You Found a Secret Area!

Checking out the 2012 Portland Retro Gaming Expo.

Last year, after PAX Prime 2011 ended, I found out there was a local retro games convention around Portland called the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Apparently it had been running for several years, and I was unaware of its existence, so I decided to head over to the event. Despite the small venue – it was at a DoubleTree convention hall not too far from the Lloyd Center mall – I had a blast buying a few games to fulfill my ever-increasing collection.

Cut to 2012, and the Portland Retro Gaming Expo came back for its seventh year. This time, they kicked things into overdrive as they moved facilities to the much larger Oregon Convention Center just off downtown Portland. Though the ticket prices jumped due to the venue change – $20 for a day, $25 for both days – I still expected to have a lot of fun.

The Computer Space cabinet is pretty cool only because it hits that perfect style of the 1960s: round yet angular.

On Saturday, I grabbed a friend along for the ride. He hasn’t played much video games, but did remember messing around with the old Kaypro, Macintoshes and Commodore 64s that some of the vendors had, while occasionally talking about the classic Atari 2600 and NES eras. I’m honestly amazed he was willing to put up with me being an obnoxious nerd about some of the things.

Naturally like any retro games convention, the place had many different vendors selling off all sorts of things: Old computers, Nintendo Power magazines — likely will increase in value since they’re shutting down — NES and SNES game reproductions, Tiger Electronics handhelds, various toys and figures, comic books and other assorted nerdy things. There was an absolute breadth of stuff there. My wallet took a hit during the whole event, which I talk about in another blog post.

The Retrogames Roadshow in action. Pictured from left to right: John Hancock, Steve Lin, “Gamemaster” Howard Phillips, and Chris Kohler.

After me and my friend roamed around the main hall and played a few arcade classics like Galaga, Robotron 2084 and that pinball/arcade hybrid Baby Pac-Man, I walked into the small auditoriums they had for the convention’s events. Chris Kohler (of Wired at the time of this article, now at Kotaku) was doing his Retrogaming Roadshow event. It’s a fairly simple thing: people bring up interesting gaming things and basically seeing if they’re worth anything.

Later during the panel, there was a surprise guest: Howard Phillips, formerly of Nintendo during the NES glory days, now advertising himself under the “Gamemaster Howard” brand. He’s lately been posting stuff on Facebook and other social media sites, showing off most of the old stuff he had from his Nintendo days, such as a promo booklet for the Nintendo AVS — the original name for the NES — back from the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show. Honestly I was not expecting these people to make the trek to Portland, but hey, anything to talk to Chris — and have him recognize me! — and ask him how much my Japanese copy of Hot Shots Golf 2 is. (Turns out it’s worth nothing. Oh well, I only spent $5 on it.)

I still bought a couple of things on Saturday, and bumped into Howard Phillips at the show. I asked him about why we never got the original Super Mario Bros. 2, since it was one of those apocryphal stories that he was the impetus for why the original Super Mario Bros. 2 never made it to the US until years later, and why Nintendo reskinned Doki Doki Panic into the US Super Mario Bros 2. Turns out it wasn’t nearly as clear cut as that. He gave these reasons: “It was too similar to the original, and I hated the poison mushrooms and the wind sections!” It was still neat to talk and hear stories from him about those days, as those aren’t as documented nearly as well.

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Modern Warfare 3: The most disappointing Call of Duty.

This post is particularly hard for me to write. When I wrote this originally, the game was having a free weekend on Steam, as is common for a lot of PC games these days. Since I’m not the richest person around, getting a taste of these big budget AAA games are a treat. But then there’s Modern Warfare 3, and how particularly busted it is. Modern Warfare 3 is a bad Call of Duty game, and you shouldn’t play it.

This took me like a hundred hours in MS Paint to make.

I should back up a bit. I’m not one of those pretentious jackasses who bemoan that “Call of Duty is killing the video gaming industry.” I mean, it’s part of a larger problem, but I’m not one of those hipsters who slam the big budget stuff and praise stuff like McPixel. (This is not to say McPixel is bad. It looks pretty fun, actually.)

