YouTube Review: FilmmakerIQ

John P. Hess hosts a series of film-school videos that cover a range of topics from the artistic to the technical with histories abounding.

FilmmakerIQ breaks down various aspects of film making and presents them in short lessons for the budding filmmaker, or film enthusiast. The videos often pick a single topic. Sometimes they topics will be technical in nature, such as the history of aspect ratios. Others will be artistic in nature describing a particular technique in detail with illustrations and examples from popular films.

The host of the show presents the topic in a very soothing, professor tone. He uses chalk board animations and sound effects to create the feel of being in a film class with a knowledgeable professor at the helm.

The videos offer great insights into both the history and the practical side of film making. Often times the videos delve into the history of the subject providing examples of the individuals who developed each technique along the way. He even includes examples of famous films from the period to demonstrate whatever principal it is he is discussing.

The production values are quite professional. The videos are well written, well lit and the host often uses props and costumes to accentuate the theme of the video. In terms of quality of content, the videos are not as exhaustive as taking an actual film course or a full-fledged documentary. However they are indeed quite informative. The average video length is over twenty minutes, plenty of time to dig into the history of the topic with solid examples to truly illustrate what is being discussed.

The channel also has a full-fledged website, www.filmmakeriq.com where they offer film courses, critiques, and plenty of advice for budding filmmakers.

Summary: FilmmakerIQ provides easy to digest lessons, tips, and historical perspectives on the aspiring filmmaker or film enthusiast. The host has a clear passion for the content using props, costumes, animations and other effects to provide engaging videos that are both entertaining and informative on the subject. Some videos go into details on the scientific and technical explanations while others take a look at artistic theory and all videos demonstrate knowledge of the subject with clear examples.

 

Rating: 5 stars.

YouTube Review: TodayIFoundOut

Simon Whistler hosts a well-written ‘edutainment’ web series called TodayIFoundOut.

The channel uploads a new video daily. The videos are often brief little micro documentaries on a particular topic. They are well-researched by a team of highly educated writers who also operate a website by the same name. Whistler also hosts other web series on YouTube, but this is really all about the TodayIFoundOut series.

Currently having over 1 million subscribers with 157.4 million views, the channel reaches a vast audience hungry for snippets of interesting factoids. The videos are hyper focuses, typically spending a few minutes on a single topic. Topics range from historical tidbits, such as a video explaining the origins and complexities of the Electoral Collage, to just weird little facts about strange observances, such as their video on the origins of the phrase “Pee like a race horse.”

The channel provides a nice little daily dose of trivia for the intellectual or intellectually curious viewer in today’s busy world. While Whistler appears to be the chief host, he isn’t the sole host of videos. Another fellow by the name of Daven Hiskey, who also writes for the website, does make occasional appearances in the videos. However it is Whistler who is billed as the Host and he is the topic of discussion.

Whister himself offers a very soothing voice when doing his videos. The tone is both informative and entertaining, hence the reason they bill their show as edutainment. The writers are all well-education, many having advanced degrees in various fields of study. Whistler himself also hosts other YouTube channels, so he is no stranger to standing in front of a camera and talking to an audience.

The channel’s videos tend to have fairly broad appeal. Viewers of all ages should find the topics discussed interesting. The videos are typically short, which is fairly common of the more popular videos on YouTube. They are produced daily with Whistler standing in front of a green screen with animations, file photos and other videos playing in the background to accent the topics. Anyone looking for a channel to subscribe to that offers a quick little relaxing break from the norms should check out TodayIFoundOut on YouTube.

The videos tend to have fairly high quality production values. They are well-written, well lit, and employ the use of advanced editing techniques including animated lower thirds. The videos could easily be strung together into a 30-minute Discovery Channel or PBS style show inter cut with voice overs and transitional segments and the viewer would be none the wiser. The videos are highly informative, fairly entertaining, and extremely creative. The host is pleasing to listen to while not being too distracting. The sound editing is also top notch. The series is well-produced, anyone with access to YouTube should be sure to check out their channel. The motto, Feed Your Brain, is quite fitting.

Summary: This web series is the pinnacle of short-form entertainment. It’s production values could be mistaken for a network TV series. The writing is excellent. With new videos, each in typically short form, usually under 10 minutes, they easily fit the bill of today’s YouTube audience.

Rating: 5 stars

The rise of digital content production

The world is in the midst of a digital revolution. For the past twenty years most popular forms of entertainment have been driven to digital distribution. Radio has been replaced by services such as Spotify or Pandora. Talk radio was given way to the Podcast. Newspapers and magazines are being replaced by Blogs. Even television and film has shifted from theatrical and broadcast distribution as the only method of delivery. The medium itself does not really matter. A well-written editorial piece published for a weblog shouldn’t be any different to the readers than if the same article were published in a print magazine. If digital distribution channels have begun to supersede traditional methods, why hasn’t the digital content producer become equal to the content producers who rely on more traditional, restrictive mediums?

There shouldn’t be any difference between a filmmaker, television producer or a YouTube content creator. At the end of the day, the content is all that matters, the distribution method is just that, a way to consume the content. The writer, photographer, and editor who producers a web series uses the same skills as a team of producers working on a television production all doing the same jobs. What YouTube creators specifically do is create digital content that is consumed using the internet. While a lot of content on YouTube could be considered social media to some extent, there is a host of quality content that itself could easily be mistaken for a medium budget television production.

High production values, good writing, quality editing, and compelling stories are all what makes for a good production. The end product could be streamed via YouTube, in the case of something like the Angry Video Game Nerd. However those same videos are also available for purchase on DVD (and Blu Ray in some cases) where they can be viewed on a more traditional screen in a more familiar setting. Sitting down with a DVD set of AVGN DVD’s, a bag of popcorn and your favorite soda should be no different than having the same experience with a run through of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD’s. The only difference is in the actual content itself. Even James Rolfe, the “Nerd” himself has stated his goal was to be a filmmaker. In fact he achieved that goal just a few years ago when he released his feature length theatrical debut in the form of “The Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie.” I had the opportunity to interview Rolfe during the production phase a few years ago for my college newspaper. Sadly the story wasn’t deemed “local” enough for the editors and it was canned. The point remains the same. Rolfe did not become a filmmaker the day his movie was released to audiences in limited theatrical runs. He was a filmmaker the first time he edited together a series of shots.

