25 August 2000

Weird Al concert report: Birmingham and Bermuda (LONG)

[Originally posted to alt.music.weird-al.]

I probably don't have to tell you guys that Al was in concert at the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham on Wednesday night, so I won't. 8) I will tell you that this is my report on that concert. First, I need to give you a little background.

I last saw Al live in concert when he performed at the Oak Mountain Ampitheatre in Birmingham as the opening act for the Monkees in 1987. (I was 16. Do the math yourself.) It was just a few weeks ago, however, that I watched a friend's copy of the "Weird Al" Yankovic Live DVD. I'd also seen it when it debuted on VH-1, so I pretty much knew what to expect.

You should also know that I used to be a regular volunteer at the Alabama Theatre from the mid-80s to mid-90s. Although I no longer live in B'ham, I am still in touch with the people who are in charge of the Alabama and my mother still volunteers there. Having Al perform there was a dream come true. (To find out more about the Alabama, a historic movie palace, visit www.alabamatheatre.com.)

I showed up at the Alabama just before 5:00 p.m., when there was supposed to be a sound check. However, the people at the Alabama had been told that the band and crew had been doing the tour for 14 months, so they didn't need to do one. As it turned out, Bermuda did show up and do some checks with the sound guy. It was fun to hear him warm up.

After he was finished, he talked to the sound guy some. I went and sat down front and waited patiently. (The sound board was on stage.) Eventually I got a chance to speak to him and get his autograph. I showed him around backstage (or should I say understage?) some. He invited me to come back after the show, but didn't have any passes, so he asked if I'd still have my backstage pass. I said yes, but I'd be with my wife and a friend, so he said we'd have to play it by ear.

Now we fast forward to the concert. The Alabama seats approximately 2200. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near a sell-out. There were 635 presale tickets sold, 55 walk-ups, and 90 complimentary tickets. Four hundred of those presales were in the first three days! After that, the rest only trickled in. The mezzanine was pretty much full, but no one sat in the balcony. The main floor was well covered, but not packed. Our tickets were dead center in the seventh row. Great for seeing the show, but not for getting to be close to Al.

The opening act was a (local, I think) comedian named Max Davis (or something like that). His mouth wasn't too foul, but he did mention drugs (specifically pot) several times. Needless to say, several mothers there with children complained. Al's management (or the promoter) had requested a clean comedian, of course. This had been the first question the Alabama staff asked when they called the Comedy Club. They had been told he was clean, but this is what they got. By and large, the comedian did seem to go over well with the audience.

After a short intermission, Al and the band came on. There's no need to tell you all the details, because you've read them before and can see the set list at http://www.weirdal.com/rwstour.htm. Oh, in case it hasn't been mentioned before, I will mention one thing. They now include clips from the "Celebrity Death Match" episode featuring Al during part of the show.

From a technical standpoint, the show went well for the most part. It seemed to me they didn't have Al's mike turned up loud enough at some points and it was sometimes difficult to hear and/or understand him while he was singing. For fans, this wasn't a problem during most of the songs because we already know the words. I did have a problem making out some of the unrecorded stuff, though. Also, my wife, who's not a big Al fan but had a good time anyway, had some comprehension problems. They also seemed to miss a mike cue on Steve singing "microscopic bacteria" during "Germs."

The lights and special effects were great. The smoke could be a little irritating when they overdid it a couple times. (I can't imagine how it is for the band.) The bubbles were fun and the snow was plentiful during "The Night Santa Went Crazy." (Another quick background point: my primary job at the Alabama was working the spotlight.) I don't know if the spotlight operators were local or part of the traveling crew. They did a decent job, but it could have been better. I noticed during one song one of them didn't have his spot high enough on Al. (It stopped around his chest.) Because the second spot was on him, I doubt anyone else noticed.

The crowd was enthusiastic, although I think they got moreso as the concert went on. Some people hung a bedsheet banner from the mezzanine saying "Al 4 Pres" during intermission. The group in front on house right was particularly rowdy. Things got a little out of control during Al's journey into the audience in "One More Minute." Some people were coming up front to touch him. When Al went to give the underwear to a lady on the front row, some guy snatched it and ran back to his seat. Al was back on stage at this point and tried to grab it back, but was unsuccessful. I feel sorry for the lady who didn't get the underwear. (I guess only an Al fan would understand that. 8)

Between two songs, Al said how nice it was "to be back in my home town, Birmingham, Alabama." He continued about how he'd wanted to make sure it was on the tour and asked his manager to "make sure it's the same night as the final episode of 'Survivor.'" This got some laughs, but before the show some of the Alabama Theatre people I talked to felt this might be part of the reason for the less than stellar attendance.

After "Fat," Al and the band, of course, got a standing ovation. The audience never sat down again, choosing to sway, clap, and sing along with "The Saga Begins" and "Yoda" encores. After that, most disperesed. A few stayed behind. After most people had left, Ruben came out, practically unobserved, and sat to talk with two ladies he apparently knew sitting two rows behind us. As he went out the lobby with them, my friend and got him to do some quick autographs. Jim had come out, been slightly mobbed, and disappeared again, during this time. I never saw him again, so he's the only band member whose autograph I didn't get.

At this point, my friend decided to leave since it was a long drive home for him and it increased my chances of meeting Al. I took my wife with me backstage. Unfortunately, it appears in trying to be courteous, I'd waited too long to go back. Down in the green room, I found it soley occupied by Steve, eating a bit of food and reading the paper. I hesitantly asked him if he knew where Bermuda was and got an autograph. I get the feeling he didn't like being bothered, but he didn't say anything or refuse the autograph.

He told me Bermuda was just down the hall. This time, thanks to borrowing my mother's keys, I was able to show him the organ console. He declined my invitation to also see an organ chamber, which is really one of the most interesting things to see. He said Al didn't have any guests tonight, so that wasn't a problem but he had disappeared. If Al was back on the bus, he told me, he couldn't make him come out. I understood, of course.