In fact, until about a few years ago, I was a Call of Duty nut. I owned practically every game in the series up to that point. I played the multiplayer a lot — perhaps not as much as the maximum level max prestige players, but enough to still have a blast playing it — and I even enjoyed the campaigns of each despite how much they’re corny action movies in disguise.

You wanna know my dedication? I did an unboxing of Modern Warfare 2‘s Hardened Edition, at launch, in one of the last times I’d go out for a midnight launch for anything.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8QW80hIZiA?rel=0&w=640&h=480]

But as I kept playing Modern Warfare 2, I came to a realization. It wasn’t as great as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was. Treyarch’s World at War felt better at times.

Modern Warfare 2 is basically Michael Bay: The Video Game, complete with homages to The Rock. They even got Bay stalwart Hans Zimmer to do the score. But the story was full of nonsensical twists, ridiculous American jingoism and cliched catchphrases of Keith David yelling at Ramirez to defend a Burger Town.

The multiplayer, which is basically the major reason I played Call of Duty was not very well balanced at launch, and prone to bizarre bugs like the “Javelin glitch” — where you could prime a Semtex grenade, cancel it by switching to the javelin, and cause a massive explosion when you died. A few times I accidentally joined hacked lobbies of 16-player Rust where the only winning outcome was the game-winning Tactical Nuke. This was not long after launch, even.

It really felt like Infinity Ward didn’t have the passion or love, throwing anything at a wall and seeing what stuck. Then the Respawn fiasco happened in 2010 where about half the team left due to creative differences between them and Activision, then it all started making sense.

2010 was around the point when I started losing interest in Call of Duty: I didn’t pick up Black Ops until earlier this year, and as of this writing, I never bothered grabbing Modern Warfare 3. After replaying MW3‘s multiplayer again through the Steam free weekend– the third the game has had since launch — I realized why.

Kill Confirmed is probably one of the best additions to the series yet.

While there are a few cool new things, such as the small skirmish Face-Off mode and Kill Confirmed, it’s the same multiplayer stuff from Modern Warfare 2, just amplified to a ridiculous degree. The maximum level is now 80, and there’s a whopping 20 prestige levels! Weapons have levels now, them trying to fix a problem that was already fixed in Black Ops. You can get prestige tokens that unlock double XP bonuses. There’s new guns, new killstreaks, they added deathstreaks, there’s perks for weapons now, the whole nine yards.

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PAX Prime 2012: Experiencing the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Event.

As I sit here in a Seattle hotel room writing this, day one of PAX Prime 2012 is over. While I met some people, got some swag to shove into my suitcase after the con, and got to enjoy a few panels like the PAX Game Show Night, there was another video game event happening around the same time. Square Enix decided to celebrate Final Fantasy‘s 25th anniversary with a small event about a block or two away away from the Washington State Trade and Convention Center, which is the central PAX Hub. Unlike PAX which required a badge, attendance was available to everyone. I met with a few friends local to the area and hightailed it to the ACT Theatre.

I should post a disclaimer here: My experience with Final Fantasy is pretty much little to nil. Platformers and first-person shooters have always been my preferred genres, and my JRPG experience is pretty limited to about a few games such as Chrono TriggerKingdom Hearts and a few Pokemon games. I did play part of Final Fantasy VI on an emulator a long time ago, but I don’t think that really counts. Despite my inexperience with the famous franchise, I was curious what this little shindig would be about.

It’s like a little fan-gathering of FF nerds meets a club atmosphere. It’s pretty nice.

It was a celebration of Final Fantasy alright, as all the mainline titles were playable on the main stage. None of the Final Fantasy spinoff games were there, just the main 13 games plus Final Fantasy XIII-2 which came out recently as of this post. No spinoff games, so no chances of seeing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles recreated with four Gamecubes and Game Boy Advances hooked together.

Now, you’re probably asking, “Wait, we didn’t officially get Final Fantasy II, III and V until they came out much later, are they being represented by their American rereleases?” Actually, no. They were the original Famicom and Super Famicom releases of these games.

Hats off to Square Enix for going the extra mile even with this.

