Friday, February 22, 2013

Entry#6: Going Berserk! (Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket Part 2)


 
Going Berserk!

 
(Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket Part 2)

This is part of a series I’m writing about classic video games from the Atari era.

Berserk: an ancient Norse term. It refers to certain Vikings that would become animalistic in combat. Today we call it, “Going Postal.” Since they didn’t have mail carriers back then, the Vikings improvised. They wore bear skins instead of blue uniforms. And they had long boats instead of little white trucks. What does this have to do with Atari’s Berserk? The answer to that is, “Absolutely nothing!”

Berserk pits a human champion against robotic gladiators in a series of mazes. You are the last survivor of a group of astronauts exploring the planet Mazeon. Your ship crashes, people croak, and you have to pick up the pieces. Robots are gunning for your pixilated hide! And you have to fight your way out to survive! It has action, 80’s tropes, and neon graphics. Needless to say, I love this game. It’s one that I didn’t play as a kid, but took to as an adult. And since downloading the emulator (hey, we have to get the fix anyway we can) it has become a minor obsession. I’ve practiced for many hours to try and boost my score. And while dodging laser blasts fired by peeved mechanoids, I’ve discovered two things. One, this game is highly addictive. Two, it holds up to repeated play. I’ve also developed some serious questions as well. Such as, “Can I mainline this with A/V cables inserted into my wrist?”

The game play is simple enough. You are The Dude. Not Lebowski, just The Dude. Your little man, woman, non-gender specified video counterpart is fighting for their life. You have unlimited ammo, which is good. You will fire off hundreds of rounds of, to quote Rocksteady, “Laser electric death!” But on the downside the robots that stalk you also have hundreds of rounds. They also have different personalities.

First up, you have the Green Meanies. They are the most aggressive of the bunch. They will actively pursue you like the paperboy did John Cusack. Then, you have the Pink Prissies. They aren’t as aggressive as the Green Meanies. But if you get too close, they will scratch your eyes out, bitch! There’s also the Banana Barbarians; so named for their color, aggressiveness, and high potassium content.

Those are the basic robots in most of the modes of this game. But there’s also the Smiling Jag-Off, I mean--Otto, who shows up to taunt you in some of the higher modes. He’s the sort of dweeb that crashes the party after everyone has left. Truly, we shows up after you’ve cleaned a maze full of droids. And he doesn’t offer to pick up empty bottles. He’s the worst kind of party guest ever!

Contrary to the game’s title, actually going berserk is a sure fire way to lose the game. One must use cunning, patience, and a gallon jug of ice tea to survive this one. A good defense is the best offence. Use the walls to your advantage. But don’t hug those walls like an inflatable love partner. They are painted electric blue for a reason! They are shocking, simply shocking, even in this day and age.



For those of you who are fans of HALO, you’ll recognize the game play. The 2600 version of Master Chief’s exploits were patterned after Berserk; minus the bug-zapper walls.

It has been a fun challenge playing this game; one that I have met with great determination, stamina, and much swearing. It’s a fun evening’s playtime that doesn’t involve expensive utensils. It’s a satisfying injection for retro gaming fever. As Kerouac would say, “I’m an old tea head of nostalgia.” I have both feet in the future, while I cast my gaze to the past. Playing a game like this is the closest I’ll get to time travel.

If you want to take a retro step in the right direction, here’s how to find Berserk online. Direct your browsers to:
http://www.atariage.com to download The Stella Emulator (the one that screams like Brando) and then download a copy of Berserk.

And no, I wasn’t paid to say any of this (slides an A/V cable into wrist).

I give Berserk: Five out of Five Spacemen.

Berserk was programmed by Dan Hitchens
Year of release: 1982.

End of Line.


Atari's original commercial for Berserk in 1982. That's one hip grandma!

 

 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Entry#5: Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket?




Is That a Joystick in Your Pocket?
(Part One)

Despite the 3-D Whizz-bang of today’s video games, they lack something the old 2-D games of yesteryear had; they lack heart. I’d gladly trade the first-person run-and-gun games of today, for a blocky robot smasher like Atari’s Berserk. Granted, there’s a certain redundancy to a lot of these games. Many of them were knockoffs of Space Invaders and Pac-Man. And many of mid and late 80’s games were knockoffs of Super Mario Brothers (a subject for another post). But there’s a certain charm that comes with these games. And part of that charm was the cover artwork.