We all went out the stage door and found Al sitting on a stool on the sidewalk signing autographs for a long line of fans. We said goodbye to Bermuda and got in line. Slowly we moved up and I got to say a few words to Al, get his autograph, and a picture of me with him. I realized later I had stupidly missed my opportunities for a picture with Bermuda. (D'oh!)

I suppose I should say, I may have done some stupid looking things while showing Bermuda around. I was somewhat nervous and unfortunately I haven't been backstage in a few years. There have been some changes made that I either wasn't aware of or had forgotten. I also probably didn't make much sense to Al as I blathered on. Oh well, hopefully the short note I'd given to Bermuda earlier to give to him will make more sense.

I was conservative with my pictures because I didn't have an extra roll of film. If they come out, I'll eventually post them on my web site. Thanks to Al, the band, and the crew for a great show! And thanks to Bermuda for putting up with me. I hope you guys travel safely for the rest of the tour and get to come back sometime.

21 August 2000

Brag: Spacemaster X-7 and CV games

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

First, the brag I forgot to post last week. Two weeks ago I saw a Coleco Head-To-Head Football handheld in good shape, but lacked the $4-5 (it had two price tags) to get it, so I hid it. The next week (last week), I went in and discovered a new pile of 2600 and Colecovision games. It turns out I had all the 2600 titles, but picked up these CV games I needed for $0.50 each:
  • Chuck Norris Superkicks (R!)
  • Front Line
  • Gorf
  • Miner 2049er
  • Rocky Super Action Boxing
  • (Root Beer) Tapper (R!)
  • Slither
  • Super Action Football
Chuck Norris has gone temporarily AWOL
Unfortunately, there was no sign of a system, any Super Action Controllers, or a Roller Controller. (Which is a shame, because I don't have any Super Action or Roller Controllers.) As a result of finding these, I had to leave the football handheld until the next day. It was still there then, and I got it for the lower ($4) price.

Saturday night, a friend called and said she'd seen some 2600 games at a local thrift. There were only two "weird-looking ones," she said. The rest were ones I probably already have. She didn't remember the exact names, but from what she remembered and a little help from me we came up with Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes and Starmaster X-7. I have the former, but have been wanting the latter since playing it on my TV Boy.

I just went and picked them both up for $0.50 each. I also picked up a copy of Space Attack as a label upgrade. While I was there, I also found a boxed Super Simon for $1. It included the instructions and styrafoam on the ends of the unit. (My other Super Simon is missing these two items.) The box is in good shape, but has one split corner. The weirdest thing I picked up (possibly ever at a thrift) was a wallpaper sample book. It includes samples of Hulk, Spider-Man, and Battlestar Galactica(!) wallpaper. (No video game related wallpaper, unfortunately.) It'll go on eBay eventually. I assume some BG collector would be interested in it.

[I have no idea which stores I found these in. I suspect the 2600 games may have been at the Asbury Thrift Store (back when it was in Miller Plaza on Old Madison Pike) and the tip may have come from Bonnie H. If so, thanks, Bonnie!

The "R" in parentheses indicates the game is rare according to whichever rarity list I was using at the time. The exclamation point is just to emphasize that.

I finally sold the wallpaper book on ebay in 2004. The photos are from that listing. It sold for $15.51 plus shipping.]

29 July 2000

CVG 101: The Comic Book Connection (originally for Classic Gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introduction. This article was originally published in CGM #4 (summer 2000). This is the article as I submitted it and may not exactly match what was published.]

In the early 1980s, video games were everywhere as everyone was trying to cash in on the booming video game business. This included the comic book companies. First of all, both DC and Marvel, two of the largest publishers at the time, were licensing their characters for use in video games, the primary examples being the Superman and Spider-Man Atari 2600 games. (For more examples, just flip through the previous issue.) When it came to linking video games and comics, DC may have had an edge because both it and Atari were, for a time, owned by Warner Communications. Atari included several small, DC-produced comic books, called "pack-ins" or "in-packs," with their Atari 2600 games. What I believe was the first one, however, was apparently produced without the help of DC.

Yars’ Revenge: The Qotile Ultimatum was a short, eight page comic that served as a prologue to Howard Scott Warshaw’s first Atari 2600 game. It explained the origin of the Yars, the reason (more or less) they were fighting the Qotile, and even how to play the game. If it had included the game version matrix, it could have almost been substituted for the instruction manual. The story by Hope Shafer was rather simplistic, but the art by Frank Cirocco, Ray Garst, and Hiro Kimura was well done. It was not a bad first effort, but apparently Atari’s new parent, Warner Communications, decided it would be more expedient to have another Warner company, DC, handle the pack-ins from then on. (This is conjecture on my part as Yars’ Revenge and Defender, the first game to include an Atari Force comic, were both released in 1982, so I’m not 100% certain which came first.)

DC pack-ins debuted with a series of comics about a science fiction team named Atari Force. The use of the name "Atari" was explained as standing for "Advanced Technology And Research Institute." The series opened in 2005 on an Earth recovering from the Five Day War. This war irreparably damaged the Earth’s ecosystem. As a result, ATARI sent a group of five international adventurers out in Scanner One , a starship that could travel to parallel universes. There they searched for a new planet to which Earth’s population would be moved. As you might guess, these comics were more involved than the one from Yars' Revenge. They featured the talents of known comic book creators. The writers were Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, while the art was handled by Ross Andru or Gil Kane, and Dick Giordano.