I am not at all fluent in Japanese language, so I didn’t attempt to play them. Despite the language barrier, this was an absolute treat to see, as it feels like a combination between both American and Japanese households. Also because I hadn’t really seen a Famicom up this close until now.

At one point some of the TVs were glitching out and some of the older NES and Famicom games weren’t completely working, resulting in one of my friends to yell out “Blow the cartridge!” Even despite how that’s been debunked in the years since, it’s still suggested as a way to fix busted NES games. I seriously hope no one tried that.

While the whole ordeal was more a dedication to the classics, the more recent stuff was being featured, such as a tech demo for the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV. While I was skeptical of the trailer being real time footage — this is Square-Enix after all, once the king of full motion video — it looked pretty nice. I’m not big on MMOs these days, but I bet there will be some people interested.

One last observation: Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were feature on the Xbox 360 as opposed to the PlayStation 3, which is weird considering Square-Enix’s dedication to Sony’s platform for so long. Granted, the 360 is more popular over here in the States, so it probably made more sense. there.

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I Bought Stuff! 8/29/2012: Pre-PAX Edition.

So, the Penny Arcade Expo is coming up. That popular video game thing in Seattle that has all the cool video game and nerd-culture related things that’s right in my neck of the woods.

But instead of packing and getting ready to hop on a train tomorrow, I decided to go check some thrift stores and hope to find some interesting stuff. And I definitely found some of that. This will be a small, but interesting haul indeed.

Quite the bizarre combination on hand here.

  • Virtua Fighter (32X, $3)

  • Metal Head (32X, $3)

  • The LucasArts Archives Volume IV: The Star Wars Collection Volume II (PC, $5)

Over the years I’ve amassed a fairly small collection of 32X games, that ill-fated add-on for the Sega Genesis that was pretty much the Beginning of The End for Sega. I have a fair share of the ones people remember like Doom and Virtua Racing Deluxe, but a few other games elude me primarily because of how popular they are, like Knuckles Chaotix. In hindsight I should’ve grabbed it when they were $30 for a loose cartridge, because it’s definitely much higher these days.

Virtua Fighter really doesn’t need much explanation: A 3D fighting game in the infancy of 3D graphics in arcades. The 32X version is likely an acceptable version of that game, but probably not the most ideal version to play these days. I’m not even big on fighting games, but I consider this significant enough to own.

Metal Head is basically a first-person shooter in a mech. While not particularly new — stuff like MechWarrior existed for years before this — it’s something unexpected for the 32X, and had some surprisingly good 3D out of it. A shame it was put onto this dying system.

Both of the Goodwills I went to had a surprisingly influx of NES, SNES and Genesis games, but most of them were the common licensed schlock or sports games. I even saw the infamous Pit Fighter for the SNES, but I’d rather not waste my money on garbage I’d only own for the novelty value.

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Mods and maps: A tactical Quake bonanza!

As much as I love the mod scene for old PC games, I realized I haven’t looked much at Quake‘s mod scene compared to others. The last mods I played for Quake was stuff like Quake Done Quick with a Vengeance, which was made more as a demo of the game rather than something actually playable.

So for today, we’re gonna tackle some Quake mods that tried their best to be a bit more tactical in their approach. Both of these were released around the same time, and share a few similarities but both have their own unique quirks.

Sadly, Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen don’t appear in this.

First on our list is a mod called Navy Seals Quake. This mod features a bevvy of new weapons such as the Mark 23 SOCOM pistol, the MP5 (and its silenced variant), a Mossberg tactical shotgun, even an M16 assault rifle with grenade launcher. While those seem like fairly common things now, for when this came out in 1998, that was considered pretty impressive.

There are three unique levels made for Navy Seals Quake, though selecting New Game oddly takes you to the default Quake start level. The levels all feature you going in and killing everything while completing objectives like destroying a jet and disarming “RADEK” bombs. You can also play through regular Quake with these new weapons, giving you a different taste of the game, but only a handful of characters were replaced, leaving you with custom marine models mixed in with default Quake enemies like Ogres and Scrags.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOwPcmcOSNY&w=640&h=480]

In a unique twist, Navy Seals Quake features weapons that reload, realistic ammo management where partial-ammo reloads remove the bullets inside, the option to use flashbang grenades, even allowing you to headshot enemies and gib their heads. This was pretty advanced for its time, and it’s quite impressive.

