• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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How would you like to lose $770.10 on eBay?

Last year a good buyer who visited my eBay store regularly (and shall remain nameless here!) contacted me with a problem.  It seems that he decided to try his hand at selling off some of his unwanted electronics on eBay.  So he put up his  seldom-used $1200 theater projector up that was just taking up space.  He got $770.10 for it, which he decided wasn’t such a bad return and it was his own fault for buying something he didn’t use.  The buyer paid immediately, and it turned out that they bought this type of electronics quite a bit – and resold them.

Easy as reading a book!

Easy as reading a book!

In hindsight, that was RED FLAG #1 for this poor newbie seller.  The projector was delivered quickly to the New York-based buyer, and all should have been well.  Except the emails began.  “This item is scratched – it doesn’t look new.”  Which seemed odd considering that the projector was new, working, and complete in its box.

That was RED FLAG #2.  As anyone who’s ever been defrauded could predict, the buyer then filed a PayPal complaint claiming the item was Significantly Not As Described (SNAD).  The poor seller explained what he had, linked the pictures showing a clean, new projector, and mentioned that the buyer was also a seller of these items, and had purchased more than one of them for resale.  A reasonable person might conclude that this buyer was full of something other than honesty, and was making a play for his money and a new unit to sell to someone else.

But we all know that sometimes the world isn’t reasonable.  In the end, PayPal gave the buyer back his money, and the seller never received his projector back, either.  Yes, that’s right, he lost both the $770.10 AND the $1200 projector.

No merchandise - and no money!

No merchandise - and no money!

So why bring up this story a year later?

I read with alarm a blog post that was pointed out by eBay’s own blogger and voice on twitter, Richard Brewer-Hay.  Now I like what and how Richard writes.  I really do.  I think normally he provides a fairly well-balanced perspective on all things eBay, which is a very difficult thing to do when you are part of the corporation you are blogging about – but he does it with style.  So this has nothing to do with his opinion on his blog or twitter account.

But he linked us to another blog, which gushed about how eBay gave the author his money back on a transaction wherein he felt that the CD set he bought was SNAD.  He didn’t have to give the goods back.  He didn’t have to provide proof.  He just had to express his disappointment with the transaction, and eBay pulled the rug out from under the seller.

This frightens me more than any other potential eBay selling pitfall. Now I’m not saying that the buyer’s story was right or wrong; he may very well have been wronged by his eBay seller.  But to give him his money, and the product, based on him filing a complaint form is ludicrous.  Who ended up with the dirty end of the stick on that transaction?  You can be rest assured that it wasn’t eBay.

So what does this have to do with my poor buyer who was screwed out of $770.10?  Everything.  Anyone selling on eBay today better realize just what can happen.  If they sell higher ticket items, they better have some sort of insurance for this situation.  Because it’s going to happen again.  Scammers like the one who bilked my poor buyer out of his projector are going to strike again, and policies like the one that rewarded the CD Set and the money will only encourage them.  Look for the red flags – and be cautious!

If it's waving and it's red, be cautious!

If it's waving and it's red, be cautious!

Incidentally, if any eBay or PayPal employee reads this blog entry and wants to do the right thing by returning the $770.10 to my buyer, email me and I’ll give you the transaction details.  He won’t ever buy on eBay again, never mind sell.  And you know that he’s spread this information out far and wide among all his peers and contacts.  What a great story it would be if eBay made him whole again, even after all this time had passed.

Make it so, Captain Donahoe.

Hey, buddy, could you spare $700?

Hey, buddy, could you spare $770.10?

For another view of the process:  Confirmed: New eBay Resolution Process Tilts Hard Towards Buyers


This week: Hillary DePiano on Gaming

This week the dynamic Hillary DePiano has consented to an interview for the magisterrex retro gaming blog. Hillary is known by many to be an extremely knowledgeable and witty writer and accomplished playwright. She has written and published books on buying and selling on eBay, as well as guides for popular collectibles, such as My Little Pony and She-Ra: Princess of Power action figures. Many people know Hillary from her blog, The Whine Seller, wherein she shares her thoughts and comments on eCommerce. Amazingly, she also finds time to run a successful business selling vintage toys and other collectibles on eBay!