The first two issues, which introduced the team members, came with the Defender and Berzerk cartridges and had little to do with the games. The third pack-in came with Star Raiders and was more directly related tot he game. Issue number four, which came with Phoenix, was something of an oddity. Whereas the rest of the issues weighed in at 48 pages, this one was only 16 pages long. And Atari Force only played a minor role. This story also appeared as a bonus feature in New Teen Titans #27 and DC Comics Presents #53. There were several differences between the pack-in and the bonus feature. The biggest was that in the bonus feature, the featured ship was called the Liberator instead of the Phoenix. Atari actually went on to create a coin-op game called Liberator, which was based on the story and has been called a reverse Missile Command, that same year. It even featured the Atari Force logo on the marquee! Finally, the fifth pack-in came with Galaxian and featured the story of Atari Force finally finding a new planet to colonize. According to articles that appeared in Atari Age magazine, the magazine of the official Atari Club, there were actually more stories planned. It would appear that someone decided to cut the pack-ins short in order to prepare for the debut of the full-sized Atari Force comic.

This series debuted on newsstands and at comic book shops at the end of 1983. It featured two children of the original Atari Force, Martin Champion (leader of the original team), and an interesting cast of aliens. They fought against a reincarnated Dark Destroyer, who had also been the recurring enemy of the original Atari Force. The series lasted for 20 issues, was brought back for a Special the following year, and has not been heard of since. The primary creators for the first dozen or so issues were Gerry Conway, writer, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, penciller. Wrapping up the series were Mike Baron as writer and Eduardo Barreto as penciller. Ricardo Villagran inked the majority of the issues.

The reasons for the title's cancellation were unclear. In the final issue, editor Andy Helfer stated DC knew when they started that the story would have a definite ending. However, one can’t help but wonder if the break-up and sale of Atari by Warner and the video game crash of 1984 didn't also factor in. I don’t have sales figures, but Amazing Heroes, a magazine about comics, included Atari Force in its list of the ten best books of 1984. Regardless, because the series was short-lived and independent of any major superhero "universe," today you can find back issues in the bargain bins of comic book stores, if you can find them at all. You can find out more about Atari Force at my own Atari Force Headquarters web site.

Atari Force was not DC's only attempt to bring video games to comic books. They also produced two graphic novels based on Atari's games. The first was Star Raiders by Elliot S! Maggin, writer, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, artist. This was actually DC’s very first graphic novel and it predated the full-sized Atari Force series. It had a brief cameo appearance of the original Atari Force from their adventure in the third pack-in. From there it went on to tell the story of what happened after they left. It’s an entertaining read and worth searching out at comic book shops.

DC’s other video game-based graphic novel was Warlords . (Not to be confused with their unrelated comic book series called Warlord.) This fantasy story by Steve Skeates, writer, and David Wenzel, artist, told of a troll named Dwayne and his somewhat reluctant efforts to unify his world, which was divided into four kingdoms. The leaders of the four kingdoms were a set of brothers who were constantly at war. Beyond that, the story has little relation to the video game it was based on. Overall, it’s not bad, but I personally wouldn't spend a lot to get it. I was able to get my copy fairly cheap on eBay, although you may also find it at comic book stores.

Returning to the topic of DC’s pack-in comics, shortly after Atari Force debuted, Atari began their series of SwordQuest games. The idea behind these games was that players could win valuable prizes by buying and playing the games. During game play, players would get clues for where to look in the accompanying comic book for a piece of the puzzle, which was a word phrase. Sending in the complete puzzle to Atari got one considered for the contest. The creators behind the comic books (which were much better than the actual games) were largely the same as those handling the Atari Force pack-ins. Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas again wrote the series and Dick Giordano inked it. The penciller this time, however, was fan favorite George Perez. Together, these creators told the story of twin thieves, Torr and Tarra, and their quest through four worlds for the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery. Unfortunately, the sale of Atari Corp. to Jack Tramiel caused Atari to stop the contest. The third game and comic, WaterWorld, is very difficult to find while the fourth game, AirWorld, was never started. The AirWorld comic was started, at least as far as plotting goes, but it’s unknown whether any art was done or where any of this work is now. You can find scans of all the released comics on the Internet at http://www.tripoint.org/sq/sq.html.

The final pack-in DC did for Atari was Centipede. This comic was much more cartoonish than the previous ones. The story, by Howard Post and Andrew Gutelle with art by Howard Post and Robert Smith, was about a young elf named Oliver who lived in a forest and was friends with a centipede, spider, flea, and scorpion. An evil wizard turned the elf village’s mushroom supply into toadstools and Oliver’s arthropod friends against him. The most likely place to find this and the other pack-in comics is the same place you find cartridges and instruction manuals: thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and the Internet. Because of the full-sized Atari Force series, you can sometimes find the Atari Force pack-ins in comic book stores, but it's unlikely.

While DC Comics went the more traditional route of adapting another medium (in this case, video games) to comics, Marvel created a comic book-sized magazine called Blip . Blip was a mix of interviews, news, playing tips, cartoons, reviews, and more. In other words, a fairly typical (aside from the size) video game magazine from the early 1980s. It was apparently not a success, however, as it only lasted seven issues. Given lead times in the comic book industry, this means the series was probably canceled almost as soon as sales figures from the first couple of issues were obtained. Although when you look at the timing, this is not particularly surprising. Blip ran from February to August of 1983. Due to "The Crash," many video game magazines either ceased publication or reduced their frequency at the end of 1983. You can sometimes find back issues of Blip in comic book stores, but because it was a magazine not dedicated to comics, this is a rare occurrence.

As you can see, there is plenty of material for classic video game collectors who also happen to be comic book collectors to find. I've actually been surprised by the number of video game collectors who are current or former comic book collectors. No doubt, the marriage of these two mediums should make them happy. And for those that aren't comic book collectors, these comics still make a great addition to your own collection of video game memorabilia.

