting to gain more traction in the United States, especially in the era of 3D graphics and full motion video. The show was made during the peak of the multimedia trend of the mid 1990s, and it shows throughout the whole event.

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It’s like they went “who are the two most affordable and oddball actors we can afford here?”

Our hosts for this event are actors Leslie Nielsen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. A rather bizarre combo to be sure, which was probably bolstered primarily by the difference of age between the two actors. Both of them were still fairly popular – Nielsen had recently starred in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and JTT was on one of the biggest sitcoms of the ‘90s, Home Improvement – but the two couldn’t be a worse fit. Nielsen’s age means he’s clumsily talking about future technology as if he’s impersonating Phil Donahue like in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, and Taylor Thomas has the problem of just being awkward and inexperienced next to Nielsen. Granted, it’s probably better than the later game awards where we got David Spade or Joel McHale, but not by much.

Can this style make a comeback, please?

We start Cybermania ‘94 with The Gate to the Mind’s Eye, the third in a series of computer-generated videos that were fairly popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Afterwards, the show starts in earnest with Nielsen and Taylor Thomas standing in front of a computer as a Hillary Clinton impersonator tries to turn it on, Nielsen realizing it’s not plugged in, plugging in the power and having the computer explode in front of the “first lady of the United States,” giving her a cartoonish explosive face before walking offstage. This introductory segment is a strong indicator of what the show is going to offer.

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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.

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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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