You Found a Secret Area!

Peggle spinoffs: Popcap has the crossover fever.

As of this writing, the famous Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 for short – has come and gone. Lots of companies announcing hot new games slated to come out later this year or the next, people pushing polygons to the limit, and your favorite franchises coming back for a new installment, often yearly.

Electronic Arts, being the rebellious type, decided to skip E3 this year for a catch-all “EA Play” event sometime in July. I fully expect them to show more of their notable franchises such as Madden NFL 22 and FIFA 22 and Battlefield 2042. And I expect them to once again ignore one of their notable franchises from when they acquired Popcap Games in 2011. One that has a notoriety due to its announcement at a past E3. The one of memes everywhere.

It’s a shame we’ll never see this guy announce a Peggle game like this ever again.

I’m talking about Peggle, the simple bouncing ball and peg game loosely inspired by pachinko. Originally released in 2007, the game became a big hit for Popcap Games, primarily due to its simple yet challenging nature and cutesy design. Oh, and the smart use of using “Ode to Joy” when you successfully completed a level.

Admittedly my experience with Peggle is the original game and no further. The game’s followups have not been reliably available on PC, with the infamous Peggle 2 being locked away to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, consoles I don’t own; and Peggle Blast, which is only on mobile phones. But there are other Peggle games, of which I’ve actually played.

Likely as good cross-promotion, Popcap Games decided to make two Peggle spinoff games, crossing over with two major video game companies around 2007-09. While ostensibly similar to the original game, they have their own little quirks.

That sun with the G-Man face is… rather offputting.

The first is Peggle Extreme, released in 2007 and available on Steam. 2007 would be a lucrative year for Valve as they released the critically acclaimed The Orange Box, which featured the second expansion in the Half-Life 2 saga, the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, and a quirky little puzzle game called Portal. As promotion, Popcap’s Peggle Extreme would be released alongside it, free to owners of The Orange Box. Nowadays if you have a Steam account, you can play it for free regardless of whether you own any of the Orange Box games.

This really doesn’t jell with Peggle’s overall aesthetic, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

If you’re not familiar with Peggle, I do recommend playing Extreme to get a good handle on the game’s mechanics. The basic goal is to eliminate all the orange-colored pegs around the arena. You shoot a ball to have it bounce around the various pegs and score for points. The more orange pegs you hit, the more points you get. In addition there’s purple pegs which give huge points, and green pegs that do special abilities depending on the playable character you choose. Finish off all the orange pegs before running out of balls and you get an Extreme Fever, where you score big points on any extra blue pegs you hit before dropping it down a hole for a huge bonus. It’s a really simple game that anyone can play, and it’s pretty fun.

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Taken from the Secret Area Vault.

For a good long time I was feverishly recording all kinds of stuff off VHS, just in the off-chance I have something interesting to remember by. Most of these were game shows, since that was my favorite thing for a long while (and still is!). Eventually I stopped recording things regularly, and had amassed over 80 VHS tapes of different things recorded from 1992-2007.

From then on, those tapes sat on shelves in my room, collecting dust. While hanging out with a few friends on Discord, I had mentioned I was casually watching game shows, which spurred the idea of watching said shows with friends. After mentioning I had these tapes, I was encouraged to finally tackle one of my passion projects: Converting the tapes to digital files.

A sampling of some of the tapes I had converted.

In April I bought a simple capture device – an Elgato video capture – and later, a better VCR – a JVC HR-S3800U to replace my Panasonic VCR/DVD-R combo unit – and got to work converting some of the tapes. The following month in May, I started phase two of this project: Putting this stuff on YouTube. That’s where the Secret Area Vault comes in.

The Vault’s premise is simple: Preserving bits and bobs of TV ephemera I’ve accumulated from these tapes. Since I’m a game show junkie, About 90% of the content will be random episodes of classic game shows. Some of these shows, such as the 1980s revival of Hollywood Squares hosted by John Davidson, and a game show based on the board game Scrabble, haven’t been aired on television in nearly 30 years. Other times, it’ll be episodes of shows not readily available else, like Family Feud and The Newlywed Game.

In addition to the game shows, I’ve also been compiling other interesting bits from my VHS collection that I think is worth showing off, such as commercials. As far as I know, most of this stuff hasn’t been seen on YouTube, and I think these are just as important to highlight as much as the game shows.

You’re probably wondering why I still have all these tapes. Well, keep in mind that before the days of streaming services and DVRs, it was entirely possible a show may never run again, even if it’s a rerun of a show from 30 years ago. Even these days, I’ve been finding the stuff that isn’t readily available online, and the Vault is a good repository for TV preservation.

Before I get started, I’d like to thank maple mavica syrup for giving me inspiration to start this VHS project in earnest; and Matt of Dinosaur Dracula fame, who’s done similar commercial montages on his blogs, and his site was a minor influence on the Secret Area’s humble beginnings. That being said, let’s get started.


