|Issue #57 - February 2009|
|COVERING 3 DECADES OF GAMING|
Table of Contents
|01. Attract Mode
|02. Notes From Our Webmaster
|03. NES'cade - Excitebike
|04. RTM Idiocy Part 2
|05. Apple II Incider - Stargate
|06. The Thrill Of Defeat: Zaxxon In 1K? Oh My!
|07. Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware|
|08. Videological Dig
|09. Game Over|
Attract Mode by Bryan Roppolo
After reading and contributing to Retrogaming
Times through the years, both when it was hosted by Tom Zjaba
and now Alan Hewston, I decided to respond to the request for a new
editor. I have to confess that I have been slacking off a little when
it comes to classic gaming, having not updated the TI-99/4A Videogame
House website since December of last year! So hopefully becoming editor
of this legendary classic gaming magazine will light a spark under me
to get rolling again...and it already seems to have done so.
The first thing you might notice is the new layout of the magazine.
I'm not sure what people think of it, so send any comments to my
e-mail address linked above letting me know. I hope to have a flooded
Inbox with thoughts on the changes to the look so I know what people
like and don't like. I figured changing the main heading/colors of RTM
leaving the basic structure the same would be a
nice change, but not too much of one so that it felt like a different
magazine. My goal here was to have a more fun and colorful feel,
something which I felt was lacking previously. After all, aren't video
games all about fun and
While I am in the spotlight I would like to mention some of the
I have set for 2009 as Editor In-Chief. My first goal is to boost the
number of people that submit articles so that more information gets
covered, since we all know classic gaming covers a lot of systems and
games so there should be a lot of things to talk about that people want
to hear. Another goal is to try and bring in new readers by promoting
RTM in different places where "closet classic gamers" might be lurking.
The more viewers the better in my opinion! I might have to get Alan
Hewston to send me the site stats for each issue every month to see if
any progress is being made. Lastly, I hope to add some fun extras to
magazine as time goes on, such as the "This Month In History" section
which contains excerpts from newspapers/magazines for the month the
particular RTM is published, just so others can read up on what was
in the classic gaming world when it wasn't so classic.
Anyway, let's get on with this first issue of the updated RTM. Remember though to send those comments to my e-mail address on what you think of the new image.
Greetings folks, I'm still around, but spending way too much time with my family and other hobbies lately. I wanted to let you know that we'll try to keep things going and feed you more Retro news in future issues. I'm really hoping to make the time to contribute again. Maybe we can catch up on our issues here in the next couple months to make up for being tardy this time.
Notes From Our Webmaster by Alan Hewston
Excitebike, probably one of the most classic of classic NES games. By all accounts if you owned an NES during its earlier days of mass popularity, a copy of Excitebike was more than likely in your game library. Sure, it was no Super Mario Bros. but the colorful and well designed motorbike race won over a legion of fans. Of course the big question brewing in the mind of our readers right now is, "what does Excitebike have to do with arcade gaming?" Although there was an arcade version of Excitebike that was different than the NES release, it technically was released after the Famicom version, making it a remake. However in the USA the wide release of both games was much closer to one another so I'm going to bend my own rules just a little. If anything this article should act more as an introduction to the arcade version of Excitebike and the differences to those unfamiliar with them. This makes sense since it seems that a good amount of people I've talked with over the years had no idea an arcade version existed.
NES'cade - Excitebike by David Lundin, Jr
Computer Idiocy RTM #2 by Mark Sabbatini
One word for why I don't iPhone:
Apple's permanent disabling of phones
with "unofficial" content a while back is one of those depressingly
common occurrences where vindictiveness is seen as good customer
policy. It goes as far back in computing as I can recall, when some of
the first software copy protection schemes destroyed the data and
equipment of innocent users. As for the pirates, the corporate meanness
was just motivation to crack the latest schemes, which they inevitably
As this column continues trolling for
lesser-known moments of colossal stupidity in retrocomputing history,
the much-mocked TRS-80 Color Computer remains our current microcosm.
Examples of obscure programmers trying to match the destructive
paranoia of corporate bigwigs are evident in a couple of schemes that
ruined the disk drives of countless users.
If a certain MS-DOS program from the
mid-1980s, for instance, "ran into a 'snag' it assumed that it was a
'pirated' copy and immediately trashed several sectors on drive C (the
hard drive), including directories and allocation bit maps," wrote user
GREGL in a Delphi BBS system message in 1987. The message was part of a
thread in a Color Computer forum discussing various protection schemes,
with one CoCo title portrayed as particularly vicious.