Visit FilmmakerIQ and take a trip back in time to look at the history of cinema. The earliest films were little more than just “animated photographs” in essence. They would become more complex over the years as audiences became more invested in the medium. Then Television, or the small screen, threatened the Hollywood system. Television production had it’s start in a similar way as movies. The earliest movies were just experiments. They didn’t become successful until filmmakers learned to create a narrative. Once they discovered to edit shots together they were able to adapt whole plays into motion pictures. Hence why we call the script of a film the screen play. Television got it’s beginnings in radio. The earliest TV stars were just radio performers standing on a stage doing their acts in front of a camera. Not much different than the earliest Angry Nerd videos, or even much of the content that is produced on YouTube these days if you get down to it.

Whether a content creator releases their product via television to audiences over FCC regulated airwaves, projected onto a silver screen in a large auditorium, or streamed over WiFi networks via YouTube, the point is the content is all that matters. Digital content producers deserve the same respect as filmmakers and television producers. In fact many deserve greater respect as they are often one-person shows. When a quality, professionally produced product can be written, shot, edited and dubbed by a single person, or a team of two in some cases, that’s even more impressive than a shoddy production using the best equipment and a team of professionally trained writers, editors, directors and photographers.

 

Getting to know famed video game collector The Immortal John Hancock

When I started getting really into video games I went all in. At the height of my collection I had hundreds of games spanning dozens of consoles. I couldn’t begin to list all of the games I had, but I can tell you the systems I had games for. When I sold off my collection to help pay for college I had an Atari 2600, 5200, Sega Master System, NES, SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Saturn, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, N64, Game Cube, Game Boy, GBA, DS, DS Lite and even a Sega Nomad.
Well none of that amounts to much compared to a “super collector” that goes by the name: The Immortal John Hancock. A middle-aged family man, Hancock hosts a Youtube channel where he talks about his massive collection. How massive is his collection? For starters it was large enough to be featured in a January 2004 article in the Tips N Tricks magazine. Hancock’s collection consists of 26 complete sets. That is, he owns every single retail game released for 26 different systems. Still not impressed? The man has been collecting since the 1970’s.
How does a person find the time to collect all that stuff? It didn’t happen all at once.
“My mother was a collector. I used to go to flea markets with her as a kid. I began collecting carts, comics and figures. The collection evolved into games which I found much more satisfying.” he said.
His first game console he had as a kid was a Radio Shack TV scoreboard. He described it as basically a Pong clone.
As someone who also had a Radio Shack pong system myself as a kid, I find it refreshing to know many of us can still go back to our roots. In fact one of my only 2 true retro consoles remaining is a Sears Super Pong. My other retro console that sits in a box, a dusty old Intellivision 2 with Intellivoice Voice Synthesis Module. What’s interesting about Mr. Hancock is he started by seeking out unique Pong systems.
“I always have had a fondness for collecting pong consoles.  Mostly due to them being forgotten by others.  I just picked them up along the way due to being very affordable.” he said.
As a family man he enjoys sharing his collection with his wife and kids.
“My game collecting is something that I can share with my kids.  I always try to remember balance.   More strengthens my bond with my kids.” he said.
He also enjoys the support of his wife in his endeavor.
“My wife does not collect but she supports my hobby and I return the favor by not having it affect our relationship in a negative way.”
he added.
So what games do his kids enjoy? Well probably the same ones we all did when we were kids.
He said, “My kids love Nintendo and playing on games like Smash Bros or Mario Kart on the Wii U.  ARMS on the Switch is also a favorite.  Hard to say if they like video games the way I like them, but I can see them carrying on the mantle of at least playing video games with others.”
In recent years he has stated one of his goals is to some day see his games in a museum. Preservation has become more of a focus of his in the last 10 years. He is currently building a new game room onto his house to showcase his collection to his Youtube followers. His internet fame has begun to get him and his wife noticed. He said he gets noticed more at shows or conventions, and it hasn’t had any negative impact on his life to date.
A no regrets kind of guy, he has stated he doesn’t give much thought to his legacy after he is gone. He prefers to just do his best to be as good a person as he can.
“[I] ry to do my best as a human being whatever I do each and every day.   Teaching, talking, and interacting with others each day gives an opportunity to make a difference.” he said.
Speaking of teaching, aside from being a public figure on Youtube, he is also a school teacher. We all had that one school teacher that stood out for us. For me, when I was in grade school I had a teacher that would keep me after school to teach me BASIC programming on the classroom’s Apple II computer. At the end of the school year, I was able to demonstrate my programming ability to the class by showing off the program I had written. It was a monochrome bit map recreation of the Death Star from Star Wars. It was programmed line by line. It sort was sort of animated but not much. To me it was just really cool to have a teacher that recognized my potential outside of the classroom to give me that opportunity. Mr. Hancock has demonstrated that himself by using his video games to teach his students.
“I offer my kids experiences playing classic gaming at the end of the year. This last year my students got to play the original Oregon Trail.” he said.
He also shared he gives considerable thought to his students who has also impacted his own life.
His true goal is preservation. He wants to tell the story of gaming history and keep an objective outlook on the early days of video games. He shares his collection through his own channel, The Immortal John Hancock, and with his friend MetalJesusRocks, who helped launch his channel, and his friend Drunken Master Paul, also on Youtube, who helped give him the nickname that has become a part of his branding.
As I look back on the games I gave up in order to fund my college education I find solace knowing there are people out there that aren’t chasing down the rare games just to horde them, you have people like The Immortal John Hancock, and others, actively trying to preserve video game history. I can’t even begin to imaging ever building my collection back up to where it was so I can at least tell people about this interesting man whose videos often remind me of all the fun I had chasing down those rare video games. Maybe someday I will get back into it, for now I will gladly keep an eye on my subscription feed for a new video from The Immortal John Hancock. You can find John Hancock on Twitter and Facebook.

