Buying Games Used to be Convoluted, but Magical

Buying a game today is a non-event. You simply go to a store, pick up the game, walk to the checkout and pay for it. Some retailers, like Target or Walmart, keep them behind a display (CLASSY), which requires the extra step of asking a kind associate for assistance, that is if you can find one.

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GameStop keeps their games behind the checkout, so you need to ask for a copy, which in return they would ask if you pre-ordered it, which my response is was, NO I DIDN’T FUCKING PRE-ORDER IT, BUT YOU HAVE A STACK OF 100 OF THEM BACK THERE SO GIVE ME ONE GODDAMNIT! I have a love/hate relationship with GameStop. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t buy physical copies of games anymore and just download them, like a civilized person. I have also been told that I have a tendency of over reacting.

Back in the day however, there was a process that must be followed when purchasing a game. This was especially the case at Toys R Us, which was my retailer of choice to buy games when I was a kid.

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This unique process, employed by Toys R Us, has been embedded and buried into the depths of my mind. This memory was only uncovered recently after watching a documentary about Tony Robbins on Netflix late one evening.

During this documentary, Tony Robbins, motivational speaker, life coach, self-help guru, and cosmetic dentistry enthusiast, demonstrated an exercise that helps uncover long lost memories. These memories, often times deeply buried, are both positive and negative, but none-the-less, make you the person that you are today. These memories can be very powerful and one can harness them, helping to make you a stronger person.

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With that said, after trying this memory dredging exercise myself, I have no fucking idea why I remembered, and quite vividly I might add, the convoluted and confusing video game buying process employed by Toys R Us from when I was a child.  It’s apparent that my brain is broken. No memories of early vacations, or interactions with my grandparents, birthdays, holidays, or even traumatic events. Nope, I remembered how Toys R Us made the process of buying video games akin to a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

For those of you who are too young to remember, or may have forgotten, back in the 80’s and the early to mid-90’s, Toys R Us used a ticketing system for the majority of their large and or expensive products. One would walk down the aisle, find a display of the product they wanted to purchase, select a ticket, take it to the register, pay, and then someone would get you the product you purchased.  If you bought a bicycle, someone would bring you a box of an unassembled bicycle. If you bought swing set, someone would bring you a swing set, et cetera.

Many Toys R Us stores still employ this method, as it does make sense, and it is efficient for large bulky items. Toys R Us used this method for pricier things as well years ago, such as electronics and especially video games.

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As a child, I remember going down the video game aisle and seeing rows and rows of plastic flip cards for games.  The front had the box art and the back had some screen shots and a description. Essentially, it was a representation of the box.  And just below each game, there was a pouch with the fabled Toys R Us item ticket.

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I have vivid memories of going into Toys R Us with my mom or dad to pick up a particular game, only to encounter an empty ticket pouch stating that the game was out of stock and be an utterly devastated 8-year-old. Perhaps it was a mistake. Maybe some asshole took all the tickets and hid them somewhere in the store for some nefarious reason?  Maybe the store just got more in stock and didn’t replenish the tickets? A quick trip to customer service would always validate my fears. The game was indeed sold out.

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More often than not, the game that I wanted was in stock, and I would select my ticket and excitedly go to the front cash registers, like a demented Charlie Bucket, but instead of a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, I was buying what was most likely a forgettable and utterly average NES side scroller.

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After paying for the game at one of the cash registers, the cashier would staple your receipt to the ticket and that is where the magic begins. You then head off to what appeared to be as an excitable child, a plexiglass monolith of electronic and video game goodness. Sadly, all images of this structure no longer exists.  All my image searches came up empty. The image below is the closest representation I could find.

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Within the confines of this structure were stacks of every gaming console imaginable—NESs, Sega Master Systems, Gameboys, and random Atari garbage. Later on there would be the Genesis, SNES, TurboGrafx 16, and holy shit, was that a Neo Geo? Also housed in the clear monolith were games. Stacks upon stacks of games.

