01 October 2010

The Untouchables

Ever since it first came out, I wanted a copy of Steve Jackson Games' Strange Synergy. This strategy board game gives you a deck of 100 cards with super powers and "gadgets." You are dealt nine cards and have three warriors on which to distribute the powers/gadgets on the cards. And to make it even better, the character art is by Phil Foglio.

The game came out in 2003 and was unfortunately not a hit. It's gone out of print and now costs $100+ in new condition. I only recently found this out and immediately created an eBay search to see if I could snag one. The very first one it notified me of was a used copy with a starting bid of $6.00. No one else bid on it! A week later, the game (literally) arrived at my doorstep.

My first game was against my 12-year-old son. I figured I'd give him a better chance of winning I played the Mad Scientists. Each team has a unique ability and theirs is merely to carry unlimited gadgets. Turns out he didn't need any help. I was only dealt one gadget and little in the way of offensive powers.

He managed to get the abilities Inner Peace, Stunning Beauty, and Acrobatic Evasion. Inner Peace prevents any opponents from hitting the warrior until he attacks someone. Stunning Beauty makes the recipient so beautiful, opponents require a roll of the die just to attempt to attack him. Then you have to roll again to actually land a hit. Acrobatic Evasion lets the warrior automatically avoid one attack per turn. Naturally he gave each of his warriors one of these. By the way, except for Stunning Beauty, these abilities are secret until you attack the warrior with them.

Only because one of my warriors had Flameblast (an initially secret offensive power), Two Heads (gives two attacks per turn), and Trick Shot (allows attacks on diagonals and is secret until used) did I manage to even damage his warrior with Acrobatic Evasion. Unfortunately, that was the first warrior he killed, so after that things went downhill for me quickly. (The only other offensive weapon/power I had was a boomerang.) At least he had a good time and wants to play again.

29 September 2010

ROM: Tattoo


The bicep to the right, festooned with a tattoo of Rom, belongs to Logan Williams. It's based on Michael Golden's cover for Rom #9. He sent me the photo last month and I'm finally getting around to featuring it. Logan said, "I've been a Rom fan since '81...he was my gateway to all things geek!" I'd say getting a Rom tattoo leaves little doubt that he's a fan. He added, "I'm planning on adding some Dire Wraiths and more background in the future." Here's hoping for an update when he does.

27 August 2010

Yard sale score: Vintage Pac-Man bank

A few days ago, Craigslist had an ad for a yard sale coming on Friday and Saturday that promised "old Atari game cartridges". I e-mailed them asking about them, but got no response. A year (or maybe less) ago, I had a bad experience of getting up early and driving all the way across town for a sale that promised Atari games. First, the guy didn't bother to start his yard sale at the promised time. After waiting and waiting, I wound up having to leave before he even came out. When I was able to return, it turned out someone had e-mailed him and bought the games days before the yard sale even began. At least this time the yard sale was on the way to work, so I wouldn't be put out if the games were gone or the sale not begun on time.

So, I got up early to get there around their 7:00 a.m. opening time. Actually, thanks to Hannah, I got up even earlier than I intended, but by the time she was asleep, it wasn't worth going back to bed. For the first time, I trusted my new phone's GPS completely and headed out with only a rough idea of where I was going. It got me there with no problems and I started looking around.

This yard sale was pretty cool! Many old board games, some old Disney and Sesame Street records, a few old Mad magazine issues, and Sweet Pickles children's books. I'd completely forgotten about Sweet Pickles! It was like a big slice of my childhood. Apparently the couple used to frequent flea markets and antique stores, buying up this stuff, but now they were getting rid of much of it at great prices. Luckily, I resisted the urge to buy a bunch of stuff and try to resell it on eBay. I've already got too much of that stuff, which I never seem to get around to actually selling. I did almost buy an old copy of the Clue board game that was the same as the one I'd grown up with, though.