A look at the Sega Saturn from the perspective of a Sega fan

I got my Sega Genesis for my 12th birthday in 1994. I instantly fell in love with that thing. The first game I played was the amazing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that came bundled with my soon-to-be favorite game console for several years. Prior to getting a Genesis I couldn’t really say I was a fanboy or even just a fan of any platform. I had an NES, and before that we had an Atari. Before that I did all my gaming at the arcade.

As someone who was a HUGE fan of video arcades and arcade games the Genesis was a blast. By the time the Sega CD and 32X came along I was seriously contemplating buying either or both of those upgrades to gladly keep my Genesis alive. But things started to really turn around the closer the Saturn came to launching. The hype began building up. I starting to really consider saving all of my after school money I was earning from throwing newspapers, mowing lawns, and working in the corn fields on the side.

At the time, what drew me to the prospect of wanting to get a Sega Saturn was a combination of my love for the Genesis, arcade games, and the transition to the new world of 3D gaming. As the 90’s dragged on a few things started to become apparent to me early on. First thing I noticed about the Saturn was the lack of games. Remember when you are a kid flipping threw the gaming magazines all you have to go on is the information they offer. I didn’t have any way of knowing what games were coming out unless Electronic Gaming Monthly, Game Pro, or Sega Visions told me about it. Considering Sega Visions ceased following the launch of the Saturn, I didn’t really have much faith in the new product early on. I can’t say I “knew” it was going to fail. Far from it, I wanted one but I wasn’t sold to the point of I have to have one.

Whenever I would read a review of a Saturn game and the reviewers would point out how the game felt rushed, incomplete, buggy, or some other similar phrasing, I started to get skeptical. I distinctly remember reading a review for Virtua Fighter where the reviewer flat out said skip the Saturn and stick to the much cheaper 32X version. I also remember reading a really lousy review for the Saturn version of Mortal Kombat II, a game that was running smooth on the Super NES! I felt like if the Saturn can’t even handle a game both 16 bit consoles did okay, not to mention the 32X version was a huge selling point on making me want a 32X, I started to get a bad feeling about Saturn. That’s not to say it didn’t have games I wanted to play, just not very many must have games were jumping out at me.

The few games I was interested in, Bug!, Clockwork Knight, Panzer Dragoon, Virtua Cop and Sonic 3D Blast, all looked like they weren’t really showing off the true potential for what the Saturn was promising to do. At the time as I kept reading reviews of mediocre games, articles on how poorly the Saturn was selling, and the more I would see game after game getting announced for the new Sony Playstation and with no Saturn version planned, the more I started to lose interest. By the time the N64 finally started to make waves I had all but moved on from the Saturn. I wouldn’t give it another thought until the day my friend showed me his brand new Dreamcast. My reaction was, oh, when did they kill of the Saturn? I honestly stopped paying attention. As a self-proclaimed Sega fan this bothered me. I was saddened that the Dreamcast was already out and pushing the Saturn into obscurity. I also felt bad that I had missed my chance to get in on Saturn when it was still current tech. Then the more I looked into it, the more I realized, I wasn’t missing out on much.

I realize that over the years the prevailing attitude of the majority of sheeple on the web has shifted from thinking the Saturn was a mess of a console, to the Saturn was an overrated piece of junk to now it being considered a hidden gem or an underrated masterpiece. Whatever your attitude is, keep in mind this is a reflection from the perspective of someone whose whole life revolved around the Genesis.

At the time, as in during it’s life span I went through many phases. The first phase was excitement for a new console from Sega. This phase didn’t last long. I was already torn between wanting to get a 32X to give my Genesis new life, to wanting to save up money for a Saturn when it arrived. I even remember reading about the E3 thing, a whole month later in a magazine, thinking, what just happened?

I had been following the PSX and Saturn launch hype for months so I was shocked to learn Sega blew their wad and was now seeing all their hype fizzle. I maintained some hype for while, thinking erroneously Sony wouldn’t last. My logic was Playstation was too similar to the doomed 3DO. I ended up being wrong but more on that down the way.

My attitude started shifting as I started reading reviews. I kept holding out hope with each review that maybe the next game would prove to be worth owning. I would demo some of these games at local stores from time to time, so I wasn’t relying entirely on other people’s impressions. Still, the reviews were not doing the system many favors. There were a few hidden gems along the way but at the time I kept thinking this is not a good score. At first I thought everyone was judging the console unfairly. But looking back I think the opposite, I think they were being too soft because they didn’t want to accept Sega was messing up so bad.

When I realized the Saturn was in trouble was about the time I read a review, or even a preview, for the game Virtua Fighter Kids. My 13-year-old brain thought, wow, that’s a stupid idea for a game. Even then I felt like the system must be in trouble if they are resorting to such an obvious cash grab knowing full well it was just a cheap way to get another game on stores shelves in a big hurry for minimal effort. I knew that if this was the case the system was in trouble. All it really took was flipping through the magazine past thew 2-3 pages of Saturn games before stumbling upon the 8 or more pages of Playstation games to start to realize, Sony was getting all the love. Remember N64 wouldn’t be on the scene for a whole year later and even as I started reading articles on the upcoming Ultra 64 I started to get worried the Saturn was in trouble. By the time the N64 came out I had already forgotten about the 32 bit consoles and was already buying into the 64 bit hype train. I ended up dropping the money to get an N64 on launch day.

Looking back the most obviously issue with Saturn was the games. A few years later after I had grown up, gotten a job and began collecting video games as a hobby I went back and dug into the Saturn library. Unfortunately the passage of time was not a friend of the console. The games that would have blown me away in 1995/1996 had I gotten a chance to experience them then, were severely outdated in 2004 when I was buying them up. I didn’t go after any of the super rare or ultra expensive games, but I had a decent enough assortment when it was all said and done. In the end my Saturn collection consisted of X-Men Children of the Atom, Sonic 3D Blast, Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, Sonic 2, Virtua Cop 1 and 2, NiGHTS into Dreams, Bug!, Clockwork Knight, Panzer Dragoon, Revolution X, Daytona USA, World Series Baseball, Mortal Kombat 3, Gex, even Tomb Raider. I might have had a couple other games but honestly nothing stood out in my mind as particularly noteworthy. I felt NiGHTS was so overrated I became very hostile to the Sega bots online that insisted I was playing it wrong. No, the game just didn’t appeal to me, at all. The fighting games were mediocre at best, the X-Men game was fun but not worth the asking price. Panzer Dragoon felt too bloated for what was basically a Star Fox type game which I wasn’t a big fan of Star Fox either. While I did enjoy Virtua Cop 1 and 2, and even as bad as it was to some people, I really had a lot of fun playing Bug! and Sonic 3D Blast. The rest of the games were just, eh nothing special.