"Remember the game 'Mr. Dig?'" wrote
user DONHUTCHISON. "If the game wasn't booted from drive zero, it would
assume that the program had been pirated and would scramble the
allocation table of whatever disk was in drive zero! (It also
wrote 'BUY YOUR OWN!!!' all over the directory!)"
Another much-vilified technique,
perhaps familiar to Commodore 64 users, physically abused the floppy
disk and/or drive.
"EasyScript had a copy-protection
scheme that caused the drive head to bang against the 1541 drive’s
housing," a former owner wrote in a current-day C64 CHAT FORUM. "The
usual end result of this was to eventually misalign the drive head,
rendering the drive useless."
One of the CoCo's more odious
protection schemes forced disk drives to operate at abnormally high
speeds. Tandy initially selected a vendor making one of the lowest
quality drives ever (sticking a premium $600 price tag on them anyhow),
so a significant portion of owners found their equipment not up to the
challenge. One of the more popular CoCo software companies, Tom Mix,
got hundreds of complaints for using the drive abuse scheme on an
unauthorized Popeye clone that refused to load properly.
"Since there were a LOT of old grey
Tandy drive cases out there that WERE limited to 30 ms, this was a
serious problem," wrote Marty Goodman, one of the most knowledgeable
and opinionated CoCo users ever, and probably the most frequent poster
to the Delphi BBS. "I called the manufacturer about this after I and
friends had cracked the scheme, and WARNED him about the problem, and
urged him to change the code to a 30 ms step rate. This was,
unfortunately, not done."
The CoCo had a ROM-pack port which
Tandy – and many other companies using them – figured would curb
piracy. But CoCo users quickly figured out how to copy titles using a
few lines of BASIC code (I considered it one of my great hacking
achievements as a teen, only to be crushed when I found out many others
were just as "ingenious"). But it wasn't just the computer
manufacturers who were clueless, as politicians and legal officials
issued a barrage of confusing, conflicting and often useless decrees on
managing digital copyrights.
"In one case a while back, JS&A
was (in my opinion RIGHTLY) enjoined from making what was, in effect, a
dedicated device solely for pirating ATARI game cartridges," Goodman
wrote. "BUT the REASONS the judge gave for the decision were incredibly
stupid and actually DANGEROUS in the precedent they might set. The
cretinous chimpanzee in his black robes alleged that ROM software
should NOT enjoy the federal protection to right to back up because it
was more durable than Mag Media software. ROM's ARE quite vulnerable to
be zapped, and SHOULD be legal to back up all you want. Though in this
case JS&A was rightly stopped from making a piracy machine, it was
for the WRONG reasons."
Incidentally, Goodman's "cretinous
chimpanzees," one of his more famous phrases, will get a lot of space
in the months ahead.
Finally, users wanting to protect
their work from illegal copying could buy well-intentioned programs
containing their own loaded gun.
One disk encryption program, for
example, scrambled the contents using an algorithm based on a user
password. The unscramble option reversed the formula regardless of the
phrase entered. So an incorrect word or typo – not unheard of with the
CoCo's chiclet keyboard bounce – resulted in the contents being
scrambled into an unrecoverable mess. There was no "are you sure"
prompt or undo option.
Such oversights, which might have been corrected with a line or two of code, were hardly uncommon during the early days of programming. Next month will look at various programs wreaking vast amounts of havoc on users that could have been avoided with literally a few more minutes of effort.
Apple II Incider - Stargate by Donald Lee
Happy February to
everyone! January has come and gone with a whirlwind of
activity. For me personally, I am a basketball official for
youth, high school and adult leagues out here in California. The
months of January/February are typically the busiest times of year
for me as there are tons of games to work. Also, my regular job
has been busy as our sales team tried to sell my company's services in
a difficult economy and they require my services as a Sales Engineer to
The Thrill Of Defeat: Zaxxon In 1K? Oh My! by Mark Sabbatini
People instinctively have
an irrational optimism that's been the
lifeblood of society ever since Eve thought she could get away with
eating fruit. They think politicians they vote for will keep promises,
they think their kids are virgins, they buy tickets to Chicago Cubs
They kept food on the tables of lousy/unscrupulous programmers by buying programs for the 1K Sinclair ZX81 they thought would be entertaining.
