thinglets: The Light, The Dark, The C64, The 80s

You can talk about your XBoxes and PS3s all you like, but nothing beat head-to-head action in the early 80s more than Archon: The Light and The Dark. Although it started on Atari, I played mainly on the Commodore port of the game.

Many an evening was wasted away taking turns kicking ass in low-res glory. This game was awesome. A crapload of D&D-like characters swinging clubs and swords, firing energy bolts and casting spells on a chess board with power squares: nothing less than kickass!

Now you get to see what all the fuss is about.

I told you it was awesome... maybe a bit dated... and simplistic... and geeky... BUT AWESOME NONETHELESS!

lovehate: 5 Retro Games I'd Rather Play Than Video Games

I have some friends who love console gaming, and I have to admit there was a period in time where I thought such pursuits were cool. I first owned the Hanimex system which morphed into Leisurevision; both were essentially cheap rip-offs of the Intellivision system which outdistanced the Atari 2600 for playability at the time. The PacMan clone on the Leisurevision system was lightyears ahead of the 2600. I eventually evolved to Colecovision and the cutting edge graphics carried me well into my Commodore 64 days. All this said, I don't think any of the games had the replay value of some of the board games I grew up with. I wish I had some of these around the house right now... of course then I wouldn't be writing.

Rebound kicked the llama's ass! How cool was it that with a plastic disc, some ball bearings, a piece of molded plastic and two elastics, one could have hours of fun. Kind of like the mini version of shuffleboard or crokinole, Rebound provided awesome replay value even in single player mode. I can't speak much to the fight mechanic except for the time I punched my friend in the nads for knocking out three of my pieces with his last shot. He didn't even try to fight back; must've been a "special" attack.

Here's the thing about Mousetrap. I owned this for years growing up and remember having a blast with it. The thing is, I don't know I ever actually played the game. The Rube Goldberg aspect alone was enough to keep me fascinated. I mean c'mon - it's a bowling ball in a bathtub! I don't know about polygons and refresh rates, but I do know how to build the coolest mousetrap in the world - if a mouse ever gets into the house, I'll need to visit the lumber yard.

Okay, I'll accept that the single player mode of Rock'em Sock'em Robots was pretty lame, but here's a game where the aforementioned fight mechanic shone. Who could resist fighting robots in glorious plastic opulence? We used to have to tape the ring down to the table due to our abuse of the light plastic form. This was an experience not be missed. It was also one of those games whereby 2 out of 3s rapidly became 4 out of 7s and eventually we lost count. We even created modifications whereby you got extra points for winner while throwing the fewest punches. At age 8 we were precision training to strike death blows on future Terminators after Skynet took control.

Again, a game where single-player mode was just as cool as head-to-head. Kerplunk required foresight, precision, planning and benefited the experienced player. It's a game where one could start to actually see patterns in the stack of marbles as they teetered on the point of collapse. Kerplunk became a metaphor for the tenuous nature of young boy's childhood during post-war Vietnam and the impending evolution of disco... but seriously - Kerplunk was also cool because you could always find replacements for any lost pieces. Marbles were never hard to find and you could always use kebab sticks if the fancy-colored plastic ones disappeared under the couch.

Alright! I'm Canadian. Deal with it! Some called it "rod hockey". Some called it "table hockey". No matter what you called it, I called it one of the greatest games ever. The magnetic seizure-inspiring vibrating football was pretty useless. The table baseball games were uninspired at best. I do have to give it up for Foosball which is great in its own right, but spinning a plastic Bobby Orr, dropping a plastic puck through a fake scoreboard for a faceoff, or slamming down on the goal light in frustration to pop the puck back out of the net are memories I'll never forget. If there's one thing I often consider buying a couple of decades later, it's one of the full-size arcade versions of this classic. I dropped many a quarter later in life on high school lunch hours at the local mall arcade. I'll take this over any video game at any time.

So there it is. I have not bought a video game console much less a board game in years, but there's something to be said in replayability, boss battles that involved going up against friends' skills instead of jacked up animated freaks, powerups that involved running to the kitchen for a couple Oreos and a glass of chocolate milk, and cut scenes that involved everyone getting called home for dinner.

thinglets: Why Blu-Ray Player Prices Aren't Dropping

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” C.S. Lewis

(The following is not based on ANY proof. It is simply a collection of inferred conclusions from a tenuously logical construct.)

The Premise...

Snakebitten by a generation-old loss in the VCR market when Beta loses out to VHS, Sony vows that they will not lose again in the High Definition DVD war. They are willing to cut ANY and all deals necessary to ensure the success of the format. They set upon contacting major electronics manufacturers and studios to ensure a buy-in to the Blu-Ray format. The resulting cost: selling out on the hope for Playstation 3 marketshare.