Postscript (12 June 2013)

I don't have much to say about this. Cav announced the theme of the issue would be video game cartoons, so I assumed comic books were fair game as well. I was a comic book collector before I became a video game collector, so this was right up my alley. I initially volunteered to write a special article strictly about Atari Force, but decided to just include them in my broader article for my regular column instead.

Interview with Jerry Greiner (originally for Classic Gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introductionThis article originally appeared in CGM #4 (spring 2000), but the below is from my copy as it was submitted and may not reflect any changes the editors made.]

In November of 1999, Jerry Greiner, better known as classic video game dealer JerryG, announced he was going out of business after many years. In February 2000, shortly before the official announcement that he had sold his business, I caught up with Mr. Greiner to get the details of why he’d both gotten into and then gotten out of the classic video game sales business.

Greiner, 58, began collecting classic video games around 1989, although he'd "always been a collector of something." He and his wife enjoyed going to garage sales. Mr. Greiner said, "I kept seeing the Atari stuff and I remember back when my kids were younger having the Atari and playing the games. Kept thinking, 'well one of these days I ought to pick one of these up so I can show the grandkids what their parents played with.' We stopped at a garage sale and a guy had a box full of games and game system. Probably had 50 games, a bunch of controllers, and stuff. Sold it to me for 15 bucks. Then unfortunately at the next garage sale, a guy had a box full of games about the same size. He offered it to me for 5 bucks. I said, 'Geez, I've got to average my cost here,' so I bought that one."

Greiner continued, "Then I got to thinking, 'well, I wonder how many different games are out there?' So I just started buying them by the titles."

I’m sure that part sounds very familiar to most collectors. He remembered setting a limit on what he would pay: 10 cents a game. However, if it had "some weird, neat label on it," he’d go up to 25 cents. "It was easy to go out on a Saturday and, if I’d wanted to, I could have picked up a thousand games, but I’d usually find 20 or 30 or 50 or something I didn’t have." Then he decided he should have a system for each grandchild, but not knowing how many he’d have, he just started picking up extras.

Like many other collectors, Greiner started collecting a single system: the Atari 2600. He recalled, "I remember stopping one day and the guy had these ugly looking yellow carts." The man claimed to have every cartridge ever made for this system. "By the time I left he got down to $5 if I took everything. I said, 'no, I don’t want it,'" Greiner continued. "I figured it was some weird junk that wasn’t worth anything. Then [later] I realized it was a Fairchild [Channel F] and then all of the sudden I wanted a Fairchild. I haunted the flea markets and thrift stores and garage sales until I finally found a Fairchild."

Although his collection has branched out to include other systems, the Atari 2600 remains his favorite. "It'll probably be the last thing I give up. They'll probably have to bury it with me," he said.

When asked what his wife and children thought of his new hobby back when he started, Greiner at first said he wasn't sure. He literally filled up their house in Oregon with his collection, he said. When they prepared to move to Arizona in 1996, she said, "I want a house we can live in. So let's find one with a three car garage so you can put the games in the garage and I can have the house." However, Greiner said, "she's been very supportive and understanding of all the stuff that I drag in." Both of them enjoyed going to thrift stores and garage sales. It showed when they moved because they had a six week garage sale, made almost $12,000, but didn't even get rid of half of their stuff.

Around 1991, Greiner stumbled upon an early issue of The 2600 Connection newsletter and saw an ad for Games and More, who had Atari games still in the box. He called, and the owner started ranting how he was tired of collectors calling up and then complaining about his prices on the old games. Nobody complained when he charged $30–40 for an NES game, but people got upset if he even asked for what he paid for the older systems' titles. Greiner asked how much the owner was selling old games for? The man replied $5–10, but he was going to just throw them out because they were taking up shelf space. Greiner told the man he was really interested and asked what the man had. The owner responded he didn't have a count, but he had a list of the titles he had and read some off. Greiner asked, "if I took more than one, what would you want for them?"

"Five bucks a piece. If you took a bunch it would be even cheaper," the man replied.

Greiner asked, "how big a bunch and how much cheaper?"

The owner told him, "if you take everything I have I'll sell it to you for 50 cents a piece, whether it's a piece of hardware or a game and I won't charge you for the common stuff."

A week later $1800 in shipping charges showed up on Greiner's doorstep. That was almost three times what he paid for the merchandise itself, which was all Atari 2600 items. His wife asked, in the way wives do, what he intended to do with it all. Thinking on his feet, he replied, "I'm going into business!" His first sale was to a man in New Orleans: Kaboom! for $4.

Over time, more people with large supplies of games came to him to sell cheap. Sometimes he told them to junk it because he didn't know what to do with more of it. One man in New Mexico tried to sell him a bunch of Intellivision games. After going down to a nickel a game, Greiner still refused because he didn't have room for it. Finally, the man said he’d send it to him for the cost of shipping, but Greiner still said no. He regrets it now, somewhat, but at the time it seemed the correct thing to do.

Over the years, business has been up and down, but enjoyable. Most of Greiner's profits were spent on his personal collection or expanding his inventory. "It's not like everybody thinks," he said. "It's not a way to make a million dollars. I don’t think anybody's going to get rich selling old video games. It's particularly tough if you're trying to do it as a dealer with taxes and those requirements." He believes eventually collectors who sell a lot but aren't officially in business will discover the pleasure of dealing with the IRS. "It costs me more to try to keep track of the paperwork than to pay the taxes," he quipped.

Greiner feels the hobby of collecting classic video games has grown since he went into business. "I think things like eBay have been very helpful to the hobby, but they're also very detrimental. I'm not sure, in the long run, if it's going to kill the hobby or increase the hobby. It's been good from the standpoint that it brings recognition among people that these things have value to somebody and it encourages more people to look for them. But I think the detrimental part has been that no matter who you talk to in the last couple of years, it's extremely difficult to find anything at all, the reason being every collector buys everything he can with the idea of selling the excess on eBay. And so there's not the stuff out there for somebody like myself or the collectors who started when I did to go along and say, 'oh, look at this, I think I’ll just buy one of these for the heck of it,' unless we're the first guy at the sale. The change that I've seen is that there's more customers who buy from me because they want to play a 2600 game than there are collectors who want a particular title or label or something."