I since went back and checked out much more of the consoles library via emulation. However that’s shoddy at best. The real trouble with Saturn collecting is all the expensive games aren’t worth the price you pay. Even if a game was on both PS1 and Saturn it could go for 3-4 times as much money on Saturn than PS1, and for all intents and purposes they’d be basically the same game. I grew so disgusted with Saturn collecting it was the first system I sold off. I traded it into a used retro game store for a big box of GameCube games and never regretted it.

I think the Saturn did have potential, but the truth is, I think most of that potential was too little, too late. Sega squandered all of their good will with Genesis fans before they even launched the Saturn. As the months turned to years I started to lose interest in the system. Today, even if I had the money I probably wouldn’t buy very many Saturn games. The console is, in my opinion, vastly overrated. It’s good for a few quick arcade ports and it has a handful of great hidden gems if you got the money to seek them out. The majority if the library, however, is available elsewhere for far less money. The handful of true exclusives aren’t even all worth the price of admission making Saturn truly a collector’s console.

Contemplating the Netflix purchase of comic book imprint Millarworld

The Spiders Lair is not a news site first and foremost. Obviously nobody is learning about this news by coming here. Still this is big enough I wanted to get something down before the dust settles.

According to reports Netflix is purchasing an indie comics company called Millarworld. Apparently it’s the publishing house that does Kick-Ass and Kingsmen, among other comics I never heard of. At first that sounds like a pretty big deal. Especially when you take into account their current deals with Marvel. Netflix could soon become the premiere streaming service for quality, comic book content.

Of course the only two comics they make I know about are the very two not included in the purchase. What does this mean in the grand scheme of things? On the surface, very little. Netflix has never out right purchased another company before. By picking up a comic book imprint the idea sounds good. If they can develop enough titles into quality movies and shows for their service, combined with the already fantastic Marvel shows they have, other publishers could come on board. I think the far reaching implication would be for more indie developers to bring their titles to Netflix for production. This could mean we could start seeing shows based on comics that aren’t as mainstream as Marvel and DC without having to go through the Hollywood studios. This could be a game changer depending on how things work out.

Imagine as more comic book fans start to discover all the good shows and movies they want to watch are coming to Netflix. This could snowball where all the content creators scramble to get their indie comic characters turned into a Netflix series. I would LOVE to see a Gen 13 show or even a revived Buffy with a new lead. Oh, I guess if they wanted to they could go the animated route too. I just wish they would use their licensing deals to pick up a few more classic animated comics based shows like the original TMNT cartoon or even some X-Men the Animated series. When I first discovered Netflix they had a ton of those types of shows. Now they have a few here and there. I don’t think the quality has declined much. I just don’t think they need to abandon old shows entirely to make room for new content. I would prefer they found a better balance between the two.

AS of right now this is more akin to when Hasbro bought the rights to Atari back in the 90’s. They are getting some new properties but are they really going to have the impact Netflix desires? A real game changing deal would have been if they picked up Image, Malibu, or even Dreamwave, at least then you are getting a solid blend of well known and indie comics. Here you are basically getting 4th tier comics from a very small specialty publisher. Not a bad deal, it’s still new content but seriously if you have to Google what their titles are it’s not like they are making waves. I mean I read comics, I go to Free Comic Book Day. And I wasn’t that familiar with this company. I loved Kingsmen and Kick-Ass but since those two aren’t a part of this deal I am not even sure how much of an impact this will truly make. All in all I will just take a wait and see approach. Since I haven’t really even been paying attention to Netflix in quite a while I am certain this won’t really affect me all that much anyways.

What if… retrospective: The TurboGrafx-16

The TurboGrafx-16 (TG16) is quite an oddity. Much like the doomed Sega Dreamcast nearly a full decade later, this game machine would be plagued as a mid-generation release that failed to catch on. Much speculation has been banded about on the internet on why it failed. Discussion forums are littered with topics discussing what could have been done differently. In this retrospective I will take a look at a few factors that are often overlooked in why this machine failed. First, I am mostly talking about within the context of the North American (mostly United States) market. While it is true the system performed better in Japan than it did in the US, and there is some doubt if it even existed in Canada at all, it still can be deemed a failure world wide by every measure. In fact, it didn’t even make it to the PAL region. Let’s dig in.

Usually two topics get brought up first when discussing the TG16. The first is Nintendo’s illegal exclusivity contracts in North America that would prevent third party companies from releasing games on the system. Often fans of the system will state that if it had better 3rd party support it would have sold more systems. While it is typically pretty obvious more games makes for a more attractive market, it’s not always the case. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hudson could have found a way around this by vetting developers and publishers who weren’t even making games for the NES at the time. So that argument holds little weight, Sega was able to get plenty of support for the Sega Master System (SMS) and they sold quite a few more consoles and games than TG16, all on inferior hardware.