Eventually, a sales associate would be called down to get the game that you payed for. A lethargic and disinterested looking teenager would unlock the door, take your ticket, and then attempt to locate your purchased game among the stacks of other games. I say attempt, because they would inevitably pass over your game a half dozen times before zeroing in on it.

IT’S RIGHT OVER THERE MOTHERFUCKER!

…I totally would have said that—if my father wasn’t standing there and would have totally beaten the shit out of me, right there in the store. Remember, this was the 1980’s, parents got away with doing that, and if he got tired slapping me around in public, another parent would have come over and beat me while my father caught his breath.  It takes a village to raise children properly, you know.

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Eventually, the teenager would locate your game and hand it over.  I would stare at the box the entire car ride home.  Sometimes, I could not help myself and I would open it up to flip through the instruction manual. Those were the good old days, when games had instruction manuals. The best games had meaty manuals, that contained some back story and a list of enemies.

On a slightly darker side, I also clearly remembered how my friends and I used to scheme during lunch on an Ocean’s 11 caliber plan to infiltrate that plexiglass fortress and make off with all the goodies inside. It was our casino bank vault, ripe for the picking, that is of course if you had a good plan, the right people, and the guts to pull it off such an amazing heist.

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I bet you thought the Clooney version, right? Nope, I’m talking about the infinitely cooler Rat Pack Ocean’s 11.

There were even legends of kids who had found a way in and made off with a handful of carts (or even consoles, depending on who you asked).  These kids then conveniently moved away to other towns, cities and even states, so it could never be confirmed or denied if the story was true or even learn how they pulled it off. Sometimes the tales were cautionary and the kid got caught, sent to juvey and became a hardened criminal. These stories were all legends, who knew if there was any shred of truth to them. (DEFINITELY NOT)

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Risks of juvenile detention aside, my friends and I would speak in hushed tones and plan our caper. Danny would buy a cheap game so that someone would need to unlock the booth. Brucie would wait by the booth and fake a heart attack when the sales associate unlocks the door, causing a commotion and a distraction. Johnny would then go into the booth with a garbage bag and take as much as he can. He’ll then hand the haul off to Jimmy, who’s waiting outside on his bike. It was so crazy; it just might work!  SHHHHHHHH. A teacher’s aid was walking by, she’s onto us. CHANGE THE SUBJECT!

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Also, in the 80’s all of my friend’s names had to end in “-y” or ”-ie” for some reason.

We never did follow through with our plan. It was too risky, and too stupid. Deep down inside, we knew it would never work. We would have been caught in an instant, and our parents would have been called. They would then take turns beating the shit out of us in public.

It was the 80’s, after all. That’s how things were. It takes a village to raise children properly, you know.

The FBI Wasted My Tax Dollars on a Video Game

The wife and I got a jump on our taxes this year. All of our tax forms from our employers, banks, and creditors have been sent off to our accountant. Hopefully, we get a decent return this year, which is never a guarantee. My hope is that it’s enough to put a stripper pole in the basement.

Every year, for eight years, when we send all of the forms to our accountant, I tell him to get me big refund by COOKING THE BOOKS. He then cordially reminds me that he is a reputable CPA. I also have no idea what cooking the books entails, but it sounds cool.

Eventually, we’ll get completed tax forms from the accountant to sign before submitting to Uncle Sam, and I marvel at how much money I paid in taxes both to the state as well as the federal government.

Where does all this money go?

Well, a portion of it went to the FBI, who spent it designing a website and a “video game,” with the aim of teaching teens the dangers of violent extremism. The money would have gone to better use if the feds used it to wipe their asses and then setting it on fire.

Have you ever encountered an instances where someone shows you something that they are very proud of, and you just smile, grit you teeth and nod, because you’re afraid to tell them that in actuality it’s total shit?  That’s the feeling I get when visiting the FBI website and right up front, on the page’s main carousel you’ll see “Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism.”

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According to the FBI, “today like never before, violent extremists of all kinds are deliberately targeting our nation’s young people with poisonous propaganda—especially in cyberspace, where they are flooding social media with slick recruiting videos and persuasive calls to action.”

This is very true and terrifying. So the FBI’s plan to counter this is with a website using the slickest imagery and styles from 2003.