When asked if the expansion of the Internet might play into this, he said yes. "When I first started, basically I did snail mail catalogs. Now I haven't printed a catalog in three years. Most of the same names are still doing business with me, except now they're using the Internet."

I asked Greiner if the decision to leave the video game business had been long in coming and if it was a difficult one. He said, "it was probably a matter of several years in coming. It was very difficult to make the decision because I didn't really want to get out of games."

He decided to keep the hobby, but quit the business. He will continue to maintain the video game museum portion of his former web site at www.atari2600.com.

"I guess the biggest problem for me and the biggest reason that I decided I had to quit was I was just unable to keep up [with shipments]," he said. Another big factor was that both Greiner and his wife have health problems. Greiner is fighting diabetes and recurring exhaustion. However, he will continue to help the new owners, a young couple, with the business for an undetermined amount of time. (Basically as long as he feels like it.)

He'll keep a personal stock of rarer items for trade. "When I first started accumulating things, I was accumulating them for trade. I picked up a number of contacts from The 2600 Connection and the Digital Press. Everybody had the good stuff that I wanted and they wouldn't sell it, they wanted to trade for it. So I started trying to collect the better stuff to use for trading. And then people would get mad at me because I wouldn't sell it. Finally I broke down and sold some stuff. This time I don't intend to break down and sell stuff."

Greiner did, however, sell large chunks of his collection as part of getting out of the business. Much of it brought a higher price than he had anticipated. He said it was difficult to part with some of it, particularly the obscure stuff he hadn't had time to play.

When asked what he would do with all the new space, he replied, "I'm not so sure there's going to be a whole lot of space left." His wife wants to actually put a car in one garage. Another is used for his office. The third he'll fill with shelves. There's also a storage building in back that he may store household items in or make a game room out of. He will free up a patio, which has some boxes on it that he never unpacked after receiving them. All of these areas were filled to the ceiling with boxes of games and consoles.

"I've met a lot of nice people and good friends through the hobby. I've had people stop by from all over the world," Greiner concluded. "It's been more fun than work, although it's gotten kind of stressful at times. Hoping I can get a little more rest, get my health built back up where I can do more things. I hope I can make the game show in Las Vegas this year. I missed the first two." I hope you can make it, too, Jerry. No doubt it'll be even more fun for you now that you're "retired."

Postscript (11 June 2013)

Jerry did indeed make it to Classic Gaming Expo 2000, the same year I was there.  He even came by the Classic Gamer Magazine booth (which allowed Cav to take a photo for the interview), but I never managed to meet him the whole weekend!

At the time this was written, any serious video game collector on the Internet knew who Jerry Greiner was. He was active on the rec.games.video.classic newsgroup, too. I'm sure I could write an entire blog post on Greiner, but for now I'll just concentrate on the interview itself.

I contacted Mr. Greiner about an interview the same day he announced everything was for sale, 11 November 1999. At the same time, I asked CGM publisher Cav if he wanted to run it. If he didn't, I'd put it on my Classic Video Games Nexus web site, which was moderately popular at the time. Greiner agreed to the interview, but didn't have time to compose a lengthy e-mail, so would only do it on the phone or in person. As cool as in person would have been, he lived in Arizona and I was in Alabama, so that wasn't going to happen. Cav did indeed think it was a good idea, so I was reimbursed for the phone call.

For reference, here is the first paragraph of his announcement about selling out.
Because of the failing health of both my wife and myself, and because my space and spare time is getting scarce, and because I need to spend all the time I can on my regular job commitments I have decided to sell off all or parts of my collection and game stock. There is probably not anything I won't sell if the offer is right, including individual items or complete collections from my "want to keep" list.
Due to various things on both our ends, the interview didn't take place until mid-February 2000. I had a microphone that attached to a phone with a suction cup, so with his permission, I recorded the call. I also took copious notes. Thank goodness I did, because it turned out the computer caused some sort of interference that made some of the audio unclear. Theoretically I still have that cassette tape somewhere.

Because of the interference and because we both tended to ramble a bit during the interview, I went with the above narrative rather than reproducing the interview verbatim. Writing is also more enjoyable than simple transcription. Cav and Sarah were both very pleased with how it came out. The deadline for CGM #3 had already passed by the time the interview took place, so I didn't write it up until #4.

Shortly after the interview was conducted, Greiner announced the business was sold.
Effective at midnight, Sunday, March 26th, 2000 the Atari2600.com website and videogame business will be operated by Joe and Lottie Cody.
The couple bought the entire business, except for what Greiner kept for his personal collection or sold before coming to terms. He wasn't done with the hobby, though, as in March 2001 he finally released the first edition of the JerryG Guide to the Classic VideoGames. (He had released at least one "beta" version before that.) He worked on a second edition, but as of now, it has never been released.

Greiner "retired from the hobby" in 2012 and began selling off his personal collection. Much of it was selling directly to individual buyers. But a year later, he was still working on selling it off, mostly on ebay by that point. As you can see, even though he sold the bulk of what he had when he sold the business, his collection's size was still most impressive.

17 July 2000

Brag: 2600, 7800 games and more

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

Woohoo! Today was a great day, especially for a Monday. I hadn't even planned to go thrifting today, but changed my mind for sundry reasons. I'm glad I did!

First stop: The local used game shop has marked all their $4.95-6.95 NES games down to 3 for $10. I'm tempted by some, but the only things I'd really like haven't been marked down (e.g. Donkey Kong 3, $19.95). They've also marked down SNES games to 3 for $25 and Genesis to 3 for $15. I didn't look over those too closely.

