Archive for the ‘Artifacts’ Category

LAN Party Redux

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

A little bit over a year ago, I wrote about how I was going to the first actual LAN party that I had been to in several years. My intention was to write a followup to that article after the event, but I kind of got sidetracked and didn’t actually remember to do that until right now.

In the older piece, I expressed some concern that LAN Parties might be a relic of a time when broadband internet access was something that was nigh unattainable, and online gaming was tough to organize. Now that broadband internet access is (relatively) cheap and (relatively) ubiquitous, tearing your computer down, driving 100 miles, setting it back up, playing video games constantly while taking breaks to sleep in your car, a LAN Party just seems like a solution for a problem that no longer exists.

So, I took my four days off work, tore down the computer, packed it up and drove to Louisville, KY to see whatever became of the LAN party where I spent so many of my weekends during my college years. And to my surprise, I learned that almost nothing had changed. I don’t mean that in any good way. I’m just going to run down a few of my recollections from the event:

  • There was a projector projecting mostly short videos on the wall with audio being piped over the house speakers. The videos being shown were mostly from the early 2000s, when I went last, with a few newish ones mixed in. One of the videos that got a lot of play was a kind of mean-spirited video where a young kid ran his mouth about his Unreal Tournament skills, and got ‘put in his place’ by one of the ‘pros’. I’m not going to link it here, but the footage from that video was recorded in March of 2002 and the video came about some time around that same time. We were reliving a moment of history that was only mildly interesting to a portion of the 200 people that attended 11 years prior. If any of those guys even attended, do any of them still think it’s funny?
  • There were very few LAN games being played. I figured as much in the leadup article to this one, where I speculated that most gaming was moving toward MMORPGs and Free To Play titles that you played over the Internet. Even Diablo III did away with LAN play that was a huge part of its predecessors. You play games while connected to the server on the Internet at all times. Period. To curb piracy, or stop resales, or whatever reason you want to subscribe to. So I had to look around to see if I found any games that people were playing that I could join. And I found lots of DOTA, lots of LoL, lots of MMORPGs of several flavors, lots of Team Fortress 2, and not a lot not being played offline. But that’s not too bad, we had a connection to the Internet2 backbone, and speeds were good, until people started showing up. And anyway, I could always hop in IRC to see what people were talking about and shoot the breeze for a bit during downtime
  • The IRC server was practically dead. I might be showing my age, but I spent a lot of time in college fooling around on IRC, or Internet Relay Chat for you whippersnappers out there. There were usually a few dozen people in IRC that were in the channels between games or taking a break or whatever, so you could talk about just about anything that you wanted: what was going on during a tournament, comment on the video playing, make requests for food or whatever you wanted. Basically, it was something to do that didn’t involve losing whatever game you were playing. Except that the IRC server was practically empty. There were a few people in there talking about what servers they had up on the network that were hosting games nobody was playing, or hosting files for trade (ahem), but very few actual people having very little conversation about just about anything. The biggest issue I saw was that some person was expressing some concern that there were naughty words in the chat, and that there were children present, so they shouldn’t be seeing that. The staff member poo-poohed these concerns by saying that the event was not and had never been family-friendly, and seemed to indicate that if parents had a problem with it, well maybe they shouldn’t have brought kids to the place in the first place, since it’s really not an event for them. I pointed out that not only were several of the attendants that had been coming for years old enough to have kids who, themselves, are old enough to come to the event now, but the organizer of the event, President LAN Party himself, had his kids in attendance, working the snack table. So, maybe considering making the event more family-friendly wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. But that, of course, was not acceptable.