Sometimes the only solution is to rip everything to shreds, Rambo style. It’s like they know me.

There is one interesting thing about Navy Seals Quake – it was made by a guy named Minh “Gooseman” Le. He would later go on to help make Action Quake II and a little fun multiplayer FPS you might’ve heard of called Counter-Strike. Le was one of the co-creators of Counter-Strike, who later worked with Valve up until Counter-Strike: Source. Le would later go on to make a CS successor called Tactical Intervention, which had some of the same features as Counter-Strike but with some new twists. While it wasn’t particularly outstanding, it did leave for some dumb moments.

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Yakiniku Bugyou: An import game that’s unabashedly Japanese.

Since I started this blog, I’ve been covering mostly stuff made in the US or Europe. I didn’t realize this until a few months in that there hadn’t covered Japanese games on this site. For the most part, it’s because I don’t really play a lot of games from Japan these days. They’ve made a fair share of good stuff over the years, and stuff like Nintendo is untouchable.

So let’s change that by playing a game that I had recently gotten from a promotion. Bonus: It’s a PlayStation game so it’ll be nice and nostalgic, compared to the last time I got a game from a promotion: The eurojanky StoneLoops! of Jurassica.

For context: There was this website called Raptr, a social networking site for gamers where you can track achievements and keep up with friends and stuff. I kept forgetting I was on the service until I had gotten an email from them, saying I have fulfilled a requirement for Raptr Rewards, which was their obligatory “gain points by playing games and redeem them for things” service.

They were doing one in collaboration with publisher MonkeyPaw Games, who released a bunch of import PlayStation games on digital storefronts, most notably the Tomba! series of games. I was hoping for something cool like Tomba!, or Arc the Lad, or even Alundra. Sadly, I got the short end of the stick and got something else entirely.

Oh, this looks *very* Japanese…

Yakiniku Bugyou is an import game for the PS1. Published and developed by Media Entertainment, this game is one of the selections Monkey Paw offered on selection, and while it wasn’t what I wanted, I was hoping I’d be able to make something interesting out of this.

There’s one big problem: It’s entirely in Japanese. This has very little English in it. I know a total of about three words in Japanese, so I knew I was in for a rough time.

Admittedly I have only a vague idea of what I’m doing here.

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I Bought Stuff! 7/31/2012: Video game… comic books?

I really should be getting prepared for a camping trip (as I originally wrote this). Instead I went to some thrift stores and found some interesting finds. But first, some GameStop finds.

Surprising no one, finding interesting stuff at GameStop is a crapshoot. While I did find Perfect Dark Zero for a ridiculous $2, Boom Blox was considerably less ridiculous at $13. I’m trying to burn off the excess store credit I have with GameStop so I don’t have to do much business with them anymore, especially with some of their terrible business practices.

Since I bought games on the Steam Summer sale from a few weeks back, I suddenly had games on systems I didn’t need. Such as a shrinkwrapped copy of Saints Row: The Third for Xbox 360. GameStop wanted $18 credit for it, so I opted to try my luck with my reliable Video Game Wizards, a local Portland game store I’ve talked about in the past.

Since it was unopened, they offered me $14 in cash or $21 in store credit. I opted for the store credit, which was more than GS was gonna give me. I then rebought 007: Agent Under Fire007: Everything or Nothing and 007: Nightfire all on the PlayStation 2 for a total of $8. I’m trying to replace my multiplatform released games from the GameCube with PS2 or Xbox equivalents, mainly because most of the multiplatform ports on the GC suck control-wise or for other reasons.

2020 update: As time goes on I realized that this wasn’t necessary for some games, and I ended up selling most of these back years later. I still follow this rule for some multiplatform games, but only on ones I don’t already have elsewhere.

Sometimes when I’m in downtown Portland, I poke my head inside a couple thrift stores in the area, as I’ve gotten a few interesting things from them in the past. Like one time I found a Japanese copy of Hot Shots Golf 2 for the PlayStation.