Hillary is also a prolific twitter user, and that is where we connected (social media networking is cool). She is currently on an extensive blog tour, stopping here to talk about gaming and retro game memories.

Hillary DePiano in a Rare Quiet Moment

Hillary DePiano in a Rare Quiet Moment

magisterrex: Thanks for consenting to an interview, Hillary. Let’s start off with a little gamer background. What are your best memories of playing games either PC games, video console games, or board games?

HILLARY:  Games are a pretty big part of my life. For starters, my brother is a massive gamer so I have grown up with every game system that exists. My brother told me proudly that I was the coolest of all his friends’ female siblings as I was the only one who would actually play. Most of my favorite memories are of playing games with my brother: his Dale throwing my Chip off the cliff while playing Rescue Rangers on the NES, his Earl wasting all our super jars in Toejam & Earl on Sega Genesis and getting me killed, my brother getting furious at me when I would beat him in Soul Caliber on Dreamcast (I can button mash like no one’s business!). You may have noticed a pattern. We work better when we have to play cooperative than when he has the capacity to kill or harm me because he just cannot resist. But to this day, just about every conversation I have with my brother in person is while we beat an old favorite game for the hundredth time.

We didn’t pick up Mario Kart until N64 but that has quickly become our game of choice. It is the rare game that we are both equally good at so it is more fun than his continually beating me or vice versa so lately that is pretty much all we play. My brother now lives several states away so the Mario Kart on the Wii with the online play is the greatest thing ever. We play online for hours. I leave the webcam on while we play because my brother says it’s not as fun if he cannot hear me scream and curse when he shoots me with something.

Games have always been something of a family thing. My mother is a total PC puzzle adventure game junkie. She beat Myst in a week and found it rather easy so she started this quest to actually find one that she found a challenge. She is too good at them, it is pretty hard to stump her. I used to love playing those games with her and have continued the tradition of playing those kinds of games with my husband. There are so many games of that out there and so few good ones so you get a lot of duds. But, on the plus side, you can usually pick up the older games for $5 each in the bargain bin so I usually just resell them on eBay after we beat them so half the time I get the fun of playing and then make a profit out of the deal.

The only gaming thing that is mine alone is my massively unhealthy obsession with The Sims. I can sit down and play that for hours and hours at a time without any awareness of the passage of time. Sadly, I only rarely have time to play so when I do, I am like an addict overdosing!

magisterrex: Do you see any content differences in today’s games versus older ones?

HILLARY: I think one of the reasons I love the Wii so much more than the xBox 360 or PS3 is that it feels like such a throwback to the games I grew up with on systems like NES and Genesis. So many games today have such a focus on graphics that they are just not as fun to play. I would rather have silly, cartoony graphics any day if the game is fun.

The motion sensing was just a fun extra. Ninety percent of what we play on the Wii doesn’t really use the motion sensing but the motion sensing games are always a big hit at parties. But between Mario Kart and Legend of Zelda (my husband is a total Zelda freak) we had to get one. The online play is the greatest thing.

magisterrex: Is there anything you still play today?

HILLARY: When Mario Kart Wii came out, my brother was still living locally. He came over and we played for about 4 hours straight and then, after my brother went home, I played an additional 3 hours online. I had carpal tunnel so bad and, of course, the boys (my brother and husband) wanted to play again the next day but my hand hurt so bad I couldn’t even hold the Wii Remote. My husband, the engineer, rigged me this hilarious system of rubber bands and paperclips that held down the A button for me so that I could still play through the pain. It was a little sad.

I still play The Sims 2 but have no interest in buying The Sims 3. They basically killed everything I liked about the game in the newest version so I am not going to jump ship anytime soon.

Also any PC adventure puzzle type game will make its way to us and then my mother and back again. We especially like ones that involve investigating a spooky haunted… something. Submarine, hotel, lighthouse, whatever you have, if it is haunted, we will investigate it. 🙂

We are lately working our way through the Lego games. We already beat Star Wars and Indiana Jones so we have to get Batman. We also have Wii Sports nights where my husband and I will play through every single sport with bragging rights for whoever wins the most. (I am undefeated in Wii Baseball which is weird because I am terrible at Baseball in real life.)