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The goal of the site, which can be viewed here, is to “teach teens recognize violent extremist messaging and become more resistant to self-radicalization and possible recruitment, through the use of activities, quizzes, videos, and other materials.”

This is a noble goal and it’s a shame that it was squandered on a such a horrible site that appears to be an perfect example of what out of touch beltway pundits believe teens find “cool.”

The ultimate goal for the user is to click on each section and complete small tasks.  These tasks are actually very informative and one can learn quite a bit.  After each task is completed, a string is cut on the puppet, freeing an appendage. Ultimately, you must free the puppet, so he can go home to his father, Geppetto and eventually become a REAL BOY…. probably.

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I’m not even sure what’s going on here. Where are we supposed to be? Is this some kind of post-apocalyptic safe house? I’m getting a Myst vibe. Click on any of the boxes and you’ll zoom into that area and get a definition and a task.

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That’s a sweet ass rig there. What is that? A 486 tower with floppy and CD-ROM! Damn, we’re going to be playing some original Wolfenstein tonight, kids.

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Holy shit that’s an original Gameboy! Do teens today even know what an original Gameboy is? I like to imagine that a group of old grizzled G-men sitting at a meeting and one them say, “When my son was teenager, he used to love playing with something called a Gameboy. Let make sure we have one on the site because teens love those things.”

It just so happens that this area will also allow you to play a game called “Slippery Slope” on that Gameboy.

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You play as a goat that must dodge obstacles and make it to the finish line. Make it to the finish line and you’ll get a message.

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Wow, that sure came out of nowhere. How does one go from playing, as a happy goat traipsing through the countryside avoiding obstacles to what appears to be a quote from Conan the Barbarian? That escalated quickly—slippery slope indeed.

In the end, I really didn’t want to shit all over this site, as it does have a noble goal. Terrorism and extremism is real and it is scary, and yes, they are targeting teenagers, who may vulnerable and can be impressionable.

But here’s the thing, teens may be impressionable, but they are not stupid. A site like this panders to them in a condescending way.  You don’t have to make things edgy, cool, or fun to get through to youth. This was the case when I was a teenager and it’s true today.

5 Things To Do in Amsterdam Other than Playing Games at Your Hotel

In full disclosure, I have never visited Amsterdam. I came close to going a couple of times, and my wife and I almost honeymooned there, before deciding on going elsewhere. Suffice it to say, going to Amsterdam is on my bucket list.

Before my wife and I decided to stay exclusively in Austria for our honeymoon, we did have a rough itinerary planned for Amsterdam.  There is a lot going on in that bohemian city. So why would anyone decided to hole themselves up in a hotel and play video games when there is so much more worthwhile things to do?

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The folks at the Arcade Hotel, however hope that’s exactly what you would do. To their credit, the place does sound cool and the price for a stay is reasonable with rates starting at about $70 per night. Its location appears to be on the outskirts of the city center in a trendy and hip area where the streets are named for Dutch master painters.

The hotel also appears to be relatively small with only 36 rooms, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Each room comes with a console and some games. Guests of the hotel can also borrow a handheld if that tickles their fancy or peruse the comic book library. The Arcade Hotel also maintains a fleet of loaner bikes, which is apparently the preferred mode of travel in Amsterdam.

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I certainly don’t want to poo poo this establishment, because it sounds appealing to me personally as a gamer. The problem is that I can’t see myself taking full advantage of this establishment when visiting a city with such an amazing reputation as Amsterdam.

This is sound like your typical Catch-22. Put a hotel like this out in the middle of nowhere, and you will fail because who want to be out in the middle of nowhere.  Put this hotel in an amazing city like Amsterdam, and people don’t take advantage of the amenities because who want to be holed up in a room playing games when they are vacationing.