My usual thrift store haunts in downtown Portland were a bust, except in one store. This thrift store had a comic book I saw, which I decided to snatch up immediately. While I was there, I decided to thumb through their surprisingly vast comics section. I then walked out with about $2.40 of comic books. I’m no comic book nerd, the last comic I bought was Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog many years ago, but I couldn’t pass these up.

Hellgate, Timecop and Mass Effect… what a combination.

 

$2.40 for seven comics:

  • Mass Effect: Redemption issue 1

  • Mass Effect: Invasion issue 3

  • Mass Effect: Evolution issue 4

  • Hellgate: London issue 0

  • Star Wars: The Old Republic – The Lost Suns issue 5

  • Timecop issues 1 and 2

It was the Mass Effect: Invasion issue that caught my eye and made me thumb through their comics. With the exception of Timecop — that’s based off the cornball Jean-Claude Van Damme film of the same name — they were all video game tie-ins.

The Hellgate: London one was especially interesting, considering that game was an absolute bust at this point, only living on through a Korean acquisition.

It also seems these were done as special editions, as my 5 minutes of Google searching revealed that every comic series here was a 4-5 issue special edition rather than a regular series. Two of the comics were a mere quarter, while the rest were 50 cents each. Coupled with the thrift store doing an end-of-month drawing where they cut a random percentage off the sale — mine was 20% — meant that I spent $2.40 for all seven.

Coincidentally all the comics I bought are published by Dark Horse Comics. Hell, about a good 95% of the comics on sale there were Dark Horse-published. This is an amusing coincidence, as Dark Horse Comics’ main office is in nearby Milwaukie, Oregon. I’ve gone past there a few times, and I didn’t know they were the king of licensed comics. Well, with the exception of Timecop, they can’t all be winners.

I should eventually see how cheap it would be to complete the set, or at least find these online to read. While I may not be big on Mass Effect or Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’m down for reading some interesting video game stories. Sure beats reading the Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog stuff again.

Trying some Angry Birds Fruit Gummies: Space edition.

Hi. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Forgive me, I’ve been swamped with many ideas and no time to publish them. I’ll have some more stuff up real soon. Instead, here’s a fluff post about video game candy.

Heard of Angry Birds? It’s hard not to, they’ve permeated the public conscious about as much as Call of Duty and Madden NFL in terms of video games. A goofy game where you fling birds at buildings to destroy enemy pigs, it has appeared on every system that could possibly play it, and is apparently really addicting. I played the Google Chrome browser version (no longer available as of 2020) and didn’t quite get the appeal.

Doesn’t mean it’s not a multi-million dollar success for Finnish developer Rovio. There’s Angry Birds T-Shirts, Angry Birds toys, Angry Birds board games, there’s probably Angry Birds whack-a-mole if I looked around hard enough.

Now they’ve invaded the food space with Angry Birds Fruit Gummies.

Love the sci-fi motif they decided to go with their silly bird game.

I was in a Wal-Mart, getting a few things here and there, when I saw these in a bargain section for 98 cents. I thought, sure, why the hell not. I remember fruit snacks from my youth. Plus I’m reminded of Matt of X-Entertainment (now of Dinosaur Dracula) buying all the Shrek 2 related foods for his site, so I couldn’t resist giving them a try.

The box tells me to “Collect all four” box covers. Each of the boxes featured art of the respective characters, but I opted for the red bird as that’s the most well-known and iconic besides the pig.

These seem to be based on the most recent Angry Birds game, Angry Birds Space, which is probably the same as the original game except now IN SPAAAAAAACE! With low gravity!

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Shadow Warrior: I messed with Lo Wang, and got my ass beat.

Man, remember when 3D Realms were considered one of the coolest PC publishers? Then Duke Nukem Forever happened and now they’re just a shell of their former glory only to be laughed at. Where did it start going all wrong? Probably when they thought they could make a Duke Nukem 3D ripoff of their own.

This looks eerily similar to the Duke Nukem 3D box.

This is Shadow Warrior. Released in 1997 on the PC, it was a first-person shooter much in the vein of Duke Nukem 3D. Sadly, it didn’t sell as well as Duke 3D did. Shadow Warrior is considered to be part of the “Holy Trinity” of shooters that used Ken Silverman’s Build engine: The others being Duke Nukem 3D and either Redneck Rampage or Blood, depending on who you talk to.