And so on, and so on. It turns out that I requested four days off of work and paid to attend for four days, but only stayed for about 36 hours. In those 36 hours, I played a lot of RIFT, I played a lot of Team Fortress 2 on the Internet, and I used the 100mb/100mb to download a lot of the titles in my Steam library that I had been putting off doing. I wanted to be able to say that the magic was still there, that the few hundred attendees that make the semiannual trek to keep the party going are keeping a piece of history alive. But what I found was a shell of a party. Going through the motions of the event that they’ve done a hundred times before. Every strand of cable is in place, and every mark is hit with expert timing. But the passion just isn’t there. The sense of community isn’t there. An event that needed to change with the times, but just didn’t. A time capsule that’s only been maintained in the very barest sense of the word that continues to exist just because it’s been going on this long, and maybe some people can’t imagine life without it (or they bought a lot of networking equipment that will go unused otherwise). Either way, I’m glad I went back to check on it. It reaffirmed that I may not have outgrown LAN Parties in general, but I’ve certainly grown away from this one.

Zap Pax Video Game Cards

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

One of the relics of the 80’s and 90’s that I kind of miss seeing is the video game trading card. They were kind of like baseball cards, but for video games. Or, to put it another way, they were like Pokémon TCG cards, except you couldn’t play a game with them, and they covered more than one game.

So, totally rad, in other words.

Zap Pax Unopened Box

Enter the Zap Pax, pictured here in Unopened Box Form(tm).

These are trading cards that feature Battletoads, Adventure Island, and… probably others?

To be honest, I just couldn’t bring myself to rip open the plastic and kill the collector’s value of these things, so I don’t really know what they look like. The Internet is surprisingly unhelpful here. Outside of the odd eBay auction, there don’t seem to be too many pictures of these things floating around out there, either. That’s too bad, because after all this time, I kind of wanted to see what was in my box, without actually opening my box.

I suppose I won’t be able to do one without doing the other, but I can dream, can’t I?



Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

As I’m looking back at the things I’ve collected over the years, I can’t help but notice that I’ve gotten a lot of Pac-Man stuff. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, even though I’m pretty sure he’s not as popular as he was a few years ago, he was absolutely huge in his day, and I was around for most of that day. But he’s still around, and tends to pop up from time to time in the most bizarre places. For instance, take a look at this:


What we have here is a couple of bears wearing 3D-glasses (you know, like everyone did in the 80’s), and on their bellies, we have… Inky and Pinky?

A closer look at the tags reveals that these are a product of the Peek-A-Boo Toy Company


Which has only been around since 1995, meaning that these can’t possibly be authentic 80s toys. They don’t appear in their current catalog, either, and I can’t find anything else on the Internet about them, so I’m forced to make the following conclusions:

  • These were made for a carnival or fair and distributed as prizes
  • They’re some kind of throwback, retro thing to get parents to spend money to try and win a reminder of their childhood
  • They’re totally rad to the max!

But now I kind of think I need to try and find the other two… assuming there are two more.


Doc’s Fix-A-System Plus

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re around in the late 80’s / early 90’s. Let’s further assume that you have more than one video game console (I know, that only happens to movie stars and oil barons, but bear with me). Let’s even further assume that you would want to keep your systems clean for some reason, and the thought of buying one kit for each system seems like a gigantic waste of your money. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some kind of thing you could buy that would allow you to do all of that tedious maintenance on all of your systems?

Well, behold!


Once again, the third parties come to the rescue.

The solution here is actually pretty ingenious. You have a hunk of plastic that attaches to the end of a cartridge for each of the supported systems. You just attach it to the cartridge of your choice, insert and remove it from your systems a few times, and you’re good to go. It also has something called a ‘detergent-based cleaning solution’ that you add to the ‘cleaning wand’ to scrub the contacts of your games clean. This is a little more involved than the official NES cleaning kit method, and is probably not designed to have you buy refills of the cleaner over and over again.

Probably not.

But this thing definitely doesn’t hurt to use. Unless you leave a ton of the cleaning gunk on your games and it dries up in there, I guess. That could be bad.

So, don’t do that, okay?