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I hope that this place succeeds, and who know, maybe one day my wife and I will make it out to Amsterdam and get to stay at this place. We already have a list of things we wanted to see on our Honeymoon, such as:

5. Visit the Anne Frank House

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4. Go on a canal boat tour

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3. Go to various museums

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2. Go to a “Coffee Shop”

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1. Shop at the many open-air markets

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BONUS: Red Light District

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On a side note, my wife and I have this on-going debate that originated when we were considering going to Amsterdam on our honeymoon and I mentioned that we should visit the Red Light district. I believed (AND STILL DO) that a hand job from a lady of the night is fine as long as no kissing is involved. It’s essentially a massage right?  I don’t give her crap when some dude gives her a massage when she and her friends have one their spa days.

She disagreed and says that if I did, she would have our marriage annulled as soon as we got back from our honeymoon. In the end, it was one of the main reasons why she decided we would go to Vienna and Salzburg instead of Amsterdam.

 

Better with Age: Classic Games Just Look Better… For Now

I’m not a big fan of the term ‘better with age’ since many things are simply not better than age. Sure, things like wine, scotch, and some cheeses are better with some age. Technology? Not so much.

Ever notice that no one ever yearns for medicine of yesteryear? I’ve never met a person who looked fondly at the time when doctor’s prescribed Camel cigarettes for weight loss and bled people with leeches to release the body of bad humors.

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I’m not one to look back at videogames with rose-colored glasses either. Many folks make a big deal about how games were simply better than current generation titles, but that is not entirely true either. Also, many people who claim that that older games are just better dress like lumberjacks and like in Brooklyn. I don’t believe anything these people say.

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Take the original PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64 as examples. For the most part, the games on these systems don’t hold up well visually. At the time, we thought they looked amazing, as they were in 3D and everything was built on millions of polygons, but this was just a novelty as it was new and fresh after years of gaming on a 2D plane. Simply put, early 3D games looked horrible.

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Take Mario 64 for example. The game itself was amazing as it was the first iteration of a platformer to make the leap from 2D to 3D and not muck it up. It was groundbreaking, but looking at the game today, the years have not been kind. I’d rather look at Super Mario World on the SNES than Mario 64.

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And that’s the crux of it. Older games do look better, but you have to go back further to see it. In my humble opinion, the games from the 16-bit era, especially as that era was coming to close looked visually unique and amazing. The large colorful sprites really popped.

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Again, I’m not saying that games from the initial PlayStation to today are garbage, but quite the contrary actually. The PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64 took gaming into what I like to believe is the modern era of gaming, where 3D, innovative mechanics, story, and high production values became the norm. Unfortunately, it took some time for the visuals to catch up.

Personally speaking, even though classic games, in which I like to define as the 16-bit era and earlier, are more visually pleasing than the early 32-bit era of games, game play wise however, they have not held up very well.

From time to time, I’ll pick up a classic game, either running on an original console or emulated on a modern machine and I’m surprised at how bad I am at playing them. Keep in mind that many of these games are titles that I played years ago as a child and could run through them at ease. Maybe I’m really becoming an old man and my reflexes are going to shit? Or perhaps I’m just not as patient as I used to be and I’m not willing to put in the time to perfect my run through or memorize the maps.

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I remembered all the strategies and secrets, but could no longer execute them. I then become easily frustrated by the pixel perfect timed jumps, or the questionable hit detection and quickly return to more modern games. I find this a bit ironic actually. I’d rather look at a classic game than play it.

I suppose that this is not an extraordinary breakthrough. It’s not too dissimilar from classic movies actually. Take Citizen Kane as an example. Everyone agrees that this movie was groundbreaking and a classic, but ask me to watch it and I’ll cordially decline.

It took some time, but I would argue that we’re coming to a new golden age of gaming. We have gotten to the point where visually, gaming is getting near its apex. I say this because the leap in visuals from last generation to current generation was not all that groundbreaking. Yes, current generation games look amazing, but compare to last generation, the change in visuals are more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Take EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront as an example. It is perhaps one of the most visually impressive games I have ever scene, even though game play wise, the game is infuriatingly mediocre. It’s almost as if we’ve reached a point where creating a beautiful looking game is the easy part, yet making it innovative, fun, and memorable is where the true challenge lies.