Second stop: Someone donated a few Atari 8-bit computers with stuff. I went up front with an old-style trakball, a Tac-2 joystick, two unnamed joysticks with not much of a base (I've seen these before, but I don't believe I have any), and a pair of remote control joysticks and the receiver. (In a fit of irony, I'd recently made a deal to buy a boxed set of remote control joysticks from a local collector, but hadn't actually bought them yet. I hope he won't mind if I back out.) The cashier priced everything at $2, except the trakball ($10!). I put the trakball and one practically-baseless joystick back.

I also did NOT pick up the following loose Atari 8-bit carts for $3 each: Atlantis, Beamrider, Gyruss, Miner 2049er, and Monster Maze. Should I go back for them (at that price)?

Second stop: I usually don't head straight to the video and sound media area (for lack of a better name), but this time I thought I saw a new batch of 2600 games, so I did. Jackpot! For 25 cents each, I got (all loose):
  • 2600 - Demon Attack (blue label), River Raid, River Raid II, Sea Hawk
  • 7800 - Double Dragon, F-18 Hornet, Titlematch Pro Wrestling, Xenophobe
For another $1, I got a complete, boxed copy of Archon for NES. All of these were in excellent shape! (Demon Attack and F-18 Hornet has some actiplaque. Titlematch has some odd, smudged black spots.) I bought Demon Attack to replace one I traded away for a hardcover copy of The Complete Guide to Conquering Video Games: How to Win at Every Game in the Galaxy a few years ago. I thought River Raid would be a label upgrade for me, but it turns out I apparently already have one in good shape. All the rest were ones I didn't have.

BTW, I was initially given a price of $0.50 each on the loose carts. After going back for River Raid and coming back, she only charged $0.25. I told her her initial price, but she said she was "in a good mood today," so I told her I wouldn't argue.

29 June 2000

Finds: Tandyvision & ... Yars' Revenge?

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

[Geez, these always end up longer than I intend. I guess I'm naturally long-winded. Does anyone actually read them?]

Went to the thrifts yesterday and saw a Radio Shack Tandyvision One (semi-rare Intellivision rebadge, if you didn't know) in the box for $10. I didn't have that on me and I had to get back to work, so I left it in hopes it would be there tomorrow. (OT: In the store before this, I bought MS Office Pro & Bookshelf for Win95 for $4! Now I've got to make room on my hard drive for it.)

Went back today and it was still there. The console was the only thing in the box (no docs and no switchbox (like I need another one)). It was in good shape and so was the box except for one side that had had some clear packing tape torn off of it. Ten dollars is higher than I would have liked, but this is only the second one I've ever seen and I let the first get away. (I wasn't collecting Intellivision then and eBay didn't exist.) I asked if any games had come in with it, and the cashier called in back. There was some confusion, but the answer seemed to be no. Turns out the confusion was because they'd also had an Atari come in early in the week. I did not need to hear that, because there had been no trace of it.

I also picked up a Midway promotional, bulk mail video (Midway Rocks the House), which includes games like Rush and Rampage World Tour. I've never seen one of these from Midway before, just Nintendo. Since video tapes are usually cheap at thrifts, I've started collecting video game related one, no matter the age. Anyone else collecting these? Got a Mixed Game Bag 2 cassette for the Timex-Sinclair 1000 lot I'm gonna put up on eBay one day, too.

For some reason I wasn't satisfied with my find, so I went back to two thrifts I'd already visited this week. At the first, I still can't quite convince myself to pay $3 for a Colecovision Ladybug cart, and I needed what was left of the money I had for lunch anyway. At the second, I found a bag of about 10 common games for $5. (Pass.) In another spot, I found a boxed Yars' Revenge. Picking it up, I found the $1 price tag and, for reasons I'm not sure of, felt the box. It became obvious there was more than one cart in it. It was taped shut, so I didn't know what it was and just assumed one of the was Yars' Revenge. For $1, I bought it. (I don't think I actually have an original, orange Yars' Revenge box, but I'm probably wrong.)

Upon getting to the car, I cut the tape and found . . . Video Chess (text) was the extra cart. The other was indeed Yars' Revenge. But it was in near mint condition! It obviously wasn't used much. Also included were near mint copies of the docs, comic, and rev. E (red, 49 games) Atari catalog. Ths box is in fair shape. The tape was easily removed without harm. (If I'd known that, I would have tried it in the store.) I also removed the thrift price tag to see the original Hills tag under neath it. It seems the previous owner got it for a whopping $0.97 + tax.

[10 Nov 2011 comment: You might note that this is at least the third copy of Video Chess I found in just over a year, after never finding any "in the wild" prior to that. I found the first just after buying one online and the second complete in the box just a few days later.]

22 June 2000

FIND: Super Simon & Inty games

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

Okay, so that should probably be "[FINDS]".... Anyway, earlier this week I found a Super Simon in nice condition & with both battery covers in the box. Can anyone tell me (Lenny?) if Ralph Baer created this sequel to his most popular game? I couldn't find a price on it, but as luck would have it, one of the main pricers was by the cash register when I got there, so he let me have it for a buck. (Then he saw the $2.49 price written in small print, but let it go.) I also picked up a Sega Menacer, missing one eyepiece but otherwise complete, also in the box for $2. I saw it shortly after they got it, when it was marked at $12. I wasn't going to buy it at that price. Glad I checked the price again this time.

Off-topic, I also picked up the paperback Gidget Goes New York, thinking my wife might like it since she likes the movies. On a lark, I checked for it on eBay and was surprised at the profit I can probably make selling it. She said if I sell it before she reads it, that's fine.

