Happy New Year For 2012 and Looking Back at 2011

It’s that time of year again, when people reflect on what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve witnessed, and what they envision their future unfolding throughout the next year.  Last year I outlined my gratitude for the uptick in web traffic to both this blog and my retail website, magisterrex.com, as well as my appreciation for the partnerships and online friendships I developed throughout the year.  In some ways, nothing has changed from 2011 to 2012: I still appreciate the growth of both my blog and website, and also the discovery of new friends and new opportunities through my social media efforts, including the advent of Google+.

This is not to imply that my path through 2011 has been adorned with rose petals gently placed before my approaching feet by Victoria’s Secret models.   There were enough troubles in 2011, such as the bizarre banishment of my @magisterrex account from Twitter, which began and ended with the same level of obfuscation, to ensure that I look back on the year with mixed emotions.   Yet, even that helped add more readers to this blog as I chronicled the events that led to my reinstatement.  As they say, whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger.

As for what’s happened in the wide world around me, there are so many other blogs detailing the best and worst games, the highs and lows of the year, and the like, that I don’t have anything better (or at least, able to serve up anything fresher than what has already been presented).  So, for the benefit of myself next year, I’m going to dig into some stats from both Recycled Thoughts and magisterrex.com and comprise a few “most popular” lists of which I expect only I will be interested in reading (next year).

I’ve enjoyed the luxury of writing a few more blog posts this year at Recycled Thoughts From a Retro Gamer, the most popular of which (in order of most hits, and not including posts from 2010 and earlier) were:

  1. Game of the Week: American McGee’s Alice
  2. Roll Call – The Villains of Batman: Arkham City
  3. Retro Game of the Week: Lode Runner (1983)
  4. What’s In That Game Box? – Dungeon! Fantasy Boardgame
  5. Defining Retrogaming

The five most searched for keywords which brought people to my blog this year were (in order):

  1. Leisure Suit Larry
  2. Maniac Mansion
  3. Panzer General
  4. American McGee’s Alice
  5. Sid Meier’s Pirates map

And since Mr. Google is kind enough to hand me scores and scores of data regarding my website, here’s a few lists from there, too.  According to google Analytics, the five most popular keywords searched for at magisterrex.com in 2011 were:

  1. Colecovision (#1 keyword by a HUGE margin)
  2. magisterrex (really?)
  3. Electronic Merlin
  4. Original GameBoy
  5. Masterpiece Board Game

Still with me? Wow, you must be bored today.  Moving on, the top five countries with most visits to magisterrex.com during 2011 were (in order):

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. Germany
  5. India (this one surprises me, as not a single package has ever been shipped there)

I wonder why folks in India are searching magisterrex.com so much?  What’s so interesting to keep people coming, but not interesting enough to purchase?  As Spock would say, fascinating.  At any rate, this looks like a great place to stop.  Here’s hoping your 2012 will be filled with joy and prosperity for you and all you hold dear!


Rock Band Becomes Relevant With RUSH 2112

Back in the day all the cool kids listened to Rush records.  The group released several albums with limited success (albeit with some great music) until 1976, when 2112 hit the store shelves.  This was a “concept” album, meant for people to put on and listen to one side at a time, and be transported into a realm of musical imagination.  And it was made of pure awesomeness.  I’ve repurchased 2112 over the years as musical technology advanced, and I own it in LP, cassette, and CD format.  And now Rush is moving into the gaming market, with the imminent 2012 release of 2112 as a download for the Rock Band game.

Now the question is, will my love for all things Rush be stronger than my disdain for video game music simulators?  Am I soon to be assimilated into the Rock Band collective?  Will I actually purchase Rock Band (or, better yet, will a “review” copy arrive on my doorstep)?  Or will I simply put my old LP on my turntable and listen to The Temple of Syrinx again?  Only time will tell…

New Obsolete Comic Review – Marvel Holiday Special

A new Obsolete Comic Review is up at oldgamereviewer.com, this time focusing on the 1991 schlock-o-rama, Marvel Holiday Special #1.  Discover a One-Eyed Santa, a festive Spirit of Vengeance, and what I really think about Scott Lobdell’s writing.  All this and more can be found in this week’s installment, found HERE, YES HERE

Retrogaming Ruins: Descent to Undermountain

Back in the holiday season in 1997, Interplay Productions released Descent to Undermountain, a new Dungeons & Dragons PC game hotly anticipated not only because it was a new AD&D game, but because it promised to be a 3D roleplaying experience using the Descent 3D game engine.  Many gamers did not bother to wait for the magazine reviews, as the last true AD&D RPG had been Strategic Simulations, Inc.’s 1995 classic, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, and the intervening years had seen only fighting and strategy games released based on TSR’s many game worlds.  They were to be sorely disappointed.