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I reckon time will tell if my theory holds true. In the meantime, I’ll stick to watching people speed run through classics games. I’m retiring from playing the classics. I’ll leave that to the young whippersnappers.

Sharks Can Thank Sega for Their Two Penises

Sega, a company that is responsible for molding me into the gamer I am today has been hit by some hard times. The reasons for this are numerous, but in a nutshell, one can say that Sega has not made a sound decision since 1994; the sole exception being the short lived Sega Dreamcast.

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I’ve written a lot on how much of a fan I was of Sega growing up, so it makes me sad to see the company going through such hard times as of late. Things have gotten so bad that for the first time in its history, Sega will not have a booth at E3 2015.

As reported by Game Informer by way of Ars Technica, Sega claims the lack of presence has to do from moving from the long time headquarters in San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“Over the next months, Sega of America will be focusing on the restructure and relocation to Southern California, and we have decided to not attend E3 with our own booth this year… With the majority of our bigger titles launching later in 2015/2016, particularly those from our AAA studios Relic Entertainment, Sports Interactive, and Creative Assembly, we are concentrating our efforts for some of these major announcements after our relocation.”

Well that sucks. I always considered Sega of America to be a Northern California company and here they are, going off to LA LA Land, with stars in their eyes, looking to start off on a clean slate, like a naïve and young Axel Rose.


Or Pat Benetar, boob menacing a rat faced pimp in the greatest music video of all time.


Moving to new digs in SoCal aside, Sega has also been in an extreme restructuring mode, shifting away from console and PC development and towards smartphones so bowing out of E3 after attending for twenty years straight is not all that surprising, since they are obviously struggling as a company.

Interestingly enough, one can pinpoint where it went all to shit for Sega and it was at the very first E3 in 1995, exactly 20 years ago. In Los Angeles on May 11, 1995, then Sega of America CEO, Tom Kalinske announced that the upcoming Sega Saturn will cost $399. He also announced that even though they initially stated that the Saturn would be release in September of 1995, Sega had already shipped 30,000 consoles to Toys “R” Us, Babbage’s, Electronics Boutique, and Software Etc. for immediate release.

Now, Tom didn’t say that all other retailers not mentioned can go fuck themselves, but that’s how Walmart, Best Buy, and various other retailers took it and returned the favor by dropping Sega from their shelves.

Later that day, Sony Computer Entertainment America president Steve Race took the stage, said “$299”, and then walked away. I would have dropped the microphone, but Steve Race has class.

So at the very first E3, in 1995, Sega was cast into a death spiral in which it could never recover. It’s a fall that it’s still experiencing today—a perpetual fall from grace while it fights a Balrog into a precipice.

Personally speaking, I will always have found memories of Sega. My first console was a Master System and my favorite console of all time is the Genesis (aka Mega Drive). From 1984 to 1995 Sega was intertwined in my memories of holidays and birthdays. I had invested countless hours with some of their most memorable characters, like Sonic.

Poor Sonic has been dragged through the dirt for so many years. Sega has never been able to recapture the magic from his early days on the Genesis or even the Sega CD. Sonic holds a special place in my heart however, and it is evident that he is firmly entrenched in the hearts of others as well.

Take the geneticists who discovered the SHH gene. The SHH gene is responsible for creating a protein vital in the development of eyes, limbs, spinal cord, among other things. I’m not a scientist, but the way I understand it, this gene appears to be the reason we have two identical eyes, rather than one large eye like the cyclops of Greek antiquity.

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Genetics can be such a dry topic however, so the cheeky geneticists named the protein that SHH gene creates after the fast blue hedgehog as in Sonic the Hedgehog, because why the hell not.

As it turns out, Sonic the Hedgehog is the reason why many sharks, skates, and rays have two penises. Scientists at the University of Florida actually confirmed this, because they apparently really into shark penises.

So they next time you’re watching Shark Week or some other nature show and you see a shark with two cocks swaying in the ocean current, you can go ahead and thank Sonic the Hedgehog for that. In a way, Sega will continue to exist regardless if they succeed as a company, because Sonic the Hedgehog will forever be associated with shark dick, and that is a good thing.

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