Today I picked up a bag of 10 unboxed Intellivision games for $2.50. I broke my personal rule about only getting common carts if they were complete (box, docs, overlays) because it had Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in it. The only other game in the batch I didn't have was Triple Action. I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the games had the overlays tucked in their manuals. (I couldn't tell this before I bought it.) Here's the complete list (I=instructions, O=overlays):
  • Auto Racing (I(x2?),O)
  • Sea Battle (I,O)
  • D&D (INTV label)
  • Star Wars: TESB
  • LV Poker & Blackjack
  • Sub Hunt
  • Major League Baseball (O)
  • Triple Action (I,O)
  • NFL Football (all I,O)
  • Utopia (I,O)
[Ralph Baer is the creator of the world's first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey (not Odyssey2). He also created the original electronic Simon game. "Lenny" was addressed to Leonard Herman, who hung out on the group at the time. He confirmed Mr. Baer did indeed create Super Simon as well.]

05 June 2000

Brag: Weekend Intelly finds

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

[As usual, I seem to have rambled on longer than intended. Skip to the list if you're in a hurry.]

I had to get a new battery for my car, which is not too far from a weekly flea market that I don't normally make it to. (A real flea market with junk, not so much new stuff.) First I spotted a bare Intellivision (I) console. (Pass.) Then I spotted a pong system in the box. As I was looking at it, I spotted another Intellivision (I) with some carts nearby. She wanted $15 for the console and 11-15 games (I forget).

Being light on cash (and not really needing another console and common carts to clutter up my already overcrowded space), I asked if she would consider selling any of the games separate. After mulling it over and realizing she could make more money that way (she actually said that), she agreed to sell the games for $1 each. I took seven that I thought were at least semi-rare. I passed on the pong since it didn't seem to be anything special. (I didn't even ask the price.)

I got home and found out most of the games weren't overly rare, but I did make one really good score. None of these are tested yet, but here's what I got (all loose unless otherwise indicated):
  • AD&D Treasure of Tarmin
  • Centipede
  • Congo Bongo (w/manual, missing one page)
  • Frogger (w/manual)
  • Q*bert
  • River Raid
  • Shark! Shark!
There's something odd about the Congo Bongo (the rarest of the batch by far). One of the screws has detached from the bottom half of the case, yet the label is intact and, except for peeling at the end, in great shape. In other words, the screw's still there under the label, but it's no longer screwed in.

30 May 2000

Brag: NES Arkanoid controller

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

Okay, so I don't officially consider the NES classic, but if I stuck to the true classics, I'd hardly ever post a brag or find these days. 8(

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took a short trip to another city. Visited a mall and discovered my first GameStop store. Inside, with the other NES controllers was an Arkanoid controller marked $1.99. When the cashier rang it up, it came up as about $4 instead, to which I objected. The manager, who was just at the end of the counter going through papers, saw it and said they weren't supposed to sell it without the cartridge. (He'd remembered when it came in and thought it had been pulled from the shelf since the cart was missing.) I said I was willing to pay $2 for it, so he had the cashier ring it up at the marked price.

Today provided an interesting footnote. At my local, overpriced, used video game store, I saw they had an Arkanoid controller which was marked $19.99. No thanks! (BTW, this makes up for the one I passed by a few years ago because I didn't know how rare/desirable they were.) Now I just need to find the game so I can test it.

[If I remember correctly, I found it at the GameStop in Century Plaza, Birmingham, Alabama. — 18 June 2010]

03 May 2000

Brag: Instant Astrocade collection & more

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

This is shaping up to be a good week. No doubt about it, it's spring cleaning time! First, at a church yard sale this weekend, I picked up a few common (Dr. Mario) and not so common (Klax) NES games that I didn't have yet for $0.50 each. I'd also spotted an NES Game Genie box, but didn't give it a good look. A kid came up behind me and asked if he could see it. I handed it to him and kept digging through the games. He said he thought it was actually a Super NES GG and handed it back. He was right! I got it for 50 cents, too! (Thank goodness he didn't decide he wanted it.)

Other finds at weekend yard sales were mostly more Nintendo stuff. (And I'm not a Nintendo collector, dammit!) I did pick up an Atari ST/Amiga/Atari 8-bit trackball.

Monday I found a couple dozen boxed, complete Intellivision games. I picked up Mouse Trap and Beauty and the Beast (which I may already have, I forget), and some box upgrades. Tuesday I remembered to take my not-up-to-date list and got some more as box upgrades.

Tuesday something had told me to go to Value Village, but I didn't have time! So I went today. The first thing I see, sitting right next to the door, is a boxed Sega Master System. I'm not really interested, especially for $38.99, even though I see some boxed games inside. So I wander around the store some more. As I make my way around to the second electronics section, I'm confronted by a big box that says "arcade" on the side. What's this?!? A Bally Profesional Arcade in the box!

I've never seen a single Astrocade item in the wild before. It's marked $24.99. Not knowing how much they go for on eBay, I debate buying it, but quickly decide it's worth it since I've never seen one before. (I also pick up NES Spy Hunter for $2.99 for the heck of it.) I get outside and it's raining. The box is already heavily taped, but I don't want to get it wet as well. So I decide to sit down and see what's inside.

I find 17(!) cartridges, 10 big game manuals, 9 small game manuals (plus three Football playbooks (Why do I have two for the blue team?)), the system manual, a keypad overlay, power supply, and four(!) controllers. No switchbox and no dust cover, but I'm not complaining! None of the cartridges are more than a 3 in rarity by the DPG. Somewhat annoyingly, I have manuals for Star Battle and Artillery Duel, but no carts. All the cartridges/manuals are the "Bally" versions except The Incredible Wizard and Artilery Duel.

Then I went down the street to another thrift and picked up a pair of Starfighter joysticks with a standard 9-pin (2600/C64/etc.) connectors. Never come across this particular type of joystick before.

Now, I just hope everything I've picked up this week works. I haven't had a chance to test any of it yet, and don't forsee being able to do so until next week.