My favorite games are Sonic the Hedgehog but there hasn’t been a good Sonic game in so long I just replay the old ones.

Sonic the Hedgehog Waiting for Hillary

Sonic the Hedgehog Waiting for Hillary

magisterrex: Given the chance, what game would you buy that you never played before (but perhaps wanted to)?

HILLARY: There are so many games that look like games I would enjoy but I just don’t have the time. I know I would like any of those simulations games like The Movies, Civilization, Black and White, etc but I so rarely have time to play my usual games, I know I can’t add more games to the rotation.

There are also games that look good but have terrible reviews. A good example of this was Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. Horrible reviews but I love Sonic so I had to try it. I bided my time and got it for under $20 used and, while it isn’t the best game ever, we had a lot of fun with it. It wasn’t worth the original $50 but it was totally worth $20. So there are games out there that I want but I am being patience because I only want them for a certain price.

magisterrex: Have you ever sold games to gamers? Are we different in any way from other buyers you’ve dealt with? How so?

HILLARY: I am a little disillusioned at the moment with buying used games online because a recent game I bought off eBay not only didn’t work but trying to return it to the seller turned out to be something of a nightmare. As a seller, I always try to test a game before I sell it and if for some reason I cannot, I sure as heck wouldn’t give a buyer a hard time if they wanted to return a game that didn’t work.

Most of the games I sell are games we have purchased, played, beaten and no longer want. There are a few favorite games that we keep for the replay value but mostly, we sell games after we play them. It keeps the video and PC gaming habit low cost because we cover a good portion of the cost of the game by selling it afterward. Considering we mostly buy used to begin with, sometimes we end up playing a game and then sell it and make money in the end.

magisterrex: Thank-you for sharing your thoughts on gaming, Hillary! You can find Hillary all over the Internet these days, it seems, but more specifically here:

Website: hillarydepiano.com

Blog: The Whine Seller

My interview on retro gaming at

Just a fast blog entry to say that I was interviewed on the subject of  collecting and selling retro games by Cliff Aliperti at vintagemeld.com.  Cliff operates a blog site that covers collections and the collectors who hoard them, and I am quite pleased to have been asked to contribute.  You can read about it (and see some pics of parts of my collection) here: Interview at vintagemeld.com

The Best Classic Board Games – The MAD Magazine Game (1979)

If I had to pick a game that was so bizarre and crazy that it was nutty fun, The MAD Magazine Game would be it.  Back in the 70’s MAD Magazine was a serious force on the magazine stand.  I remember reading them and laughing at their fresh and irreverent presentations of everything from spoofing the latest movies and TV shows, to social-political commentary dressed up as jokes, to the Road Runner/Coyote style violence of Spy vs. Spy.   And so when Parker Brothers came out in 1979 with a board game based on the MAD Magazine zeitgeist, it was a must-buy.

The MAD Magazine Game - 1979

The MAD Magazine Game - 1979

You know you’re playing a different kind of game right from the start when you learn what your goal is: to lose all your money.  It’s much harder than it sounds, though, with the Card cards making your life difficult with cards like, “If you are a Boy Person, Win $500” or “Change Chairs With Anyone.”  You can get lucky, and get a Card card that says, “If you are GOOD LOOKING, stand up and imitate your favorite animal, and lose $2,000” or “Stand up and BOO the person on your left. Also lose $1000.”  As you can see, the game plays a little bit more wacky than your average board game fair.

The MAD Magazine Game - 1979 Contents

The MAD Magazine Game - 1979 Contents

Moving about the table is an integral part of the game, so don’t get too comfortable in your chair.  Between spaces on the game board that move everyone to a new seat, to Card cards that do the same, expect to have to pick up your drink and move to your right or your left.  But you have to leave your money behind, which can be a good thing (if you had more than anyone else) or a bad thing (if you were almost broke!).   This means that there really is no effective strategy to winning the game that can be planned from the start; the random elements send any plan into disarray as quickly as it is formulated.  Perhaps this was Parker Brothers’ version of Chaos Theory in action!