So first let’s look at the games that did come to the system. Despite most of what die hard fans will tell you, there are a few false statements often repeated about the TG16 library. The first is that the console had a great library of arcade style scrolling shooters, also known as shoot-em-up’s or shumps to some. The fact is, however, the NES, SNES and even Sega Genesis ALL had more shooters released for their consoles than TG16. The myth it is a shooters dream console is false. The reason this myth is spread has some merit. There is a significant percentage of games for the console that are, in fact, quality shooters. The problem is, there are only 94 games total for the console. So that means the fewer than 21 total shooters on the console stand out as the dominant genre by default. If roughly one forth of your consoles entire library is made up of a single genre, it stands to reason people will gravitate to that genre. No arguments there, the shooters on the console are all quality titles. Of course many fans today are looking at the ENTIRE library as a whole. They forget that for the super vast majority of gamers in the 1980’s when the console was sold people didn’t import as much as they do today. So when you add in all the PC Engine games to the list, especially when you take into account people playing these games using emulators, you start to see a skewing of the facts.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter how many arcade games were released in Japan at the time. When discussing why the console failed it is essential to do so within the scope of the time it was released. In this case it was 1987. This is important because those 94 games that made it to US shores, weren’t all available the first year. Keep in mind you have to look at it on a month to month basis. As a consumer in the late 1980’s even if you were contemplating getting a TG16. Either you were getting tired of the NES, or perhaps you never had the NES and were wanting to upgrade from your Colecovision console or something else. Maybe you were a PC person looking for a new console. Whatever your motivation for wanting one you always have to look at the games first. Everyone talks about how abysmal Keith Courage was as a pack in title. The problem is if you look at the console market at the time, pack in titles were relatively new concept. It really started with Super Mario Bros. on the NES. So when you talk about game consoles you can’t really put too much weight into what pack in title was included. Remember even today pack ins are rare and they were a BRAND NEW concept in the mid-80’s. It’s a fallacy to believe just packing in a different game would have enticed more users. Why? Because if the games that were sold separately weren’t going to convince you to buy the system, throwing on into the box for free wasn’t going to make a difference either. With pack in titles it’s always a gamble. Even when it works like with Wii Sports or SMB, or even Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s still a big risk when the publisher is missing out on all those extra sales. It’s at best a gimmick marketing tactic that is rarely used in the grand scheme of things.

Still, since it gets tossed out let’s debunk the myth anyways. My question is, if not Keith Courage then what? It couldn’t be an arcade shooter. Remember 2 facts, first at the time it was a NEW console so gamers wouldn’t be able to predict it would become a haven for shooters. 2nd, despite being popular among retro enthusiasts, even at the time shmups are NOT that popular. No console in the history of consoles ever packed in a shooter even if they did pack in a freebie. The reason is shooters have a low appeal. Even the best quality shooters only appeal to maybe a tenth of a consoles entire userbase. That is why they are so rare. Even to this day the number of shooters released is small and the ones that do get released are done in very limited runs. Newsflash, that was the SAME back then, why do you think all those so-called “gems” are so damn hard to find? Because, NOBODY BOUGHT THEM. They didn’t sell. There is no chance in HELL a shooter was going to sell the main stream gaming audiences on an untested console. Even the often cited spectacular R-Type, wasn’t exclusive to the console. Sure the NES port has issues, but honestly you are talking a small percentage of your gamers that even want a shooter, even smaller sub-set of those that care about a superior port elsewhere. That’s why when a shooter does become popular it’s some low budget throwaway title in the bargain bin. Gamer’s don’t spend money on them, only collectors do and only in hind sight because they are told to more often than not. Even me, someone who does occasionally enjoy the shooter game, wouldn’t rush out and buy a console even for the most perfect shooter. They are fun, in small doses but they are usually very remnants of older arcades.

Okay if not a shooter then what? The next game often cited is Bonk’s Adventure. That WAS a pack in just as soon as they game was released. But even that didn’t really move units. Again for as much fun as Bonk is, it’s only half as much fun as Sonic, which itself is probably half the fun of Mario. By order of transference Bonk’s Adventure wasn’t a great enough of a game to really convince people to give up their Mario machines. Sonic came close but it took a lot more than one game to get Sega on the map.

I try to be reasonable. I looked at the entire library and to be honest I could not find a single game that stood out as good enough to convince me to pick up a TG16 over an NES. Now I know it comes down to preferences, and I am NOT trashing the console just examining what if scenarios.

So what if it had a BETTER pack in comes down to, no real impact. I can’t imagine Hudson having it in them to imagine a game that would have that appeal. Some would argue Bomberman. I would reply, even the best Bomberman games didn’t help the Saturn, N64, Dreamcast or Gamecubes so sorry nope. Unfortunately there isn’t a single, stand out game on the console.

That takes us back to the first point, Nintendo’s illegal strangle hold on the market. It is well documented Nintendo forced publishers to sign contracts disallowing them from making games on competing consoles. Even if you tried to argue TG16 wasn’t an 8-bit system so it technically wasn’t competing, that wouldn’t pass mustard because Hudson referenced NES in their marketing.That leaves us to wonder then, what games could have potentially been developed on the console that weren’t.

Even if you take the 3rd party deal out of the picture and pretend the Turbo could get any old developer to make games for it. Remember the NES launched with barely 18 games. Now it had a POWERHOUSE launch combo with SMB/Duck Hunt that TG16 didn’t even have in its entire lifespan. So you get ONE shot to entice gamers to pick your machine over theirs. It took Nintendo 2 full years to get the 3rd party support we remember. If TG16 launched in 1987 that means it wouldn’t even begin getting the same level of games as NES until around 1989. That would be a full year into Genesis’s life and the Genesis could be cited as more of the death of the TG16 than anything else. Despite all the flaws of the SMS and the shortcomings of the TG16. Sega DID manage to get a quality launch period stash of games on the market. While Altered Beast is not fondly remembered today, when it released it was somewhat impressive. The scrolling levels, the large sprites, the transition animations, the cut scenes, and the compressed audio voices were all very big deals in 1989. So even if you look at the top tier NES games, let’s assume Castlevania, Mega Man, Contra, Ninja Gaiden and maybe even Double Dragon all have quality ports on Turbo by the time Sega launches. Fair enough, however some of those games did get ports on other consoles, and there is a Castlevania on the doomed Turbo CD (but that’s an entirely different story.) You have to keep in mind 1, how long it takes to port a game over, and 2 the cost to do so. Most 3rd parties wouldn’t have jumped ship to support an untested console when NES was doing so well so let’s just assume it still struggled. I can imagine it doing slightly better but remember NES was NOT successful because of games alone. Nintendo were masters of marketing their toys to kids at that time. So you have to look at the marketing along side the games issue.