Descent to Undermountain splash page

Descent to Undermountain began well enough with a deep, multi-screen character generation program.  The player began the process by choosing one of six character races (human, elf, dwarf, half-elf, halfling, and drow) in either gender.  As this was AD&D 2nd Edition rules, each race had restrictions or benefits, with humans being the only race with unlimited advancement (but unable to gain racial bonuses or multi-classing).  Elves and Drow received +1 on their Dexterity score, but suffered -1 on their Constitution score, as well as near-immunity to sleep spells. Half-Elves received partial immunity to sleep spells, no special pluses or minuses to their ability scores, but the most possible class combinations.  Dwarfs gained +1 on their Constitution score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Charisma score.  Finally, halflings gain +1 to their Dexterity score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Strength score.

Choosing a Drow Elf in Descent to Undermountain

The player next chose which of the four character classes they wanted: Fighter, Priest, Mage, or Thief.  Multi-class characters were possible for all races (except humans), but there were also some class limitations: Elves and Drow could choose Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, Mage/Thief or any of the stand-alone classes; Dwarfs could choose Fighter/Priest or Fighter/Thief (or simply a Fighter, Thief, or Priest), but not a Mage; Halflings could be a Fighter, Priest, Thief or a Fighter/Thief (but not a Fighter/Priest); and Half-Elves could be any class, as well as the Fighter/Priest, Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, and Mage/Thief combinations.  Congratulations, you’ve got through the first two Character Generation screens!

Generating ability scores in Descent to Undermountain

After choosing the gender, race and class of their character, the player then worked up his or her ability scores (the standard Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) on the third screen in the character generation process.  The stats were randomly generated (you could discard them and refresh for a new set as many times as you wished), and each individual score could be swapped out with another.  For instance, if you chose to play a Mage and your Wisdom score came up 18 and your Intelligence score came up a 10, you could switch them.  In addition, each character was given an extra 5 ability points to distribute as desired.  Once completed, the player moved on to the fourth and final character generation screen, where they were able to chose the Name, Portrait, and Alignment of their character.

Name, face and alignment in Descent to Undermountain

Besides a rich character generation process, Descent to Undermountain also had a decent storyline and pacing.  You began the game determining what in AO’s name are you supposed to be doing in Waterdeep.  As the game map only showed Khelben’s Tower as a clickable item, it was off to visit the Blackstaff to see if he could enlighten you.  It seemed that kobolds were bothering Waterdeep’s merchants, and had been spotted just outside the main entrance to Undermountain.  (Bear in mind that this entrance was guarded by one of the most powerful Lords of Waterdeep, but, hey, it’s an AD&D RPG, so you should suspend all disbelief at the splash screen.)  The Lord Mage of Waterdeep even passed you a quick couple of gold pieces to pay your way in and out of Undermountain, and sent you on your way to the Yawning Portal Inn.  (Tip for anyone daring to play this game: it”s a good idea to stop at the marketplace just prior to entering the inn.)

Khelben Blackstaff in Descent to Undermountain

Up to this point players were seeing some decent high-res screens, and some good voice acting. Khelben’s voice in particular, performed by either Jim Cummings (the voice of the Terror Mask in Splatterhouse, among many other things) or Frank Welker (the original voice of Megatron) – the credits are a bit unclear on who did the actual work – was very crisp.  (Actually, Khelben sounds more like Jim Cummings.) And with all the prior work done on establishing your character, you’d expect playing the game would be worth the effort.  Ha ha ha.  No.

Descent to Undermountain wall torch.

Sometimes it’s easier to show a few pictures rather than attempt to describe how bad something is with mere words. Yes, that’s a torch.  It flickered, but the closer you got, the more pixelicious it became.  And it got worse, much worse.  Although the box stated Pentium 90 MHz with 32 MB RAM were the minimum system requirements to run Descent to Undermountain, I remember using my Pentium 200 MHz system (that handled some sweet-looking games with aplomb) yet this game ran like a Descent-engine slug.   The problem was that Descent to Undermountain was a DOS game masquerading as a Windows game, with all the system resource management problems that entailed.  Worse, the 3D objects were being software rendered, not taking advantage of the then-existing technology of 3D graphics cards.  It seemed like an old game because it was: Windows 95 had already been on the market for years; the developers had no excuse for foisting a DOS game on their RPG audience.