I didn't find the games immediately, but it didn't take long. Two freezer bags of four cartridges each marked "$2.50 each." Unfortunately, it was all fairly common games. However, I did find a vintage Pac-Man bank by Tomy. Tomy took advantage of the products they'd previously produced in association with their Mr. Mouth game and simply rebadged them as Pac-Man. But they were officially licensed by Bally/Midway! (Kids, Mr. Mouth started out as a big, yellow, bald dude, not a frog. And why doesn't Mr. Mouth have a Wikipedia entry?!?) I got it for $1. Works fine, but needs some cleaning. Oh, and it had a penny already in it, so I guess technically it was 99 cents.


And as you can see, I also picked up a not-so-vintage Pac-Man lunch box. It's not a quite full-sized lunch box, being only about 2/3 the depth (I'd estimate) of a standard '50s-'80s metal lunch box. I almost put it back, but for $1, I went ahead and kept it. But I'm much more psyched about the vintage Pac-Man bank.

25 August 2010

Info from the creators on unused Rom revival proposal

Benny R. Powell was doing a bit of ego surfing and came across my page on his and Jim Calafiore's unused Rom revival proposal. He then contacted me offering previously unseen design drawings by Califiore. (Although one of them was actually sold on eBay last year.) I managed to get him to answer a few questions about the proposal. You can now see the improved page with a brief interview of Powell and Calafiore's Rom redesigns at Rom, Spaceknight Revisited.

23 August 2010

Memories of Cecil Whitmire

Cecil Whitmire, head of the group that saved and has since run the historic Alabama Theatre movie palace in Birmingham, died yesterday, from cancer. The group is now called Birmingham Landmarks. If you don't know Cecil, you can read the cold, hard facts at his Bhamwiki entry, which I also wrote (back in 2007). This entry, however, is to truly remember him.

I was a volunteer at the Alabama during the '80s, when it was "saved," so I saw Cecil and his wife Linda quite regularly. (Sadly, Linda was also lost to us due to cancer back in 2001.) They did not single-handedly (double-handedly?) save the Alabama, but they were at the head of the group that did. There's a parody of a saying, "behind every successful man is an exhausted woman." That sometimes seemed the case with Cecil and Linda. Cecil was a salesman, both by profession and, I think , birth. His charisma, charm, and storytelling ability made him the natural focus for journalists. Linda, meanwhile, had the talent for organizing. Together, they were an unbeatable pair.

I know you're not traditionally supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I have to say Cecil was not without his critics. As I said, he was a storyteller, but also a salesman, and sometimes he wouldn't let little things like facts get in the way of his storytelling. I once heard someone complain how, as the years went on, he went from hearing about how wonderful Stanleigh Malotte was at the Alabama Theatre back in the day to actually being in the audience and hearing Stanleigh play. But you have to admit, it makes for a better story.

One of my favorite stories told by Cecil was from when he was trying to secure a print of Gone With the Wind for the Alabama's annual showing. They had been doing it for years, but it was the movie's 50th anniversary, so Turner Entertainment, which owned the rights to it, had pulled it from circulation. Cecil made several calls to the company, explaining how they were a nonprofit and that it was the backbone of their annual summer classic movie series. Finally, he received a call back and the voice at the other end said, "this is Ted Turner." Cecil, thinking someone was playing a joke on him, responded, "bullsh*t!" Unfortunately for him, it was Turner. And, a credit to Cecil's charm, he still managed to get the Alabama a print to show that year.

Part of Cecil's charm was a childlike mischievous streak. Cecil and Linda never had any children — why is none of my business — but there about half a dozen of us middle and high school aged kids, sons and daughters of the adult volunteers, who were regularly at the Alabama. Cecil not only put up with us, he was kind of like that cool uncle who'd let you do stuff your parents might not. For instance, I was recently reminded by one of these friends, Lisa, that Cecil let her and a friend drive his car in the Alabama's parking deck when they were locking it up for the night. I forget now if they even had permits yet.

Another friend, Amy, reminded me of the year we kids adopted Cecil as our honorary dad, since he didn't have any of his own. It was Father's Day and there was, like every summer weekend, a movie at the Alabama. After the movie, all the kids came out on stage to present Cecil with a cake my friend had prepared for him.