I had already bought DukeRedneck Rampage and Blood through GOG.com, but as of the time I wrote this, Shadow Warrior was nowhere to be found on that service. The only ways to buy it were through 3D Realms’ online store at a ridiculous-for-an-old-game price of $10, or hunt down a copy on eBay or local shops.

Well, luck was on my side when I finally found a copy at a Goodwill recently. After a little cajoling with DOSBox to get it to work properly, I was ready to play Shadow Warrior, told by the man himself that “You no mess with the Lo Wang.” I had heard from friends that this game wasn’t very good. Was this gonna be a repeat of the Blood II debacle, where I found enjoyment in a game everybody else hated? Well, not really.

“Zilla sends his regards…” with ninjas that will quickly die to my fancy katana.

The game starts out in Lo Wang’s dojo, where some goons come in from Master Zilla, who apparently wants you dead after you find out he wants to rule the world or something to that effect, and even kills Lo Wang’s master in the process later in the game, forcing Wang to avenge his death and kill Master Zilla. Granted, this was pre-Half-Life and pre-Deus Ex. Shadow Warrior was made when stories in first-person shooters were there just to make the unrelated levels connect to each other somehow. I can’t fault 3D Realms for the paper-thin storyline.

Wouldn’t be a 3D Realms game without a poke at other games in it.

Unlike Duke Nukem’s claim to fame from stealing from Roddy Piper and Bruce Campbell, Lo Wang doesn’t crib from any kung fu movies, so we get wonderful lines like “Howsa that for Kung Fu Fighting you Chickenashit?!” to “Cocks and balls, squashy penis,” even saying “Ancient Chinese secret!” any time you find a secret area. The jokes come off flat, crude and mostly unfunny. The voice of Lo Wang, John Galt, gave it a shot, but Lo Wang just doesn’t hold a candle to Duke in terms of cheesy one liners.

Since this game is a pastiche of Asian cinema, there are references all over the place that don’t quite fit. It has dojos, references to eating animals, fortune cookies as health boosts, plus weird anime references before anime was even a thing in the US. I can give them effort for trying, but in a sense this comes off as a bit culturally insensitive. Granted I’m the whitest person around, so I cannot really give my piece about some of the game’s questionable elements.

The game loves throwing tough foes at you even early on.

The game is also punishingly difficult, with many enemies being able to do rapid amounts of damage and small enemies that are a real nuisance to hit. Granted, Build engine games can be tough for many different reasons, but Shadow Warrior is considerably harder due to enemies that can easily whittle down your health pretty fast. Not only that, armor is considerably scarcer in this game. I usually don’t have problems with Blood or even Duke Nukem 3D, but the quicksave button got a lot of use while playing.

Ah, the days when you could make a blatant Speed Racer reference and *not* get sued.

Despite my frustration of this, there are a few good things going for it. The art style’s good in spite of the Asian stereotypes, Lee Jackson’s soundtrack is filled with goddamn bangers, and some pretty unique interactivity where you can drive RC cars by using your mouse and keyboard among other drivable vehicles. This was pretty cool stuff for 1997, all things considered.

There were going to be three expansions, which only two — Twin Dragons and Wanton Destruction — got released; the other one would be cancelled after the poor sales of the original game. Both of these are freeware now, so if you wanted more Wang, there you go.

No, Lo Wang isn’t gonna try to eat the rabbit. He’s trying to snatch a fly with those chopsticks.

I feel a little bit bad for 3D Realms. They clearly wanted this to be the next Duke Nukem, going a big marketing blitz, complete with novels based on the game, which I heard are worse than even the Doom novels. But it wasn’t enough as people were already enamored by id Software’s Quake and its innovative 3D engine, and nobody wanted these old looking “2D” shooters.

When I look at this, I see a shooter that despite some cringe-worthy moments like mostly naked anime girls and terrible stereotypes, is actually alright. It does justify its place in the “holy trinity” of Build engine games. It’s tough as balls, but still fun in the end. That’s really all that matters.