Marketing can sink a good product and prop up a terrible product in the short term. Now for all intents and purposes, the TG16 is actually a decent product, sort of. It was more powerful than NES, but not as powerful as Genesis and SNES. Those would be the main consoles it had to compete with. Again NES would have still been replaced with SNES by 1991 even if the TG16 was successful, even more so because Nintendo would have felt threatened. So let’s look at just marketing. TG16 was ONLY sold in very big cities with populations over 1 million people. This is well documented. It was also ONLY marketed in the major cities where it was sold. This left consumers like me in the middle of no where Kansas reading about it in comic books and magazines sold nation wide, but I was not able to just walk into my local Sears, Radio Shack or K-Mart and pick one up. If I can’t find it how can I buy it? And you know what, I can say this with some degree of certainty because despite the flawed marketing strategy overall, it sorta worked because I DID want one. Even if it had a “killer app” pack in I still couldn’t have gotten my hands on one without great effort.

The 1-2 punch of lack of 3rd party support and terrible marketing is often given as the reason for it’s downfall. Now let’s go back to games and see if maybe Hudson could have done more even within the framework of Nintendo’s monopoly. Going back to the question of which game would have been a better pack in. When I look at why gamers wish for more games on the beloved TG16 I often remember its because they see the potential and wish it would have been realized. So let’s just assume they marketed it better, maybe localized a better Japanese games for the launch and it sold enough to at least get attention of developers that weren’t locked into contracts with Nintendo. Who does that leave?

The obvious choice is Atari first. Why them? Simple, they were willing to release games through their Tengen label on the NES. It stands to reason they would have seen dollar signs on TG16 if they saw an opportunity to get superior ports of their games on a competitors console. Why didn’t this happen? It’s often stated, obviously, because they were still marketing the 7800 at that time. False. You see Atari split into two companies following Time Warner selling them off. Tengen was a branch of the arcade division, the company that made Gauntlet and NARC, among others. The company that owned the rights to the Atari arcade catalog, the ones publishing under the Tengen brand, wouldn’t care about the 7800 at all, that was the home computer branch which would go on to release the Jaguar before dying. The arcade division would go through a few different sellers. This is important because while true Tengen did release games for the Sega Genesis, they did so as authorized 3rd party licensees unlike with Nintendo where they did so technically illegally.

Then why couldn’t they release games for TG16? Okay, the reason was business. Again by the time the TG16 released it was already doing poorly. Those Tengen games didn’t even come to the NES until the time when Hudson was scrambling to get their console into homes. Atari Games would have looked at the TG16 and seen it was doing poorly and considered it too risky to put games out for it. Hudson recognized the need for those games so they did license some themselves as Sega was doing with SMS, but it was too little effort as it just spread them too thin. Then why did they make games for Sega? Simple, whereas the TurboGrafix launched to abysmal sales in the US, the Genesis took off basically overnight by comparison. It was a hot item kids wanted. The marketing was perfect, the games were fantastic, the console looked futuristic by comparison. I am not saying all this as a die-hard Sega fan. Remember before I discovered Sega I did want a TG16. What pushed me over the top was, of course, Sonic. That’s another story for another day.

Even if we ASSUME the marketing was better and we assume Tengen was on board because why not. That’s still barely what, 20 or so games they released for the NES? Even if they ported every single one to the TG16, would it have really made that much of a difference? I mean okay, is Gauntlet or Alien Syndrome really going to get you to buy a system that Splatter House or Bonk’s Adventure didn’t already sell you on? Even if you add the ENTIRE Tengen (Atari Games) library, and you throw in a few NEW arcade ports here and there, we’re talking about not 2nd tier, not 3rd tier, Atari was making 4th and 5th tier games at this point. Sure that’s about on par with the slop Hudson was dumping onto the TG16, a few hidden gems aside. Looking at it this way, I still can’t see the TG16 doing much better. But, let’s keep going. Which developers weren’t locked into contracts with Nintendo at this time? Well I am not going to bring up the unlicensed NES crap games that sell for tons of money, because they all sucked and were only on the system as shovel ware because it sold so well. A dying console doesn’t get shovel ware unless the 1st party developer is making it themselves.

We could look to the PC scene. If you remember the NES did get a ton of Commodore 64, Apple II and PC DOS games ported to it. The problem is they came later in the life when it was more affordable to do so. Still let’s examine this as a potential for games. Remember I am assuming no NEW games were going to magically get made. Developers only have so much inspiration and I can’t believe for 1 second that just because they were making a game for the TG16 instead of Apple or Amiga they would miraculously be inspired. That is not how art works. That leaves companies like EA, Epyx, Sierra Online, LucasArts and SSI. All of these companies mostly avoided the NES until t was firmly established as a must own console everyone needed to get their game on. Each of these developers shined on the PC at the time. Here is why I find it unlikely you would have gotten them to port games over to TG16 (not talking Turbo CD here that’s whole other article.) These companies were large publishing houses, but they didn’t develop games for the most part. Lucas being the major exception. So what you have is a case where developers might have wanted to tinker with the guts of the PC Engine as it was known in Japan, their publishers would have said no. I have been talking within the framework of the launch window to the release of the Genesis and SNES. In order to assume the TG16 would have been more successful over all it would have had to be more so out the gate. If you consider that then which game developers making powerful graphic adventure games that use up tons of memory are going to release their games on tiny HuCards? Keep in mind even with the CD add on these companies largely ignored ignored the platform entirely. The reason it took later for them to get games on the NES was because it took that long for Nintendo to develop larger carts. Remember Legend of Zelda was originally released in Japan as a floppy disk game, something you could do with a computer but not a console. The floppy drive was not sold in NA, therefore Nintendo had to find a way to squeeze the game onto a cart. The solution was larger carts that could hold more data.

Even if you scour the entire library of games that were released for Commodore, arcades, PC, DOS, Apple, etc., that didn’t get ports to NES, it’s remained unlikely many of them, if any, would have been ported to the TG16 anyways. At most I figured maybe 30-40 games would have been released over the 94 that were, again maybe half of those in the time span it would have made a difference. By going through all the variables I discovered there was just nothing Hudson and their partners could have done to make it a success in the States. The deck was stacked against them from the start. Even if that mysterious pack in game that doesn’t exist was available, and the console was sold at every toy and department store in America, the things Hudson could control, they couldn’t force developers to make games for their console and even if they could, consumers still might have passed up on it. No matter how you examine it I truly believe the TG16 was always doomed to fail. Remember Genesis was right around the corner, SNES right behind that and before long you had so many games and consoles on the market the TG16 was always going to get lost in the shuffle. At best you might have gotten a dozen or so ports of games from Tengen and a few high profile PC ports that didn’t require large amounts of storage space. Even with all things in Hudson’s favor the system was doomed from the start. In a way it’s a shame because the console really isn’t half bad. If it wasn’t so expensive due to how rare it is, I might be temped to pick one up one of these days. As it is the machine is forgotten by the same people that mostly didn’t even know it existed. The library is ripe to be discovered through modern means, however, so there are still good games worth looking into these days. As I tried to think of any scenario, aside from Nintendo going out of business, there wasn’t anything that would have made it the success it’s die hard fans often wish for.