Nyquil advertisement circa 1993 (with Nathan Lane!)

What better way to start off this compilation but with a now fairly notable actor shilling cold medicine?

Granted, Nathan Lane is a fairly ubiquitous actor nowadays – the voice of Timon in Disney’s The Lion King films, The Birdcage, a supporting role on Modern Family, The Producers on Broadway – but in the early 90s, he was much like any other struggling actor, doing any gig that’ll give him work and money.

The premise is a bit silly: Lane’s character is feeling sick, so he starts asking his neighbors for Nyquil, constantly getting shut out until… a guardian angel appears with a full bottle? I can’t tell if he’s having a fever dream or they didn’t want to shoot a scene of him walking to the corner store in his pajamas to grab a bottle. He eventually feels triumphant, getting his cold medicine so he can properly sleep.

I wish *I* had a guardian angel to give me free over-the-counter medicine…

Surprisingly Nathan Lane did at least one more Nyquil commercial, which is already online elsewhere. But I thought this one was more surreal than that one.

I’m honestly glad I have this one recorded. At the time young me didn’t understand preserving stuff very well, so I often over-recorded over shows on the same tape. One time I accidentally hit record while the TV was on a show called Street Justice, a police procedural starring Carl Weathers that aired for two seasons in syndication. This commercial comes from that accidental over-record session. Granted that meant I lost some USA Network game shows, but getting a commercial like this was worth the over-record.

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Weekend Writing: BioShock Infinite, the polarizing third installment.

It’s been about several months since I last wrote a Weekend Writing post. Admittedly me playing games has slowed down considerably in 2021, due to a multitude of personal factors. Fed up with playing Bingo Story and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War all the time, I decided to tackle a game in my backlog. One that has sort of an infamy among gaming circles. A game that’s particularly very polarizing, to a point where people who praised it as the “Game of the Forever” and considered its creator a genius now consider it the worst game in the entire franchise. And since I talked about BioShock 2 back in 2019, I feel it’s fitting to play the third – and as of 2021, the most recent – game in the BioShock series.

So. much. bloom.

BioShock Infinite is one of those games that I heard had sort of a legacy behind it. When released in 2013, the game was unanimously praised for its storytelling and gameplay, and won a myriad of awards. As time goes on, though, the general consensus has taken a 180 – damning criticism and people calling creative director Ken Levine a talentless hack. Even when I wrote about replaying BioShock 2 a few years back, that sentiment seemed to still be true, with some people even re-evaluating BioShock 2 as probably the best game in the series.

But hey, I always believe in playing things for myself rather than blindly going with what others say, so let’s see if this is infinitely amazing or infinitely terrible.

(Content warning: Plot spoilers for BioShock Infinite follow. While the game is eight years old as of this writing, I always assume that someone who’s reading this might not have played the game yet, much like me.

In addition, this game does go into themes of racism and political movements, of which I’ll also talk about here.)

Must these games always start with a lighthouse?

The plot of BioShock Infinite starts thusly: Booker DeWitt must go to Columbia – a magical city in the sky, via lighthouse – to rescue a girl by the name of Elizabeth, for a bounty. As the game goes on, it turns out the goal is not that simple as we think, partially due to Elizabeth’s magic ability to create “tears” in the world that go to alternate timelines and worlds. Thus Booker and Elizabeth must stop Zachary Comstock and the world of Columbia he’s made, while also figuring out the mystery of why Booker’s there in the first place.

As I went through the intro world of Columbia, there was a rather unsettling sense of christian white supremacy in the early story beats, which is a rather strong but somewhat upsetting start. Before Booker even gets the chance to visit Columbia, he must be baptized. Eventually Booker starts seeing the Vox Populi, the rival group of people demonized by the Founders that basically hate the cleanliness that Comstock’s Columbia brings. You would think that since there’s a clear hero/villain dynamic to the world that Booker would just be able to work with the Vox Populi and cause a revolution, right?

If only this was a reality. Well, technically it is, but… it’s complicated.

Well, technically no. Booker just wants to get out of Columbia with Elizabeth, being rather selfish. There’s a point in the plot where through a special ability that Elizabeth has brings the two of them into a timeline where Booker was the Vox Populi leader who became a martyr, but the rest of the plot tends to lean that both the Founders and Vox Populi are evil in their own distinct ways. I couldn’t roll my eyes any harder when they got to that point in the story.

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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.

This article was originally up on Patreon one week early. If you wish to see this article before everyone else, you can pledge to my Patreon here. Just a buck will get you a chance to see this stuff early.

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.

This article was originally up on Patreon one week early. If you wish to see this article before everyone else, you can pledge to my Patreon here. Just a buck will get you a chance to see it before everyone else.

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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