Back then, volunteering at the Alabama meant doing all sorts of odd jobs around the Alabama, for both kids and adults. My main job was running the spotlight during the pre-movie organ shows. Once Cecil was talking to the audience between songs about all the wonderful volunteers he had. The people selling tickets, the ushers, the gentleman running the light board, and so on. I couldn't, however, help but notice what I considered an important oversight on his part: me. So, with the encouragement of said gentleman at the light board — was it Dan or Larry? — I slowly faded the spotlight out. Cecil quickly figured why it had happened and started chuckling. Once he recovered , he said, "I'm sorry," and thanked me as well. I brought the spotlight back up to a round of applause. I guess Cecil wasn't the only one with a mischievous streak.

I also worked the spotlight for many shows and concerts that came through the Alabama. Sometimes they needed two spot operators and management couldn't find someone to accompany me. In these cases, Cecil would work the other spotlight himself. Although I could tell this was probably not his favorite activity, it needed to be done, so he did it without complaint.

Another thing Cecil and I often did together was change out the marquee on the front of the Alabama. At the time, this required climbing a somewhat rickety wooden trestle ladder of indeterminate age. We then hung large metal letters on the strips of the marquee. Cecil never failed to repeat the joke, whenever we were hanging a P, "as my mother-in-law always says, there's nothing like a good P."

In some ways, the Alabama Theatre volunteers were like a big family back then. We didn't just see each other at the Alabama. Cecil's birthday was Christmas Eve, so every year he and Linda had a bunch of us over at his house in Pelham to celebrate. The highlight of the evening was going out and watching Santa Claus ride by on a Pelham fire engine.

Another regular get-together was the New Year's Eve gathering of the Alabama Chapter of ATOS, of which almost all the Alabama Theatre volunteers belonged. We played a version of dirty Santa in which we played bingo to select a wrapped prize. Linda was always the number caller. A visiting organist once gave several of the members some truly, um, unique gifts. These wound up going into the prize stash each year. You were not allowed to unwrap gifts until the very end, yet somehow it seemed Cecil almost always wound up with one of gifts in this collection at the end.

No doubt the more I hear from friends, the more stories I will recall, but I must end this for now. During Birmingham Landmark's regular open house this summer, Cecil was notably absent. He was in the hospital. I made a special effort to take my family down for the open house so that I could also visit Cecil and now I'm glad I did. Despite his discomfort, he was still a storyteller.

Just weeks after my visit, I was told he had terminal cancer. He was moved up to his sister's home, which is where he passed away. Although he may be gone, the many people that knew him, not to mention those who simply were regular movie-goers at the Alabama, will not forget him. Please feel free to share you own stories of Cecil.

15 August 2010

A sextet of 1999 classic video game posts

I've posted six more old rec.games.video.classic posts to the blog, all from 1999. These are some of the ones I promised in "a day or three" over a month ago. Oops.
There's at least five more to come, but this time I know better than to promise how soon they'll be posted.

08 July 2010

Toy Story: One step removed from Child's Play?

This post contains spoilers for the movie Toy Story 3. It also contains spoilers for Toy Story and Toy Story 2, but if you haven't seen them by now, I assume you don't care.

The Toy Story movies are just cute movies about the secret life of toys, right? But consider, for a moment, the ramifications of toys as living beings. As viewers have seen, Woody, Buzz, and the gang are often subject to the same emotions of jealousy and fear that we all feel. In fact, it was Woody's jealousy of newcomer Buzz that spurred the first movie's adventure.

Other prime examples are the villains of Toy Story 2 & 3: Stinky Pete and Lotso. Pete became bitter from having sat on a shelf in his package, never taken home and experiencing a child's love. Lotso, on the other hand, had a special bond with a child named Daisy and courageously journeyed back to her side after being left behind, only to discover he had been replaced by a new Lotso. At that point he snapped, and eventually became the embittered overseer of toys at Sunnyside Daycare.

Perhaps the one thing that saves people from the vengence of such toys is the rule, never explicitly stated in words in the films, that humans must never know that toys are "alive". Where this rule comes from is a mystery, but even the freshly unpackaged Buzz Lightyear, who believes himself to be a real Space Ranger, follows it by going lifeless as soon as Andy shows up. It's almost like it's an innate part of being a toy. Except . . . .