My comic book memories: X-Men

A couple of days ago I went onto Amazon to purchase some Dawn comics. For those that don’t know Dawn is a character created by Joseph Michael Linsner in the late 1980’s. I discovered Dawn in my early pre-teen years when I was just starting to really get into comic books. Before I could commit to buying any more issues or trade paperbacks I had to dig out my comic vault to see what I had to make sure I wasn’t buying something I already bought previously. I started going through my X-Men graphic novels and TPB’s and realized I didn’t have all of the ones I thought I did. I also confirmed I didn’t have any of the Dawn TPB’s so I was good to order them on Amazon.

How I got into X-Men is a little more interesting than how I discovered Dawn. I always preferred comics with more of a mythology feel or fantasy/swords and sorcery stuff. I enjoyed Conan, and the D&D comics especially. That is how I found myself getting into X-Men. My first experience with Marvel’s famous mutants was not even through comic books. Since I was mostly into indie comics, horror comics, and less mainstream stuff I didn’t see a lot of advertisements for X-Men or other mainstream stuff. If I did, I ignored it or dismissed it as a bunch of spandex wearing clowns. My first exposure was walking into a video arcade and playing the 6-player behemoth X-Men arcade machine. I had no clue who these characters were. Since I discovered TMNT through an arcade game I decided to check out X-Men since I really loved the Ninja Turtles at that time. Turns out the Ninja Turtles were mutants, and the X-Men were also mutants so I thought cool I can get into this. Even if I didn’t really know what a ‘mutant’ was at that time.

I didn’t really pick up any X-Men comics right away though. Instead my next exposure came from renting the abysmal NES game. Now I had rented my share of terrible games on the NES but this was by far one of my least favorite. I couldn’t believe this was how they ported that awesome 6-player game to the NES. I didn’t discover until years later the weren’t even connected outside of the name.

From here I was in 3rd grade and I had a teacher that new I was into reading fantasy and science fiction stuff so she lent me a few of her issues of X-Men comics. They were all mostly current stuff from the late 80’s. Nothing special but I had no idea what was even going on. They were about 3 unconnected issues that had totally different characters in each one. The only character that I recognized from the video game was the guy in the yellow and brown jump suit with the claws. My first impression was I hated that guy. I learned his name was Wolverine and I thought, what a stupid name. His power is he has claws, yawn. Oh he has unbreakable claws, so what.

I didn’t give X-Men another serious thought until the animated series came on Fox a couple of years later. I watched a few episodes and it was entertaining, but I still didn’t know much about the characters, and I still couldn’t stand that blasted Wolverine who just happened to basically be the star of the show. By this time i was really heavy into the Conan the Adventurer cartoon and the new Aladdin animated series. Like I said I was more into horror and fantasy stuff than actual sci-fi. Well I saw a commercial for the Phoenix Saga mini series of X-Men cartoons coming soon. There was a Phoenix character on Conan so that connected the mutants to the mythology stuff I was more into. I was also getting really heavy into Dungeons and Dragons right about this same time.

Finally I gave the cartoon a second chance. I had seen a few random episodes here and there. While the action was always good, the characters didn’t really mean much to me as I had no connection to them. So when I started watching the Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga unfold as a dramatic event over several weeks, I became hooked. Suddenly I picked out the characters I did care for and wanted to follow them. I immediately ran out and began buying all the Cyclops and Jean Grey stuff I could. I fell in love with that couple and wanted to get everything I could. By this time I was also getting into collecting trading cards so I had picked up a few sets of Marvel Universe series cards. There were always X-Men characters within those sets so I started reading the backs of the cards, trying to learn more about the lore of these characters. By this time I was really getting fascinated with the Cyclops character and Marvel Girl especially. I started buying X-Men trading cards, action figures, that super fantastic Sega Genesis game and it’s pretty amazing sequel, too. By the mid-1990’s I had gone from not caring or knowing much about the X-Men to being completely dedicated. Before long I was less excited for Conan and found myself looking forward to X-Men episodes even more. As the series dragged on my disdain for Wolverine continued so I quickly lost interest again as the characters I liked took a backseat to his temper-tantrums.

Then it all culminated with me picking up the Wedding of Cyclops and Phoenix issue. Seeing Scott and Jean get hitched was the perfect end to the fairy tale. The mess that was the Spider-clone saga had completely turned me away from Spidey comics by this time. I had sat through the majority of the Age of Apocalypse with intense interest and curiosity. Then just as things were starting to ‘recover’ they started they whole Onslought stuff and I finally lost interest in the comics for good. I kept paying attention to the characters through buying action figures, picking up back issues of the comics that were void of Logan as much as possible. Then they dropped the bombshell of a movie on the world. Wow, for the first time I didn’t care for the Cyclops character and was actually rooting for Logan. Part of this was the movie made Logan a much more likeable character than the whiny little bitch he was in the comics. He was still a selfish asshole in the movies sure, but not as bad as he was in the comics.

This allowed me to warm up to the character so I went back and tried to get into the Wolverine comics too. Needless to say the movies altered my perception of the characters quite a bit. Before long I was stating to lose interest in the characters and their mythos entirely. Still, every once in a while I go back and remember what it was I liked about them in the first place. At one time I was collecting everything X-Men related from New Mutants comics to Cable and Deadpool spin off stuff. Eventually the movies would start to really spend too much time focusing on Logan again, giving him solo movie after solo movie while continuing to treat my beloved Scott and Jean like second, or even third class characters.  Today I have a pretty decent X-Men comics collection I can go back to and revisit. I have all but one of the films and that’s just because I just haven’t been looking for a copy. All in all I discovered I really loved the X-Men and I am very glad I took the time to get to know them.