Connecting the dots...

Sony (the king of proprieta ry technology) tries to buy the battle against HD-DVD, which the Xbox 360 had already bought into, in the hopes of taking a stab Microsoft. With several Southeast Asian manufacturing powerhouses they open up manufacturing specs for Blu-Ray while assembling the following partners:

Apple Inc.
Dell Inc.
Hitachi, Ltd.
Intel Corporation
LG Electronics (Lucky GoldStar)
Mitsubishi Electric
Panasonic (Matsushita Electric Industrial)
Pioneer Corporation
Royal Philips Electronics
Samsung Electronics
Sharp Corporation
Sony Corporation
Sun Microsystems
TDK Corporation (Tokyo Denki Kagaku)
Thomson SA
20th Century Fox
Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Missing, of course, from the above list are Microsoft (Sony's only real gaming competitor at the time) and Toshiba, the last supporter of HD-DVD. Presumably Sony believes that by assembling this coalition, it can ensure a win in the HD media war, and, in the long term, put up a real battle against the Xbox 360 for gaming supremacy.

Flies in the Ointment...

Broadband: The ability to download content and get it to a gaming system has saved Microsoft from a higher demand for removable media with greater space. Removable media is seen by many to be dead or dying. The successes of interactive "live" gaming over networks has also shifted the core demand of gaming systems to better network play. Console gaming is becoming network gaming.

Upscaling DVD Players: People are happy with "good enough". Upscaling DVD players have given new "leases on lives" to old DVDs. They're not as good as Blu-Ray, but when you don't have a Blu-Ray, you'll never know it. Also, you don't have to re-buy your entire collection. The lower than anticipated demand for Blu-Ray players and discs further ups the options for upscaling DVD players which every low end player manufacturer pumps out with glee.

Risk of Mass Production Locks Prices: All of the manufacturers in the list above start to worry about taking the plunge. Sony WANTS everyone to take the plunge. If the Blu-Ray component prices go down through increased manufacturing, players will shoot down to $100 and the PS3 can follow to a $200 price point which would threaten the Xbox 360 market share. I honestly think Sony was ready to go there over a year ago and take the loss, but knew that the Blu-Ray coalition would ostracize them. If the PS3 drops to $200, no one else can sell a player for above $100 - EVER! This formidable corporate assembly could kill the Blu-Ray format in six months if they wanted to; Sony takes the hit, instead, by not being able to reduce PS3 prices and losing the gaming war.

Nintendo Wii: Coming out of nowhere, Nintendo reopens the console gaming war to a three ring circus with the Wii (notice how they're not on the list either). Nintendo not only kicks Sony's ass, but kicks the Xbox 360's ass as well: (as of June 30th, 2009 - units sold)
Wii – 102.49 million
Xbox 360 – 33.20 million
PlayStation 3 – 27.73 million

The Oven Timer Rings...

Blu-Ray has largely been a flop from a market share perspective. That's not to knock the technology, but, as with any removable media, technology, it's transitory, and the evolution of networking may render removable media obsolete altogether. And the final, perhaps the most disturbing, death knell to Blu-Ray could be that people really just DON'T CARE about HD for much of their "disposable" content. For the same reason that tens of thousands of people watch pirated film downloads from a shaky camcorder, or watch on their iPhone, is a pretty strong indication that there are a number of people who prefer quantity and free availability to cost and quality.

If Sony and the coalition could afford to make the $100 player, Blu-Ray would evolve and take. Until that happens: stagnancy.

thinglets: Ministry of Vodka

Forget about a Food and Drug Administration or Health and Welfare, Russia's got a serious idea in creating a state Alcohol Agency being dubbed the Ministry of Vodka by citizens. While some people may consider this silly or just plain depressing, I, for one, salute the AA for its work in promoting Russian alcohol domestically and around the world.

"The head of the new state alcohol agency -- gleefully dubbed the Ministry for Vodka by the press -- is advocating cutting taxes on vodka to make the country's national tipple more accessible, the Izvestia daily reported."

Perhaps overshadowed by state groups responsible for the military or borscht, this move shows that the Russian government is willing to commit all necessary resources to a vital industry. I wish that Canada would create ministries devoted to donuts, hockey and beer. I wish the US would create departments devoted to mom's apple pie, baseball and advertising. You can never legislate too much of a good thing.

"Igor Chuiyan, the former head of state alcohol monopoly Rosspirtprom, has been appointed head of the new federal agency for alcohol market regulation, or Rosalkogol for short."

I wish Parker Brothers sold Alcohol Monopoly in North America. I could buy a $2 bottle of ripple on Baltic Avenue and $400 bottle of scotch on Broadway.

alcohol monopoly