As even the first movie showed, there's nothing magical about the transformation from animate to inanimate. It doesn't happen simply because people are present, it happens because the toys choose to do it when people are present. There's always the danger of being accidentally observed, as was teased in Toy Story 3 by the scene with the janitor in the bathroom.

Furthermore, the toys can choose not to follow this rule, as was the case at the end of Toy Story. All of the toys let Sid see them move on their own, with Woody lecturing him the whole time. And frankly, perhaps the toys didn't think the whole plan out. After scaring Sid silly, what do they think he's going to do? Yes, he'll probably stop torturing and destroying them, but he's also likely to throw all the toys in his room away as soon as possible to get them away from him. So in the end, all of Sid's mixed-up toys wind up in the incinerator at the Tri-County Landfill. But I digress.

So what happens when one day an embittered toy realizes there's nothing actually stopping it from taking it's revenge on the humans that wronged them? Imagine Lotso taking his revenge on Daisy by sneaking back in and suffocating her with his own plush body. Imagine the Child's Play movies without the complication of needing a voodoo ritual to inhabit a doll with a human soul. It's enough to make a kid never want to play with an anthropomorphic toy again.

18 June 2010

Video game brags and a disaster

I've posted the tales of several good classic video game finds I originally posted to the rec.games.video.classic Usenet group. Back then we called them "brags". I also dug up the tale of my phone call with Billy Mitchell shortly after his perfect Pac-Man game. Finally, I posted the story of the first time our house flooded from a burst washing machine hose. (The second time was two days later, believe it or not.)

17 June 2010

Belated Hannah update: 18 months


I've been meaning to write this entry for months now. I was going to give physical stats and such, but I don't have them. In the interest of getting this out, she's still 5% in height and head circumference and still below the chart on weight. However, she's on a steady curve and finally hit 20 pounds so we could turn her seat forward! Oh, and she has 12 teeth: eight incisors (four top & four on bottom) and four molars (at the four corners, after a gap next to each end of the incisors where her canines will grow).

I'm teaching her to turn out the lights around the house, as I obviously went wrong somewhere with my sons. They couldn't turn a light out as they leave a room to save their life. Typically the first thing I do when I get home from work is go around and turn out the lights in the back, because everyone's in the living room or kitchen. Naturally, I have to hold her up so she can reach the switches, but maybe she'll keep it up on her own once she's tall enough. She's got enough fine motor skill to do it, but sometimes gets confused as to which way the switch should go to turn the light off or on.

Developmentally, the doctor said she should speak 7-27 words, if I recall correctly what my wife recalls the doctor saying correctly. That's the main thing I want to document now: her vocabulary. Unfortunately, that's rather hard as it has rapidly increased since she turned 18 months, so there may be words I've left out. Note that she's not speaking these absolutely clearly, but her family can understand them when she says them. And she there may be a few that she used in the past that she's not using as often now.

Andrew
Apparently her favorite brother, because she's refusing to say "Walter", even these months since she hit 18. We wonder if she's doing it on purpose to taunt him.

baby
One of her earliest words. It applies to just about anything people shaped. She first started using it for baby dolls at the store, but she's since used it for action figures and young kids bigger than her.

ball

bubble
For her, this actually means apple.

bye-bye

Daddy

dog
This means almost any animal with four legs. (In the months since, she can disinguish between dog and kitty.)

duck
Mainly for rubber ducks, but sometimes real ones too.

ear

eye

juice
Any drink to her is juice.

Mama

meemees
Means she wants to nurse.

no
You might notice that "yes" isn't on the list. At 18 months, as best I remember, she wasn't yet saying "yeah" or "yes", just "no", which made it hard to ask her a simple question.

shoes
This was possibly her first word; it was certainly one of the earliest. The girl loves her shoes (and sometimes other people's).

thank you

tissue
This is sometimes hard to distinguish from "juice", just from the sound. Luckily, she has other ways of letting us know what she wants.

toes

uh-oh
Used most often when she or someone else drops something.