The Spiders Lair Podcast Episode 6

In this episode I talk about Star Wars Rogue One, the prequels and special editions, Nirvana and the 90’s grunge rock scene, the underappreciated film Ghost World, and some other stuff.

 

Dressed to Kill: A hard rock retrospective part 4

The 1990’s were, obviously, a very confusing time. With Ellen making her big announcement near the start of the decade, to the revelations of the Bill and Monica scandal, the decade was over run with sexually confusing expressions dominating the news cycle. None of them were more shocking than seeing Marilyn Manson walk out on stage at the MTV music awards in his leather speedo singing about “The Beautiful People” to the bewildered youth sitting at home wondering what to make of this new “shock rocker” taking the world by storm.

Manson was not the first shock rock band, and they certainly weren’t the last. Unlike previous bands discussed, shock rockers aren’t identified by their sound, some are glam rock, others thrasher metal, while others a mix of industrial electro rock fused with 80’s dance pop. What united them was their ability to rely on stage antics, publicity stunts, and a growing anti-establishment movement that wanted to tear down the walls of Capitalism once and for all. Let’s start at the beginning.

You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog

Believe it or not, the first “shock rocker” was the King of Rock N Roll himself, Elvis Presley. Although his music and movies were very tame even by standards of the day, his stage antics lead to all sorts of controversies. All he had to do was shake his hips and stir young girls crazy. Of course the uptight mothers of those sexually aroused teen girls swooning for Mr. Presley didn’t take it laying down. They tried to have him banned from even appearing on television with the compromise being the camera had to stay above the waste.

I can’t get no satisfaction

To some the Rolling Stones are the turning point where rock n roll sheds it’s pop sound and returns to it’s urban blues roots. To others it’s just the continuation of the degradation of American culture. No matter where you stand the Stones rose to such prominence in the world of Rock music that to this day, the premiere authority on rock music is a magazine named after the band. Not quite as tame as Elvis, they certainly could fall into the camp of more shocking rock bands of the day.

School’s Out

There is no denying that shock rock as we know it today started the moment Alice Cooper stepped onto the scene. His theatrics, outrageous costumes, decidedly darker music themes, and eye shadow did more to create room for the counter-culture than any band before, or since. While their famous record, and the world-renown title track, were created by an entirely different band than who would later take on the name, the lead singer was really the star of the show anyways.

Ozzy

The Prince of darkness himself is easily one of the most recognizable early heavy metal rockers and clearly one of the pioneers of the shock rock genre. Of course he wasn’t the first to come onto the scene, he took it to dark places nobody else was willing to go. He was also well known for his theatrics, and is often mistaken for Alice Cooper, who both have similar styles in some ways. Black Sabbath and all bands inspired by are living proof that just being shock rock on the surface doesn’t mean the music itself can’t be taken seriously.

I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night

If you weren’t a member of the KISS Army you probably weren’t a hard rock fanatic in the 1970’s. It’s okay, I wasn’t even alive. What I do know about the and comes from second hand stories my mom told me, and what I learned from the classic comedy Detroit Rock City about a group of misfits on a road trip determined to see the band live in concert.

KISS is a prime example of a band whose style and image personifies the shock rock look and attitude, yet their music is so much softer and tamer than their image would have you imagine. Even in comparison to other hard rock bands of the time their music was very tame for the image they projected. Not that it was bad, they are still one of my favorite hard rock bands, but if you played a KISS song for someone and never showed them a poster or image of the band, you wouldn’t think they were shock rock at all.

They band was good at one thing even more than making music, business. They were not so much a band as they were a brand. They sold comic books, dolls, even video games, all trying to exemplify the shock rock image of children of the night. Yet somehow they managed to get away with recording a disco album and nobody even bothered to notice the irony. Hey it was a damn good song and still one of my favorites so can’t fault them for knowing how to make money.

Twisted Sister

By the time to get into the 1980’s there isn’t much left that shocks the metal world. You have already had Ozzy allegedly biting the head off a bat, or was it Alice Cooper? Yeah google how often those two get mixed up. There was the whole KISS backlash, you had Judas Priest on the scene and even a host of bands giving people reasons to label rock music as satanic or demonic. So when you see the cross-dressing Twister Sister come on the scene you think, okay, now I’ve seen it all. Now unlike KISS whose image didn’t fit their music, Twister Sister at least had a solid 80’s metal sound that blended in with the other hard rock bands of the time. The 80’s didn’t really see that many other cross dressing bands, aside from the one Boy George headlined, it still helped ease Americans into at least accepting there were people with different lifestyles, even if they didn’t accept those lifestyles quite yet.

Nine Inch Nails

To be more specific, Trent Reznor. This time he went in the opposite direction. The sound he created was infinitely harder and more shocking in many ways than the look he portrayed. On the surface he was just another heavy metal looking dude, nothing special. But his music, especially Head Like the Hole, really brought industrial music to the main stage. Maybe there are those who wouldn’t put NiN on a list of shock rockers, but he clearly paved the way for the mother of them all so he deserves a spot in this timeline.

Antichrist Superstar

Before I get too deep, Marilyn Manson is one of my favorite bands of all time. From the cover songs Sweat Dreams or Tainted Love, among many others; to their rock anthems The Beautiful People, Rock is Dead; to their darker tracks like Deformography, Worm Boy; or their WTF tracks like Kiddy Grinder, or Sh*tty Chicken Gang Bang, the band does shock rock better than any band before. Their music, style, videos, persona, and themes are a perfect storm of counter culture done right. Nothing about the band says conformity. During a time when rock bands sounded like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, or The Goo Goo Dolls, Manson was finding ways to churn the stomachs of their loyal followers, harshest critics, and even their peers, all while constantly putting out records that told stories that had to be experienced not just heard. The phrase nobody does it better always comes to mind when I think of Marilyn Manson and shock rock.

Other bands like Garbage, Godsmack, Orgy, etc., would come onto the scene and push the envelope of what was decent and acceptable with many more to follow. By the end of the 1990’s heavy metal, hard rock and rock n roll had each splintered into more than a dozen sub-genres, scenes and movements each equally important to their respective followers.