I feel like an old rocker, complaining about the loss of album sleeve art. And in a way, the two arguments are one and the same. This is much like the loss of movie poster art in the 90’s. It’s rare that we see anything comparable to a Drew Struzan or Frank Frazetta painting gracing a movie theater lobby. Come to think of it, we don’t even see quality artwork on the DVD or Blu-Ray boxes either. We don’t even get mail order offers for posters. Nor, do we get them in stores, unless given away as a promo.

There’s a certain frenetic pace to today’s video games. And that same pace seems to have found its way onto the box art. Though Atari’s Baseball couldn’t match the graphic quality of the box art, it didn’t matter. You were in the zone when that cartridge went in the consol. The same applies to Missile Command, Frogger, Enduro, and any number of classic titles. These were our first glimpses into the video world. They deserved the fantastic artwork on their boxes. Should we honor their legacy with anything less?

Below is a gallery with some fine examples.

End of Line.




  


 
For more Box Art, please see the following links...
http://gaming.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Atari_2600_box_art
http://www.atariage.com



 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Entry#4: 85 Years of Cthulhu!





85 Years of Cthulhu

It was 85 years ago today.

Lovecraft taught us how to pray.

May I introduce to you

The God you remember after all these years.

Cthulhu’s soul eating band!

It was eighty-five years ago this month that a different kind of messiah was born. Yes, there’s been a lot of talk about “alternative” religions these days; from the likes of Scientology, Wicca, and the Cult of Celebrity. But the God I speak of is far more ancient and enduring than either of these faiths. I speak of the one true God who will unite us all in the presence of his body. I speak of he who can destroy worlds. I speak of he who shall rise again. I speak of he who makes an awesome chocolate mousse with lemon swirls. Alright, maybe I exaggerated that last part.

I speak of none other than…

The Great…

The Ancient…

The Almighty!

Do I have enough modifiers?

CTHULHU!

His fictional exploits were first chronicled in Weird Tales February 1928. The publication of The Call of Cthulhu marks the debut of one of horror's biggest monsters...literally. The great prophet H.P. Lovecraft was the first scribe to spread his vile gospel. Yes, Abdul Al Hazred, author of the Necronomicon came first. But it was the dark dreams of Lovecraft that raised our God to the public consciousness, up from the seas of nightmares!

In the words of that most anti-divine prophet, “He is combination of a dragon, and octopus, and a human caricature…A pulpy head, with a mass of feelers at his mouth.”

And it was this nightmarish image that has haunted the dreams of men since then. Our mighty Lord from the depths has permeated all levels of culture. Books, games, toys, t-shirts, tattoos, and even slash fiction. He is more popular than Zarquon!

My first introduction to this awesome octopod god came via The Real Ghostbusters. In their aptly titled episode, The Collect Call of Cthulhu, the boys in ectoplasm do battle with his most unholiness. They vanquish him, but only for a time. For when the stars are right, he shall rise again!

Cthulhu Fh’tagan!

[Editor’s note: It was at this point that the blogger began laughing hysterically. He tore all his clothes off, and then proceeded to dance wildly. He then gave offerings of spiced rum to a statue of Cthulhu, which was situated on a makeshift altar. He then proceeded to invite many young ladies at the office to become Brides of Cthulhu. They all refused, except for that smashing blonde with the big bazoomnies. Anyway, we had to call an exorcist. The less said about that, the better. Also, we can’t get the smell of that cherry incense out of the carpet. Mind you, it is quite nice, but it is distracting. And just you try getting goat’s blood out of a suit. I mean, really, nothing takes that out of a suit; not even club soda. Seriously, he ruined a Brooks Brothers suit in one afternoon. That’s the last time we allow “Casual Fridays,” I’m telling you.]

Since then, visions of his hideousness have remained with me. I have not forgotten the name Cthulhu. And it would appear that no one ever will.

For as the great prophet once wrote, “That which is not dead can eternal lie. And in strange eons, even death may die.”

I’m off to bake a soul-flavored cake with virgin frosting!

Copyright 2013 Johnny X. 


 Lovecraft's concept sketch for Cthulhu.


The Adventures of Little Cthulhu. Awwwww! Or, AHHHHHHH!