[To date, this is still my only Astrocade find ever. — 18 June 2010]

24 March 2000

CVG 101: When Is a Combat Not a Combat? (originally for Classic Gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introductionThis article originally appeared in CGM #3 (spring 2000) and is a revision of one I wrote for Suite 101 using the same title.]

Once your classic cartridge collection reaches a certain size, you’ll discover you’re finding few new cartridges at thrift stores. In order to "get their fix," so to speak, many collectors start collecting label variations to keep their number of "finds" up. Label variations simply means different types of labels on the same game. For Colecovision cartridges, this might mean the difference between the labels saying the cart is "for Colecovision" and saying it’s "for Colecovision & ADAM." For Intellivision, it’s probably the difference between the colorful Mattel labels and the black and white Intellivision Inc. labels, which also featured slight name changes to avoid licensing fees (e.g. "Football" instead of "NFL Football"). For the Atari 2600 it’s more complicated.

Because the 2600 (or VCS) was sold for over a decade, Atari went through four major label styles. The original style was all text on a black background. Then they started replacing much of the text with a colorful picture like the one on the box. Next Atari went with a silver background. Finally, at the end of the console’s life, they used a rust background. (Most collectors call it red; some call it brown. I think "rust" is more accurate than either of those.) But in all but a handful of cases (see sidebar), the game names never changed. So when is a Combat cartridge not a Combat cartridge? When it’s a Sears Tele-Games Tank Plus cartridge.

When the Atari 2600 debuted, Sears was one of the strongest retail chains in the United States. If you wanted to sell your product at Sears, it had to have a Sears brand on it. Thus, when Atari signed an agreement with Sears to have them sell the 2600, it became the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. (Tele-Games was the "brand name" for video games at Sears. It has no relation, as far as I know, to the current Telegames company (www.telegames.com), which happens to sell video games.)

Several of the games received new names as well. It’s uncertain exactly why Sears did this. Perhaps it was to confuse shoppers and have them buy what they thought was new game when it was actually one they already have. To make things more confusing, they named some cartridges after dedicated consoles they had previously released and just added a Roman numeral to the end to differentiate them. The most obvious example is Breakaway IV (a.k.a. Breakout).

Not all games were renamed, of course. Home versions of arcade games Atari had to secure licenses for were not (e.g. Space Invaders, Pac-Man), nor were those based on other licensed properties (e.g. Superman). There were also three games that Atari created, but only sold through Sears (see sidebar).

It is interesting to note that while Sears similarly renamed Mattel’s Intellivision as the Super Video Arcade, they didn’t rename any of Mattel’s games. The boxes and instructions were different, but the cartridges and overlays are generally indistinguishable from Mattel’s normal releases when found loose.

As a collector, you might ask whether the Sears version of games and consoles are rarer and therefore more desirable. In general, all Sears releases are slightly rarer than their Atari or Mattel counterparts. Whether they’re more desirable, however, depends on the collector you’re dealing with. Some collectors who don’t care about most cartridge label variations do collect Sears labels. Others don’t care at all, except for the "Sears exclusive" games.

If you do decide to start collecting label variations and start examining your duplicate games very closely, you might be amazed at just how many differences you’ll find. There are some definite sub-types within the main Atari label variations described earlier. And even within those sub-types, you can find some very minute changes on labels that appear identical at first glance. And that goes for third party companies, too.

John Earney began compiling a list of 2600 label variations, which can be found on his home page at http://www2.best.com/~jearney/. It hasn’t been updated in a few years, however. I guess even John got overwhelmed by all the small changes one can find. So, if you decide to collect label variations, set a limit on what you’ll keep. Otherwise you’ll probably quickly find your collection (rather than your extras) overflowing with Missile Commands, Space Invaders, and maybe even Combat, regardless of the name on the label.


Sears NameAtari Name
Arcade GolfMiniature Golf
Arcade PinballVideo Pinball
BaseballHome Run
Breakaway IVBreakout
Cannon ManHuman Cannonball
CaptureFlag Capture
CheckersVideo Checkers
CircusCircus Atari
Code BreakerCodebreaker
Dare DiverSky Diver
Dodger CarsDodge 'Em
MathFun With Numbers
MazeSlot Racers
Maze ManiaMaze Craze
Memory MatchHunt & Score
Outer SpaceStar Ship
Poker PlusCasino
Pong SportsVideo Olympics
RaceIndy 500
SlotsSlot Machine
SoccerChampionshp Soccer or
Pele's Soccer
Space CombatSpace War
Speedway IIStreet Racer
Steeplechase[Sears exclusive]
Stellar Track[Sears exclusive]
Submarine Commander[Sears exclusive]
Tank PlusCombat
Target FunAir-Sea Battle
Atari Video CubeRubik's Cube
Basic MathFun with Numbers
Championship SoccerPele's Soccer
(A Game of) ConcentrationHunt & Score
Fun with NumbersBasic Math
Hunt & Score(A Game of) Concentration
Pele's SoccerChampionship Soccer
Rubik's CubeAtari Video Cube

Postscript (June 2013)

As it says at the top, a big chunk of this article is identical to one I wrote for Suite 101 a few years prior. The reason for this is quite simple; I blew my deadline. On February 23, I thought to check old e-mails and discovered the deadline had been February 10. Luckily for me, Cav was way behind, so I got about 10 days to write something. The old article was stuck in my head for some reason and my contract specifically left me free to use articles in print media.

I found several copies of John Earney's label variations list around, but the most recent (from 2001) is available at Atari Age.

This article is also available at Good Deal Games and has been for many years. Cav worked out some deal with site owner Michael Thomasson, and Michael specifically requested this article. The request came several months after I wrote it, so the potential conflict with Suite 101 didn't occur to me until now. But by then the article had been gone from Suite 101 for a long time, so I'd say no harm done.