NES Cleaning Kit

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

We’ve all been there. Practically since the old style NES was a thing, games almost immediately didn’t work right. The screen blinks, stutters, has scrambled graphics, whatever. There are lots of homebrew methods to get the problem fixed (most of which are not recommended) from blowing on the contacts (quick fix, not recommended), to cracking open the cartridges and using oven cleaner (quick fix, absolutely not recommended), to using high-grit sandpaper (substantial chance of ruining the cartridge immediately, not recommended except as a last resort in the most extreme cases), to a cotton swab and alcohol (generally recommended, but it’s kind of labor intensive, so most people hate to do it).

But let’s say you’re a kid in the 80’s and 90’s. You don’t really want to fiddle with any of the above methods. I mean, trying to find and use a security bit, then spend what could amount to hours taking apart and swabbing cartridges? No thanks! But, what if you had… This?!

NES Cleaning Kit Box

An actual cleaning kit? Manufactured and endorsed by Nintendo? Well, that could be just fun enough to be worth it.

Opening the box reveals a few interesting goodies.

NES Cleaning Kit contents

It’s got a usage manual, a little scrubber, and a vaguely NES-shaped cartridge thingy. The scrubber is made to clean the gunk out of your NES cartridges. You wet the dark end with either distilled water, or a 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl alcohol, then scrub your cartridge. Shockingly, this is the same method that I recommended above, only with a giant scrubby pad instead of a flimsy cotton swab.

The other piece is for cleaning on of the neglected bits when people clean their NES games, cleaning the connector inside the system itself. All that funky junk on the contacts of the games you’re wedging into your NES is also getting on those contacts inside the NES, keeping them from making good contact. And, if you’re like me, you don’t really want to take the whole NES apart if you don’t have to, so this lets you at least attempt to clean the innards of your system with a minimum of fuss.

And, given that the NES is coming up on 30 years old, I think that’s something that I can get behind.

Super Mario Bros. Electronic Pinball Game

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

The pinball machine I talked about the other day was pretty awesome, and practically anyone with a passing interest in the Mario universe would love to have one. But arcade quality pinball machines are big, expensive, and kind of a pain to maintain. That’s why things like this exist. Or, rather, used to exist.


It’s the home version!


Okay, it takes a few liberties with the design and simplifies it a bit. All you really have are bumpers. But you have 3(!) flippers and a working scoreboard. That’s pretty rad, right?


That reminds me, I need to get some batteries for this thing so I can play it and try to set a high score. Shouldn’t be too tough… right? I mean, getting 4 D-Cells shouldn’t be too big of a problem.

Final Fantasy Map

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

You may or may not know the story behind Final Fantasy, and why, if it’s got ‘final’ in the name, that there are more than 14 games in the main series and lots of offshoots. And why most of the games aren’t actually sequels to anything. And lots of other questions. It’s interesting reading in its own right, but that’s not really what we’re here to talk about today. Today we’re going to talk about the first Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy. Pedantics would like to remind you that the game is not called “Final Fantasy 1″, since most games that aren’t conceived as a series start out with a 1 in their name, but that’s an argument for another time.

The first Final Fantasy was your prototypical fantasy hack ‘n’ slash / adventure / light role-playing game that introduced us to pretty good idea of what a JRPG could be. In your box you got your game, your manual, and a few helpful maps and charts on a poster. Like this:

Final Fantasy Map Side 1

Final Fantasy Map Side 2

It’s kind of interesting how I got this thing. I was making my typical rounds around the city on a cool Saturday morning looking for a yard sale, when I found one that had a bin full of video game goodies for $2, this map included. I thought that was a pretty sweet score, so I held on to it. Even though this guy didn’t have a Final Fantasy cartridge, I actually already had one from another transaction, so I’m most of the way to having a complete set.

Oh, I’d also like to make some higher-resolution scans of this thing, but my scanner is too small and it won’t fit. So, sorry about that. But, hey, this is better than nothing, right?

The Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Finally we come to this. The Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book. A book that captures what it was like to be a kid in the 80’s. America’s Riddle King serves up a whole book of illustrated riddles and puns all based on Pac-Man (more specifically, based on the words ‘dot’ and ‘pac’). It starts out promising enough, I mean, take a look at this cover.

Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book Cover
But that’s as awesome as this book gets. We’re “treated” to page after page of bad Pac-Puns after another. Like, “What’s Pac-Man’s favorite city? Dot-troit, remember?”. I’m not actually sure why he says, “Remember?” there. It’s not like I learned that anywhere but in this book.

And it just goes on and on like this. And lots of people on the Internet will tell you how bad this book is. And, sure, it’s bad now to adults who are 30 years removed from the source material. But what about in the 80’s?

Well, I was around in the 80’s, during Pac-Man’s heyday, and when I got this book back then, I didn’t think it was all bad. Although, I didn’t get all of the jokes (how is a 7-year-old expected to get a Rhapsody in Blue reference?). But I didn’t think it was all that bad then. Heck, at that age, I didn’t think much was bad at all. Everything was new and amazing! Which kind of explains how I managed to keep myself entertained with a barely functional tape recorder for an entire summer (blank tapes were cheap entertainment, what can I say?).

And what about America’s Riddle King? Well, here’s his ‘self Pactrait’ (which is an extremely clumsy pun, I admit) and a mini-bio.

Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book Interior

But he’s apparently the creator of Letterman, a cartoon that aired during the Electric Company, so that scores him some redemption points, I guess.


King James Bible

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I’ve written about this thing before, but I figured I’d retread some of that ground here. Mostly because I just ran across this cartridge again the other day while looking for something else.

Bible Game

This is clearly an unlicensed Game Boy game from our friends at Wisdom Tree, and it’s got the King James version of the Bible on it. How exciting!

When I bought this, it actually had a box and manual, but those are lost to the Mists of Time(tm), but you don’t actually need those to extract the maximum possible amount of enjoyment out of this cartridge. You could, for example, read the Bible. And since the Game Boy screen can only show about 30 words, you’ll be flipping a lot of pages. Kind of like trying to read a book on your smartphone, except much more difficult.

Or you can play a game, like Hangman. Except it’s not really Hangman, it’s the same basic idea, but with sheep in a pen that escape when you get a letter wrong.

I tell you all of this because the first time I played the sheep game the word I got (which is randomly chosen from the Biblical text) was ‘circumcise’. That was exactly one more time than I ever wanted to see that word in the context of a video game.

But this game did come in handy a few years later when my Humanities class in college started to study a few chapters from the Bible. I was able to bring in and use a Game Boy for a college-level class, and the teacher was Ok with it.

And that is awesome, no matter how you slice it.


Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Right, I still don’t have an Intellivision, but I do have this.

Intellivision Frogger 1

That’s right, a copy of Frogger. A game that people who don’t even like video games have heard of.

Awkward sentence aside, it’s pretty great that I found a copy of this, in its original box, with all the trimmings, 30 years after it was released. It’s the actual reason I have Bomb Squad the other day. I saw this thing and jumped at it, and the guy threw in Bomb Squad for $1. How could I refuse?

No, really, I’m asking because I have a hard time refusing things.

But check out the innards of this box. This thing even smells like the 1980’s. Apparently the 1980’s smelled a lot like old books.

Intellivision Frogger 2

And if that doesn’t get you excited, maybe this excerpt from the manual will:

Each time you bring 5 frogs home, you’ll hear a short tune. The game will continue at a more difficult game level with your remaining frogs. The speed of the cars and trucks will vary from lane to lane. Traffic patterns will change. There will be fewer floating objects on the river, and the speed of the objects will vary from fast to slow. Frogger-eating snakes will appear on the riverbank and otters will swim around in the river.

Great stuff, right? The excerpt also talks about the music, and I did kind of want to bring that up, too. Check out the first song that plays when you start a new game of Frogger.

Pretty catchy, right?

Now check out this Japanese kids’ song called “犬のおまわりさん – Inu No Omawarisan” (literally, The Dog Policeman)

What’s that? They sound the same? You’re darn right they do.

And who says that finding old video games can’t be fun?