The $1,329,063 dollar bill.

The $1,329,063 dollar bill.

The game board is filled with classic MAD Magazine art and zany humor.  You can see art from Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of…, site gags from Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, and more.  And much like the magazine itself, there are little surprises throughout the game board that you stumble upon as you play.  Some scenes should bring back memories, and perhaps a smile or guffaw or two.  Just make sure your legal name isn’t Alfred E. Neuman, or you’ll have to collect the special $1,329,063 bill included in the game.  Did I mention the game is wacky?

The MAD Magazine Game is yet another timeless family classic, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up.

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week: Duke Nukem 3D

“Who wants some?”
These words always bring back awesome gaming memories of this installment of the magisterrex Game of the Week: 3D Realms’ 1996 PC games classic, Duke Nukem 3D.  Many hours were spent blasting away aliens, looking for all the secret rooms, and seeing how much of the environment could be manipulated.  And all the while Duke Nukem ripped off one-liner after one-liner, just like a good action picture from the 80’s.

The original 1996 release of Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D 1996 Release

“Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!”
The story was pretty straightforward.  Aliens had taken over Los Angeles, and had genetically mutated a bunch of mankind (including all L.A.P.D.’s officers, turning them all into Pigs).  This was bad enough, but when they shot down Duke’s shuttle, it was time to make them pay, and Duke spends the rest of the game wiping out the alien menace.

Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition

Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition

“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of gum.”
Players could look up and down, change altitude with a jet pack, get shrunk by a shrinkray, go anywhere they wanted.  There were levels in bars, levels where you had to go underwater, levels where you had to fight in the dark.  This game was the total package.  But it wasn’t for the kiddies, though, with plenty of cussing, a constant array of strippers, partial pixelated nudity, and lots of gooey bits left over when Duke’s enemies got zapped.

The Kill A Ton Collection

The Kill A Ton Collection

“I ain’t afraid of no quake!”
Part of the fun is finding all the hidden references to other games or movies.  Some of the characters (well, their dead bodies, at least) or items you find are:  The Terminator, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, The Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Doom guy, a video of the OJ Simpson car chase, and the alien mothership from Independence Day.  These are the kind of small touches that make a good game a great game.

The T-800 looking a little flat in Duke Nukem

“Shake it, baby.”
To the no one’s surprise, it turned out that throwing cash at strippers and blowing away partially nude women can get your game put on the kind of lists that prevent Wal-Mart from displaying it on their shelves.  3D Realms found Duke Nukem 3D banned by Brazilian authorities, required to release a parental locked version to access the Australian market, and even placed outright on the “List of Media Harmful to Young People” in Germany.  Back in 1996, this game was mired in controversy!

A pixelicious Duke Nukem 3D stripper.

A pixelicious Duke Nukem 3D stripper.

“Hail to the King, baby!”
Duke Nukem sold over 300,000 copies in its first week of release.  It went on to spawn several re-releases, like the Atomic Edition, East Meets West, and 3rd party level compilations and other mods, like Duke!Zone and Nuclear Winter.  In the end the sales of Duke Nukem 3D were in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and made Duke Nukem easily one of the most recognizable franchises and characters in the gaming world.

East Meets West Pack

East Meets West Pack

“What are you waiting for? Christmas?”
If you never played Duke Nukem 3D, go on and pick this game up.  It’s still a lot of fun, even after all these years – as the best games always are!  And don’t forget to download the high-resolution pack, which transforms this classic into a 32-bit juggernaut of retro gaming goodness!

Looking back at the TurboGrafx-16 Video Game System

Tweeting back and forth with TheSocialGamer about the TurboGrafx-16 last night led to some serious retro T16 game-groovin’ on my handheld TurboExpress, replaying some Blazing Lazers, Dragon Spirit, and Bonk’s Revenge before calling it a night.

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 Video Game System.

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 Video Game System.

For those that have NO idea what I’m talking about, the TurboGrafx-16 was a video game system sold in North America by NEC (it hit the shelves in 1989).  It was known as the PC Engine in Japan, where it debuted 2 years earlier (those damn Japanese got all the new game tech!).  This was a killer system in its day: 16-bit graphics capable of 482 colors at once.  It suffered a pretty big drawback, though, with initially only 8K of memory available for the games to work under.  (As a comparison, the Super Nintendo had 128K.)