At least 90 percent of the tapes were utter crap, duplicates of ubiquitous simpletons like Mastermind and Horse Racing that could be typed in from magazines in minutes. People paid $5 to $20 for collections containing a half-dozen of those and – if they were like me – tossed them in a drawer after a single play and went looking for another collection that might deliver.
Amazingly, once in a while customers got their money's worth.
One kilobyte of memory, for those who missed last month's column about gaming on the world's cheapest computer, is roughly the number of keystrokes this column has required to this point. Take away the memory required for the screen display (one byte for each character) and programmers usually had a leisurely 400 to 800 bytes available.
There were a few amazing
achievements, including a 1K chess game I
referred to last month as the greatest programming effort of all time
(see screenshot, accidentally omitted from the previous column)
[Editor's Note: I included the screen shot of 1K Chess along with its
full re-printed review at the end of this article]. It can
be played online at www.zx81stuff.org.uk/zx81/indexframes.html,
which is also a source for hundreds of other games, including a few
Last month's column reviewed typical – mostly drab – programs users got stuck with. This month rewards those still here by looking mostly at 1K gems, appreciable both for their entertainment value and impressive use of limited memory, including homebrew efforts from recent years. There's also some must-tries just for the preposterousness of their claims, such as Zaxxon, Frogger and an RPG adventure.
As always, grades are strictly relative within the genre, meaning even the best of these wouldn't fare well against titles for a ZX81 with a 16K memory expansion. For those not playable online at the site above, information about emulators and where to find program files is provided after the reviews.
|1K Adventure (D-) Anyone with high hopes for an adventure game on a computer without enough memory for a typical Infocom room description might be dim enough to find some play value here. The player starts out with 500 strength (hit points) and each turn consists of simply hitting any key (you just know the people who loved this are the ones who called customer service looking for the key labeled "any"). The computer subtracts 10 hit points and randomly decides if the player has found more strength, treasure or a monster. The only strategy occurs if a monster is encountered, whereas the player can fight or bribe it. Fighting subtracts up to 75 strength, a bribe costs the same in treasure. If there aren't sufficient points for the chosen option, RIP. I could see a combat RPG with some amount of strategy squeezing into 1K (my thought is use the 8K of ROM data as a map), but this ain't it.|
|1K Breakout (B+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) The only 1K game other than David Hume's legendary 1K Chess to receive votes in a users' poll for the best ZX81 games of all time. It features a full-screen playfield and a twist on the normal rules by requiring players to hit the bricks ("£" characters) twice. They turn into dollar signs after the first hit (half the value, I guess) and disappear after the second, which causes any bricks remaining in that row to drop a level and fill the blank space. The game is pleasantly brisk, pauses briefly between misses and keeps score. The biggest negative is there's only one playfield to complete (you get nine balls for the task, but it takes a few tries to get that far). A lesser complaint is the paddle/ball angle physics aren't great – there's a large "center" area of the paddle where it's possible to keep hitting the ball straight up and down. Still, of the many 1K versions, nothing else is close.|
Tetris (B) Russel Marks'
port of a (tired) classic finished 19th out of 61 entries in the 2002
MiniGame Compo. The blocks are made from inverse "L"s and are
surprisingly effective visually. Key layout is logical and responsive,
unlike most games that use Sinclair's illogical line of arrows on the
5-8 keys. A couple of contest judges knocked it for lacking scoring,
but Marks partially addressed this by adding a tally of vanquished
lines in 2004. Another unimpressed judge noted "there are 256-(byte)
tetris clones for PC." Maybe, but this is a commendable effort
|Ballmaze (B) One of several quality modern-era 1K games by Fernando Miguel Barletta (others are reviewed below), this requires the player to use the (dreaded) cursor keys to navigate a ball through seven mazes of increasing complexity before a timer runs out. It's pure vanilla – the ball has no momentum, moving only when the player presses a key – but I have no idea how Barletta squeezed so much in. The mazes cover a large part of the screen and there are little touches, such as a gauge ticking off the time remaining, there seemingly shouldn't be room for. The timer also gets faster after each maze and the game repeats itself if all seven are completed. It placed 13th at the 2004 MiniGame Compo, getting mixed reviews from the judges ("very simple, no randomness, still makes some fun, but only for a few minutes," one wrote). It loses play value once all the mazes are completed, but the challenge is sufficient that it took me far more than a few minutes and the addiction factor was strong enough to keep me trying.|