30 May 2010

Wow, a genuine 2600 game thirft store find

I was let off work a little early on Friday because of the holiday weekend. I thought I'd hit the comic book shop before going home as Fantastic Four #589 was out and it might have more Dire Wraiths in it. (I ultimately discovered it doesn't, but Rom is mentioned by a letter writer in the letter column.) To avoid an intersection that gets nasty at rush hour, I decided to take the old way to the store. Unfortunately, I was having a senior moment and started to take the way to a store that's been out of business for years now.

After getting back on track, I realized I was passing a thrift store I'd seen a few times, but hadn't yet stopped at, so I did. I'd been in the store maybe a minute when I spotted a Master Merlin. I'd never actually held one of these sequels to the classic Parker Brothers electronic game, so I quickly grabbed it. When I finally got the battery compartment open, it looked okay. Some minor battery acid on one contact, but nothing that looked like it would prevent it from working. Worth a $2 gamble, I thought. I also found a Michael Bolton CD with several of his hits on it. He probably hit his peak back when I was in college and my iPod is currently Bolton-less, so this is a great buy at $1.

I finally stumbled upon a box of 2600 games. And VIC-20 games? Huh. Anyway, looking through them, I see one title that I don't think I have. Unfortunately, my PDA with my lists of games owned died a while back, so I'm shopping blind. After being quoted a $3.50 price with only $5 on me (cash only store) and $3 already committed, I decide to take the gamble that it won't go anywhere before tomorrow after I check to see if I have it.

I get home. The Master Merlin works fine, I'm happy to report. And it turns out I indeed do not have Solar Storm by Imagic in my 2600 collection. Let the worry begin that it'll disappear before I can return.

Finally, late Saturday afternoon I get back to the store. The box is still there, but someone's moved some of the games around. Looking, looking, whew, it's still here. When I get to the register, it's only $2.50 plus tax. Either I heard him wrong yesterday or their prices are inconsistent. Finally tested it late Saturday night, just before posting this, and it works just fine.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I found an Atari 2600 game I didn't have at a thrift store. Yes, I found one at a video game store last year, but that's not quite the same. Most of my finds of games I didn't already have of late have been Intellivision games, which is not my primary system of interest. The 2600 is. I'll be savoring this for a few days.

Postscript: My timing couldn't have been better, apparently. On Monday, this thrift store posted an ad to Craigslist specifically mentioning "Atari Video Game systems" [sic]. So if this thrift store wasn't on my competition's radar before, it is now.

07 March 2010

1995 classic video games quartet

I've just added four back-dated blog posts about classic video games from 1995.
Comments for the individual posts are disabled, but you can talk about them here if you want.

15 February 2010

1-1/4 years down, 3 years to go on Rom trademark

Despite Hasbro's Rom trademark applications having seemingly been banished to bureaucratic limbo, there has actually been a small bit of news to report since the last update.

First, Hasbo did not respond within their deadline regarding their four "Rom the Spaceknight" filings, so the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has officially marked them as dead. Second, two of the "Rom" applications are still on hold, as reported last time.

Finally, the "Rom" applications, one for paper and office goods and the other for just about every game and toy you can think of, were published in the USPTO's Official Gazette on October 20, 2009 and no parties responded within the five-week deadline to object. If you'd like a personal copy of this four-pound, seven-ounce tome, the U.S. Government Printing Office will be happy to sell you one . . . for just $81! So Hasbro now has six months to submit proof of using the mark in commerce in order to secure it. Sounds good, right? We'll see ads for new Rom toys within six months, right? Well, no.

If Hasbro doesn't submit proof of use within six months, they can instead file for a six-month extension. So we'll know something in a year, right? Uh, no. They can file five of these extensions, meaning it could be three years before the Hasbro trademark saga finally comes to an end.

At this point, I hesitate to speculate any more on Hasbro's motives. In the blog comments, I'd previously argued that Hasbro's spending thousands of dollars on this surely meant they actually had some sort of plan. I'm no longer so optimistic. Perhaps this is simply a negotiating tool because Marvel or some other party (or even multiple parties) have approached them asking to license Rom. And they realized that to do so, they might need some better legal standing than, "we created this character in 1979 and the copyright is still ours." In any case, check back in six months or so for an update and prepare for a long wait for any resolution.

[Next trademark update]