If you wanna play it now, it’s freely available on either GOG or Steam, but this is the original game in a DOSBox wrapper. If you want something a bit easier to handle on more modern machines, there’s Shadow Warrior Classic Redux, which was ported by General Arcade. Either way, Shadow Warrior is worth a look at least, in spite of its issues.

Oh well, at least 3D Realms got better after this, right?

Balls of steel, indeed.

 

Nope, they did not.

Updated 1/16/2020 for grammar and tone changes. Added screenshots from the more recent Redux release.

A look at CD+G with Rock Paintings.

The Sega CD is a fascinating piece of hardware. A CD addon for the Genesis, it added full motion video and other assorted features. I got a second hand Sega CD off a classmate back in freshman year of High School. I was bored in class and was looking at Sega CDs on eBay, and my friend offered his for $15. I couldn’t pass it up at that price.

It came with the pack-in title Tomcat Alley as well as the abysmal Double Switch, a Night Trap-esque game by Digital Pictures starring the late Corey Haim, Blondie’s Deborah Harry, and R. Lee Ermey. It honestly isn’t that great, and can be beaten easily in an hour. Trust me, go watch this longplay of the game instead, it’s better than wasting time trying to figure out the game’s plot while trapping random criminals.

I wonder if these actors thought they were doing something amazing or were just there for a paycheck.

While I was perusing for some other Sega CD games to buy, I had stumbled upon this little gem, and it’s not even a game: Rock Paintings, a CD+G sampler featuring a multitude of Warner Bros. Records artists — Chris Isaak, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Information Society and Little Feat.

While it’s advertised as a Sega CD product, any console that supports CD+G — from the Philips CD-i to Sega’s successor CD console the Saturn — can play this. Hell, if you got a karaoke machine lying around, it’ll probably play this disc too.

I thought this was simply just a silly little CD compilation, but it’s so much more.

Oh good, I can learn things while listening to music. Thanks, Information Society!

CD+G is a short-lived media format used to show graphics on your television while listening to music CDs. The concept was that you’d hook up a CD+G enabled device into your television set, insert any supported CD+G disc, then listen to the music with video playing in the background.

The only record label that bothered to care about the technology was Warner Bros. Records, as a gamut of their offerings from 1989-1992 feature the CD+G tech. However, it was not popular enough, so it got shelved in the early ’90s. While the original purpose for CD+G died, the system would later be used for karaoke machines. Though the CD+G used in those isn’t 100% compatible with the traditional CD+G in most cases, which is a shame.

The Rock Paintings sampler features two tracks from each artist above, with embedded CD+G tracks for each, plus a blank audio track for disc information. For the most part, they were little more than just tacky screensavers. For example, the samples they used for Information Society being somewhat informative and goofy (as seen above), while Jimi Hendrix’s Smash Hits brought us this wonderful gem:

Not pictured: The flashing colors that played during this Hendrix montage. Great for stoners, bad for epileptics.

 

Rock Paintings also came with a second, non-CD+G disc titled Hot Hits, which featured a sampling of other artists on the Warner label. Most of them are a bunch of unknowns I hadn’t heard of — The Wolfgang Press, Saigon Kick, Throwing Muses — while the rest are artists with minor hits but bizarre track choices. For example, They Might Be Giants, one of my favorite bands is featured on the compilation. They used “Mammal” from Apollo 18. Of all the songs from that album they could’ve chose, they chose the worst track of the bunch. I guess executives wouldn’t have appreciated a compilation having a song titled “The Statue Got Me High.”

While doing my brief research for this article, I found out there is actually a site dedicated to chronicling all the CD+G media ever released. It’s called The CD+G Museum, and it’s worth a look into the weird history that was CD+G technology. They even catalog the CD+G graphics themselves on a YouTube channel, so you can experience the tracks for yourself. It’s great someone is cataloging this obscure piece of tech history

Now I wanna find those CD+G versions of some of these albums, just for kicks. Though, I definitely want Hendrix’s Smash Hits so I can Experience Hendrix the way it was meant to be: on a Sega CD in mono audio.

Updated on 7/21/2019 for grammatical changes and updated links.