|Can Of Worms (C-) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) For those of you who (cough) missed last month's abundance of crummy game collections, this offers the experience in a concept that will either make you laugh enough to somewhat justify the cost or disgust you to the point of throwing the computer out with the Ouija board as a symbol of evil.|
|Challenge (B+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) A surprisingly good five-program collection, in no small part because it's one of the few using machine language to keep things fast (sometime too fast). Brand's Hatch is a race around the track game that's a whale of a short-term challenge thanks to its control scheme and fast gameplay. Road Road is a similar but more complex concept, requiring one or two players to steer through an overhead map of London to a finish line nine times. Meteor Strike is a reversal of the common "bomber" concept, as the player must rotate a map of the world so continents aren't hit by meteors that take out everything in their path from the top to the bottom of the map. Juggler requires moving back and forth to keep four balls aloft, sort of like keeping four balls alive in breakout if they were falling straight up and down. All four have logical controls, most of which are helpfully listed on the screen, and some offer options such as speed adjustments. The only clunker in the collection is Cartoon Man, a mere programming exercise where an animated man moves left or right at one of four speeds as the appropriate keys are pressed. The one other negative is it's impossible to tell which way the cars are facing in the racing games, which makes their left/right steering controls more of a frustration than a challenge for a while.|
|Juggle81 (B-) Wow, a Game And Watch emulator, complete with sound on a soundless computer, that's mostly spot-on. Pity the game really isn't that engaging. The player controls the arms of a juggler with the left and right keys, putting the arms in one of three positions to juggle three balls traveling overhead at different speeds. Basically, it's a simple combination of Kaboom and Breakout concepts. The game gets faster after every 20 catches, but it's still way too easy to figure out the movement of the balls and keep them in play for a long time. Also, the display is highly glitchy, something akin to the flickering in a lot of Atari 2600 games. In it's favor, it's one of a minuscule number of games with sound, playing beeps through a hardware add-on sold back then.|
|Lazyfrog (B-) This tiny Frogger knockoff is another game by Marks, intended for but not entered into the MiniGame Compo (he doesn't exactly talk it up, calling it "a fairly lazy port"). Marks says the game is probably too easy, but I found it challenging and it's arguably better than a few of the exceeding lame 16K commercial versions for the ZX81. The player guides frogs across four crowded lanes of traffic and four rows of logs to reach four "home" spots. If all are filled the next wave continues at a slightly higher speed. It keeps score and the player gets three frogs. Missing are time limits, lady frogs, diving turtles and other "extras."|
|Rally 1K (B-) A one-trick pony you'll tire of after mastering this car racing game, but an undeniably impressive bit of programming by Fernando M. Barletta for one of the MiniGame Compos. The player drives a car around a scrolling race track from an overhead perspective, trying to complete a lap in the least amount of time (20 seconds is the suggested time to beat). It will take you longer – much longer – to complete it the first time because of the control scheme and quirky block-graphic thing at the center of the screen that is your car. That's not to say the graphics are bad, since they're actually remarkable given the ZX81's 64X48 graphics resolution, but it takes a while to figure out which of eight directions your car is facing. Since the controls are forward, reverse and turn right or left, that's pretty important. One really nice touch is the opening title screen, which scrolls the track around in various directions. It didn't score all that high in the competition ("doesn't feel like racing, more like coaxing a LOGO turtle around a course," one judge wrote), but it's worth a boot and maybe a half-hour of your time.|
|ZXAction (C+) Zaxxon in 1K? Not really, but this is another MiniGame entry by Barletta claiming be a simplified version of the 3D scrolling arcade space shooter. Graphically it's impressive within the Sinclair's limits as the jagged space fort scrolls by endlessly at a good pace. There's a demo mode and final score display. Gameplay is (obviously) more limited than the arcade since the player's ship only moves left and right, all of the targets are merely deadly obstacles to be avoided or shot (no missile launches, fuel tank refills, etc.), and the game ends after a single collision. Games can last a while anyhow since the difficulty level is too easy and doesn't increase. The MiniGame judges liked this more than I did, ranking it ninth out of 17 1K entries, four spots higher than Ballmaze, which I consider superior. Worth playing once to appreciate the visuals, but that's all.|