Blockheads in Descent to Undermountain

Hidden within this morass of poor graphics was a fairly bland RPG.  The story was very similar to a standard AD&D adventure module from the Gary Gygax days: go gather the parts to re-create the Flamesword – an ultimate Drow weapon – to prevent Lolth, the evil Drow Goddess from enacting her master plan to enslave the world of Faerun.  Along the way, the player battled kobolds, skeletons, zombies, the Shadow Thieves, a mummy, orcs, ogres, a lich, drow fighters and priestesses, a beholder, and finally the avatar of Llolth herself.  Unfortunately, a terrible AI made the creatures ignore you or move in a bizarre fashion until you disposed of them, and then, due to programming glitch, they sometimes floated nearby.   As for the story, Descent to Undermountain used a fairly linear formula:  Khelben assigned you your task, and you went down into Undermountain to complete it.  Upon successful completion of said tasks, new parts of Undermountain would become accessible, although you could return to areas you already explored, too.

Look, it's a Flood Control Dam #3 Reference!

As you might infer from the overall tone of the previous paragraphs, critics crushed Descent to Undermountain like it was roadkill on the freeway.  Computer Games Magazine gave the game a whopping 1 out of 5 in its March 1998 review, while Adrenaline Vault thought the game marginally better with a 2.5 out of 5 score in its December 1997 review.  Gamespot gave the game a hardy 3.7 (out of 10), with an article subtitled, “How could the company that produced Fallout also be responsible for one of the lousiest games to come down the pike in quite a while?”  And that seems to be a good place to end this look back at one of the many Retrogaming Ruins to have graced my gaming systems.  Full disclosure: I finished the game twice, just to make certain I wasn’t being too unkind the first time I played it.  The things we do to ourselves in the pursuit of retrogaming!

From 1988 – “Merry Christmas from Sierra On-Line!”

Back in 1988, Sierra introduced the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which permitted graphics in 320×200 in 16 colors, a huge improvement from the previous AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine, which ran at 160×200 resolution.  The first three  games to enjoy the improved graphics quality were King’s Quest IV: Perils of Rosella, Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking For Love (In Several Wrong Places), and Police Quest II: The Vengeance.  Sierra also sent out a new holiday season demonstration program to help computer retailers sell their wares (just as they did in 1986).

Merry Christmas from Sierra On-Line showcased the SCI technology with a festive Christmas carol musical score.  It was programmed by Teresa Baker (whose only other credited Sierra product was the aforementioned King’s Quest IV), with graphics by Jerry Moore (who helped animate many Sierra classics, including The Colonel’s Bequest, Space Quest IV, and Quest For Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero, but was also involved in the Legend of Kyrandia series), and music scored by Mark Seibert.

As the Night of the Jolly Fatman rapidly approaches, enjoy this retro memory…and Merry Christmas!

December 23rd – Festivus Has Arrived!

The glory of Festivus has come upon us once again on this twenty-third day of December. Most people regard the 23rd as a time for shopping for those last-minute Christmas gifts that will be sold out on the 24th, but might be still in the stores today.  Yet some find secular solace in celebrating the rejection of commercialism that is Festivus, and although not a nationally sanctioned holiday (yet!), Festivus has taken a life of its own on the Internets (and many radio stations).

Based upon an old Seinfeld episode, Festivus has three major components:

  1.  The Airing of Grievances
  2. Festivus Dinner
  3. Feats of Strength

So let us begin the day with our Airing of Grievances.  To quote the venerable Frank Costanza, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

How about the American entertainment industry’s attempt to wipe out the Internet? SOPA is an excellent barometer to determine just how many politicians have been given “contributions” by the billion dollar industry that is Hollywood.  Controlling the Internets through bogus take-down threats and other shady practices reminds me more of the Chinese approach to “free speech” than anything birthed by the American constitution.

How about the state of the game industry?  Giant gaming companies are run by corporate lawyers and massive accounting teams, with endless sequels and games that are copies of each other.  How many war simulators do we need? Yet people keep buying this crap, and marvel at the latest additions to the same game they’ve played at least fourteen times already. Bah.

I’m certain there are many, many other grievances yet to be aired, but like Frank, I’ve lost my train of thought. Perhaps I’ll update this blog as I remember them!


Christmas Classics: The Star Wars Holiday Special

Introducing Chewbacca’s family…his wife, Malla…his son, Lumpy…and his father, Itchy…”  Let’s just stop and reflect for a moment.  If anyone had any illusions that the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special was going to be forever remembered as a classic of American television after hearing that line, they should immediately surrender their drivers licences and any firearms they might possess.  Clearly, their decision-making and situational awareness skillsets are suspect.  Yes, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and the rest of the cast were involved, so there was the potential of fun…but with the inclusion of Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman you knew that this would not end well.

Still, nobody’s life is complete without sitting back and watching some of the pure schlock that was the Star Wars Holiday Special.  Enjoy!