It came packaged with one game (Keith Courage in Alpha Zones) and one controller (called a TurboPad).  Some awesome games were available for this system, like Blazing Lazers, Neutropia, Order of the Griffon, Bomberman, Bonk’s Adventure, Alien Crush (and its sequel, Devil’s Crush), Cadash, Klax, and Military Madness, just to name a few.  You could hook up an accessory called a TurboTap which would allow you and 4 of your gamer buddies to play certain games (like Bomberman) for serious multiplayer fun.  Oddly enough, there was only ONE controller port on the system.

The TurboExpress handheld video game system (with TV Tuner)

The TurboExpress handheld video game system (with TV Tuner)

What made the TurboGrafx unique was how they promoted their handheld game system.  Most competitors used separate games for the console systems versus the handheld systems (like the NES and the GameBoy).  If you wanted to play Tetris on the NES and GameBoy, you had to buy one NES version and one GameBoy version.  But the TurboExpress (the handheld version of the TurboGrafx-16) used the very same games that it’s parent console used!  The games – called HuCards – fit in either system and played the same.  The TurboExpress even played in FULL COLOR!  Wow, back in the day that was an AWESOME gaming experience.

This is the TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment.

This is the TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment.

Another nifty accessory you could get for the TurboGrafx was the TurboCD, which allowed you to play the really great CD games that were out there, as well as play music CDs.  It came with a HuCard called a System Card which you put into your TurboGrafx to boost the RAM so the CDs could play (64K).  Another memory card, the Super System Card, gave you an additional 192K, which gave access to the Super CD games.  You haven’t played a 16-bit system until you’ve played Lords of Thunder.

So why didn’t NEC rule the 90’s instead of Sega and Nintendo?  There are plenty of reasons that come to mind, such as the aforementioned 8K memory limit and an intially high price on the accessories that made it a gaming system juggernaut (the TurboCD and TurboExpress).  The real T16 killer was that the system was not embraced by 3rd Party developers.  Companies today should look at the history of the TurboGrafx-16 to see what happens when all your innovation and development comes inhouse.  Had NEC been able to bring more developers on board right away, the system would have had a massive library of games and accessories, which everyone knows is the gamer geek’s kryptonite.  Who knows how console game systems would look like today if NEC’s TurboGrafx had dominated the market? Perhaps Sony wouldn’t have been able to get a toehold because the TurboDuo drowned out their sales?  Maybe Nintendo would have skipped past cartridge-based systems right into a disc-based system like the GameCube right away?

Who knows?

magisterrex Retro Game of the Week: Hero Quest

This week I’m  looking at the Sierra On-Line classic, Hero Quest, first released in 1989.  This game was a completely different gaming experience back in the day.  Most gamers were used to adventure games, like King’s Quest or Space Quest, or role-playing games, like Might & Magic.  But an amalgamation of role-playing and adventure games was unheard of! Lori Cole’s game design was unique and the game was a best-seller for Sierra, spawning several sequels over the years.

Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero Cover

Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero Cover

You could play Hero Quest either as a Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief.  The game’s puzzles were designed so that they could be solved in different ways by the different character classes, and you could improve your character’s skills and inventory as you played the game.   It played as an adventure game, where your character completed quests and solved puzzles, moving the storyline to its epic finish.  By today’s PC game standards, the graphics and sound are rudimentary at best, with your hero looking a bit like a stick figure jerkily moving about the screen.  But a good retro gamer never judges an old game by today’s standards!  The storyline is strong, and can still be fun to play today.

An interesting side note about Hero Quest is that the game’s name had to be changed almost immediately after it was distributed.  Milton Bradley had trademarked the Hero Quest name for their 3D board game, which apparently no one in the Sierra On-Line team knew – until they were told to remove it or else.  The solution was to simply change the title of Hero Quest to Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Of course, this has led to these two games forever jumbled together in google searches as retro gamers look to find them to add to their collections!