Chess (A) [This is a reprinting from January's issue
(RTM 56)] Horne's effort is considered legendary and ranks as the
second-best title in an all-time ZX81 users' poll, so how can this
grade be ay lower despite some significant shortcomings? The computer
AI is beginner-level competent, with a magazine comparison of ZX81
chess games rating it five out of 10 (the best earned a nine, but all
would get their chips kicked by nearly any program on another
computer). The pieces on Horne's tiny board are represented by letters
rather than graphics ("P" for pawn, "Q" for queen, etc.), but
Sinclair's in-house chess game does the same and requires 16K (it got a
six for playing ability). The lettering is not too hard to get used to
and the game can always be played out on a real board. The computer
checks to make sure the player (who is always black) makes legal moves
and puts on an entertaining display as the moves it is considering with
flashing letters. The limited AI is somewhat redeemed by moves that are
fairly quick (advanced programs of the era can take 10 hours or more
per move). The biggest drawback is the program doesn't recognize
castling or capturing en passant, but the grade here doesn't suffer
given the impossibility of including them given the memory limits (a
version for the unexpanded 2K Timex/Sinclair 1000 includes these
moves). The only nick is for the number-letter notation for entering
moves (7E5E as an opening pawn move, for instance) instead of the
conventional letter-number approach, which resulted in some early
frustration and seems correctable without using additional memory.
There's plenty of free ZX81
emulators for nearly any computer, thanks
to the low system requirements. A good one for Windows users is
EightyOne (at www.chuntey.com), while on
my Mac I use ZXSP (http://k1.dyndns.org/Develop/projects/zxsp-osx/distributions/).
Both emulate multiple Sinclair and related machines, including the
ZX80, Spectrum and Jupiter Ace. Program files are equally easy to find
and they're so small it makes sense to simply grab various ZIP files
with hundreds of titles each (www.zx81.nl and
are two such resources).
Next month we'll really stretch the memory boundaries, relatively speaking, with a look at games for the ZX81's U.S. near-clone, the 2K Timex Sinclair 1000.
Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware by Jonathan H. Davidson
Classic-era game system with the widest retro appeal is the Atari 2600.
It has been emulated on virtually every modern console. The Atari
Anthology (2004) is the second such collection of Atari 2600 games for
the PlayStation 2; it was preceded by the Activision Anthology (2002) -
and the subject of a future review.
The Atari Anthology, published by Atari Interactive, is substantially the same as the PC collection Atari: the 80 Classic Games (2003); that collection was reviewed in a previous issue of RTM. This collection includes 85 games altogether; 18 Atari arcade games and 67 Atari 2600 games. Many of the arcade games were also previously included in the Atari Anniversary Edition Redux (2001) collection for the original PlayStation.
The arcade games in the Anthology include everything that was ported to the 2600 (e.g. Centipede, Asteroids, Crystal Castles, Warlords) as well as some vector games that were not (e.g. Black Widow, Major Havoc, and Space Duel). Presumably for historic reasons, the original Pong is also included.
The range of Atari 2600 games is quite comprehensive! It includes roughly three-quarters of the original Atari-made games that did not use licensed content. Titles included range from some of very early releases including Star Ship and Outlaw, through games released towards the end of the system's life span such as Quadrun, Radar Lock, and Off the Wall.
The collection even includes a few games that saw only very limited commercial release such as Swordquest Waterworld and Video Cube. Speaking as a Canadian collector, the Sears exclusive titles (e.g. Submarine Commander, Steeplechase, Stellar Trek) are especially interesting as they were never officially sold here in Canada.
Some of the game choices are a bit odd (e.g. Flag Capture, Slot Machine, Math Gran Prix, Video Chess, and Fun with Numbers); I cannot image that these titles hold much nostalgia value. There is also some redundancy with different versions or editions of games. For example the collection includes three different baseball games: Home Run (1978), Realsports Baseball (1982), and Super Baseball (1988). It almost seems like the producers were trying to pad-out the size of the collection.
The extras and bonus content are also very comprehensive. For the 2600 games, there are full-colour scans of all of the original game manuals, as a well as a system manual. Some of the scans are a bit too small to read on the TV screen and a few things are outright missing (e.g. two of the three Swordquest comic books).
For the arcade games, there are scans of the original sales flyers created to promote the game to arcade operators. There are also some miscellaneous scans of various Atari promotional items and video clips of an interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell (this content is recycled from the Atari Anniversary Edition Redux).
Unfortunately, there is no general section on the history of Atari, or any information about the rarity or significance of some of these games.
As is the case with just about every retro game compilation I have reviewed, some games adapt to the PlayStation 2 controllers better than others. Most of the games were designed for a single joystick, so they have made the transition easily. While originally designed for a trackball, Centipede and Millipede are playable with a joystick, and Asteroids is actually easier than with the original arcade controls.
In contrast, games that used a spinner or paddle controls, such as Super Breakout and, especially, Tempest are difficult to almost unplayable. Star Raiders, which required a separate keypad, is also nearly unplayable (there are enough buttons on the controller, but they are oddly mapped).
On the main interface screen, the games are grouped into various categories (e.g. Mind Games, Sports Games, Arcade Originals) and clicking on the game launches that title. Various options, such as difficulty level, can be set before the game is started. The arcade games provide the option of having the original screen border; with this option enabled, I find that the screen size is just too small to comfortably see.
Next month, we will review yet another collection of classic games for the PlayStation 2. Feedback on this column is always welcome; please send any comments and/or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Videological Dig by Bryan Roppolo
in the "Attract Mode" section, I am planing on adding
some extra interesting tidbits to the magazine that are not necessarily
original articles, but rather fun bits dug up from the past. The first
of these "extras" is called the "Videological Dig", which is a play on
the term Archaeological Dig. This is the section where past video game
news bytes, sound bytes, TV spots etc. will be posted so people can
experience classic gaming before it became classic. I always get a
blast digging through old newspapers, magazines, etc. and reading about
old info as it was occurring, so I hope others enjoy this new addition
as much as I enjoy finding these old articles.
strange reason I am in a Sonic the Hedgehog type of mood
right now (maybe it's all the blue used in this new design), so I
looked around for some articles that mentioned the coming of Sonic on
the Genesis and found a nice article from the June 8, 1991 issue of the
Toronto Star covering the CES
show in Chicago. It might not cover Sonic that much, but it was a very
neat piece that I thought was worthy of sharing. It's written by
William Burrill and appears on page J4 of the newspaper. Not only is
there some neat hype about the Super Nintendo here, but see if you can
spot any pre-release names of games mentioned in the article.
By William Burrill, TORONTO STAR
CHICAGO - It's a bitter war.
Sixteen bits, to be precise.
At this week's Summer Consumer Electronics Show here, Nintendo finally released it's long-awaited 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States. The Super NES is almost identical to the 16-bit Super Famicom, released in Japan nine months ago. But crafty Nintendo has altered the guts just enough so the U.S. Super NES won't play Japanese Super Famicom games.
As predicted in this column earlier, the Super NES will not play the 8-bit games for the 65 million exiting NES systems. And, as I reported in The Star earlier this week, the Super NES will not be released in Canada until some undetermined date in 1992. The Super NES is twice as powerful as the old 8-bit NES system. It features sharper graphics, a multiple background scrolling rate that creates a 3-D effect, faster game play and much greater color capacity. It's a very nifty little piece of hardware. But, of course, the Super NES is not the first 16-bit game system on the
market. Both the Sega Genesis and NEC's TurboGrafx-16 have been around since 1989.
So which 16-bit has the most bite? That was the question an army of public relations and marketing people sunk their teeth into at this convention that attracts electronic gamers from all over the world.
Nintendo came out swinging, telling buyers here in Chicago that the Super NES is far superior to its two 16-bit rivals. "Almost every capability of the Super NES is almost twice that of the other systems," Nintendo's Tim Dale told me as Super Mario bopped around in the 16-bit Super Marioland. "The most color capacity for the competitors is 516 colors, while we have over 32,000 colors."
Nintendo even took out trade ads saying that, until the release of the Super NES, "many of the currently available 16-bit games are really just warmed over 8-bit versions!" Nintendo says the new Super NES games, including Super Marioland, Castlevania IV, The Legend of Zelda III, Sim City, Super Play Action Football, Pilotwings and F-Zero, are the first games specifically designed to fully utilize a 16-bit system. But Sega counter-attacked, claiming they are the real leaders in the 16-bit market, with more than 100 games already available, compared to about a dozen
for the Super NES.
Nintendo has sold 80 per cent of the game systems now in North America, compared to 10 per cent for Sega and 5 per cent for TurboGrafx-16. But Sega has sold the most 16-bit systems. "If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Nintendo is paying Sega the biggest compliment of all," said Sega's Mark Smotroff. And Nintendo may have waited too long to pay that compliment, Sega's Bob Botch figures. "We're glad they waited," he said in an interview. "It takes programmers at least a year or so to know what a new piece of hardware really can or can't do. We're obviously over that curve now with the Genesis, and they're just starting. So we'll have a software edge on them for some time."
In the Sega arcade area, one screen shows Sega's new Mario-rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, looking sharp and crisp beside a screen showing a suspiciously washed-out Super NES version of Super Marioland. "They have the resolution turned way down on Mario," grumbled one Nintendo
representative. But Sega counters that Nintendo's claim of 32,000 colors to Sega's 516 is a shade misleading. "You can only see so many colors on a TV screen," Botch said. "And I think the Genesis has already pushed that limit pretty far."
Boom! Sega lets go another salvo, lowering the Genesis price to $149.95 (U.S.), compared to $199 for the Super NES.
Bang! Nintendo makes a surprise announcement that it and Phillips Electronics have agreed to produce CD-ROM games for a CD player that will plug into the Super NES. (Nintendo also has another CD game deal with Sony Corp.)
Biff! Sega announces its own CD unit to plug into the Genesis, available here early next year.
One company that already has a 16-bit system and a CD player attachment on the market is NEC Inc., with its TurboGrafx-16 system. But can NEC keep up, now that Nintendo has entered the fray, predicting to sell 2 million Super NES units this year? Based on 1991 projections, Sega says the 1991 16- bit market share will work out to: Sega (60 per cent), Nintendo (28 per cent), NEC TurboGrafx-16 (12 per cent).
Boffo! NEC delivers a flurry to the solar plexus by chopping its 16-bit unit price to $99 (U.S.), thus dropping itself out of the price war between Sega and Super NES and setting itself up as a direct competitor to the old 8-bit NES.
Nintendo has a great new product. It'll be in stores in September across the border. But not in Canada. "We feel Canadians haven't fully explored all the 8-bit games yet," said Peter MacDougall, vice-president of Nintendo Canada.
Sega watches this move with glee: "We have no idea what the logic of that move is," Botch said. "Traditionally, when Sega ships something to the U.S., we very quickly ship it to Canada because things go back and forth across the border." But MacDougall doesn't see much risk of losing business to those who shuffle off to Buffalo for the Super NES. He's sure we'll go looking for it, but doubts we'll find many due to high demand and low availability.
Anyway, if all this talk of corporate sumo wrestling is rotting your brain, you get some idea how it feels to spend time as a correspondent on the front lines of an international video game marketing war.
Gawd! No wonder they call Chicago the Windy City.
The important thing to remember is the games are the key. If these guys try to undercut each other and the quality of the games falls
off because of the price war, we all lose. (Remember Atari, Coleco and Intellivision, way back in the early '80s?) But if they try to outduel each other with better games, we're into a pleasant dilemma of not knowing which way to turn.
After completing this issue I realized I did not introduce myself
properly in the introduction. For those of you out there that don't
know me, my name is Bryan Roppolo and I've been collecting classic
video games for over 11 years (time really flies when you are having
fun). Through the years I have started up various websites for the
TI-99/4A, which was my first system that I got on Christmas 1983 when
the stores were practically giving them away (I still have a picture
from that Christmas with the boxed TI under the tree).
Collecting for the TI-99/4A has probably provided me with the most
fun of my life, from tracking down former programmers on the Internet,
to building my own websites, to helping books publish information on
the TI. Without the 99/4A, I don't know what I would be doing now and
for the most part do not want to know since I'm sure it has kept me out
of trouble through the years!
My main objectives in becoming editor of Retrogaming Times Monthly is to
help give back even more to the community that I have been apart of for
over a decade, and also to become even more involved with the hobby
that has shaped the person that I am today. It should prove to be a fun
and exciting journey to not only help continue RTM as a publication,
but making it better and hopefully more well known to people outside of
the classic gaming groups. I thank both the staff and the readers of
RTM for giving me this opportunity, since without either there would be
no RTM to edit.
Roppolo, Retrogaming Times Monthly Editor
Copyright © 2009 Alan Hewston & Bryan Roppolo. All related copyrights and trademarks are acknowledged.