Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The 2018 Birthday Haul

I know, my blogs really have been thrown under the bus. It seems that these were ways I exorcised frustrated creative energy that might otherwise be expended curating, packaging, distributing and promoting computer artpacks. That wasn't an issue so long as I wasn't in a position to resume my teenage hobby, but since reviving Mistigris in 2014, it slowly but steadily increased its pace with annual reunions, annual joke collections, official discharge of never-released period computer art, re-releases of lost or corrupted material, and finally full-bore monthly artpack releases since October 2016, plus a series of side projects. If we were to chart Mistigris activity against my blog post frequency, I think a clear inverse ratio would leap out. That doesn't mean that I've run out of things to share, just that I don't allow myself enough time to do it anymore. (Having two kids certainly adds another x-factor to these scheduling equations.)

That said, if I don't soon share details of the video gaming / retrocomputing gifts I received for my birthday two weeks ago, I'll soon be out of relevant opportunities to do so entirely... and that would be too bad, because there are some lovely curios here!  My thesis is that my wife must love me and know me well, because she made me very happy with a few birthday presents that, to an outsider, might resemble a random assortment of refuse and detritus.

We'll open with a handful of confusingly-priced random Gamecube / Wii titles, picked up at a random thrift store visit while taking the day off work for my actual birthday. My haphazard game acquisition has really slowed down if only because it turned out I was accumulating significant quantities of duplicate games while buying batches and lots. Initially I made a giant list of "All The Video Games That I Own", maintained on my laptop and Dropbox-synched to my phone, so I could always just check before putting money down whether this was money I had already spent... anyway, the high and low of things is that once your game collection exceeds 1000 pieces, most of the items you find live in the wild will be redundant to what you've already accumulated. So mostly the accumulation of little discs has peaked. Every time we advance a generation of technology and I wind up advancing to the previous generation (as I have a rule: don't collect games for systems which you do not own), a cohort of hitherto uncollected (and recently, sold-in-stores) games enter the secondhand space and I get to gobble up another couple hundred, then simmer dozily for the next 5 years or so. But I digress, let's take a look at these games! Anything good here?

OK, a licensed Nickelodeon Gamecube title, a tie-in to a cartoon I've never watched. Why? Ehh, you know -- how good does it have to be to be worth dropping $2 on? I bet I can get $2 worth of enjoyment out of it. If I went to a movie theatre and bought a large popcorn and soda, it might run me $30 and last about two hours. That same $30 would buy me 15 $2 games and I'm sure that's not enough time to even get through all of their opening cinematics and unskippable tutorials, let alone play the five minutes needed to determine conclusively that none of them are worth playing!
A couple of Wii titles also -- one looks like an extension of the GBA's venerable "Advance Wars" series, a cartoony taste of military strategy... the other, a compilation of House of the Dead parts 2 and 3? I can tell you how long it would take me to drop $2 on one of those in the arcade, and -- done. (The only question -- do they require a light gun or is there another ingenious adaptation of the versatile Wiimote? Getting the games for a song is the easy part, but finding time to actually try them out, there's the kicker.)

All right, what else have we got here? Gaming Quiz cards. I can confirm: the questions on these cards pertain to video games. The difficulty level is a tricky thing, because they're all a bit too easy for me while being simultaneously way too hard for anyone else in my household. It's kind of like that time I, a young classicist, got 100% on my Grade 9 Greek Mythology quiz... that everyone else in the class failed. (The teacher applied a bump across the board so everyone passed, resulting in my earning something like 115% on that quiz, or as I like to put it, a grade of A++. Shortly thereafter the teacher took me out of the class and told me to run the school newspaper during that time every week instead. But I digress.) Maybe we can use them at my upcoming gaming party (I hold them twice a year, pull the systems out of storage, we play all day and all night... are you coming? Saturday April 28th!) to settle disputes over whose turn it is to choose which game on the big screen. (Finally, we can stop duelling to resolve these disputes!)

OK! Moving on! Aha: here we have a truly blogworthy specimen: an edible Super Mario Maker maker kit! I was first exposed to this phenomenon in the context of a "most preparation needed ramen" viral video; this follows the script relatively closely -- the package includes various little packets of colouring, emulsifier, etc, and tiny moulds, mixing bowls, stir sticks etc. A very patient person can follow an elaborate set of instructions to manufacture for themselves a few pieces of Mario landscape, and then, when they tire of this diversion, eat them. (Would that all passing fancies were so easily removed from the stage!)  Hm, made by the toy company Bandai, which owns the video game company Namco... basically, Pac-Man (already the authority on eating things) is selling you Mario for lunch.  The plot thickens...

This is one of those things that would be nothing to the average, normal, healthy person, but to this desperate technological nostalgist is A Big Deal. A thrift store my wife was passing through had some 5.25 inch floppy diskettes on the shelves! Some of them contained video games! (Granted, even application software from the floppy disk era is a joyful curiosity, but documenting it sure is less sexy!) She picked up one for me, and upon seeing how excited I got, went back for the rest of them. I can't even think of how long ago it's been since I had a machine working with a 5.25 disk drive stinking up a drive bay -- I'm thinking perhaps circa 1993 or 1994, contemporary to when I would have been taking my first baby steps online with a borrowed 1200 baud modem. (But if these floppies had been available, I could have saved myself a lot of time downloading at 1200 baud!) One thing for certain: I most definitely have no way of reading their contents today! All of the games in this batch (not pictured: Jill of the Jungle episode 1) had been documented as existing on Mobygames, but for most of them my media scans were the first indication that any of them had ever been distributed on physical media and didn't exist solely as BBS-distributed shareware. Also amusing: the multiple rounds of price tags on the goods, deteriorating slowly but surely through the decades, some shopkeeper unwilling to admit (until apparently liquidating the entire section at a thrift shop) that their unsold merchandise had entered the trough of no value. (The experience is reminiscent of my visit to a Castlegar Radio Shack a few years into the new millennium; amazed to find late-'90s adventure games on the shelves I thought I'd permanently missed the opportunity to play, I hoovered up Zork: Grand Inquisitor, Gabriel Knight 3 and Starship Titanic, and the disbelieving staff kindly knocked a hefty portion off the final price tag after I did them the favour of relieving their burden of unsellable stock. But I digress.)

Did someone hear me say "Radio Shack"? That's today's magic word! It brings us to the coup de grace: the Tandy dedicated chess-playing computer, prepared to deliver me 1987-calibre chess AI if I have a burning need to play a round and no friends.  I hope to have this one set up at my vintage gaming party and if we're lucky, we just might make it through a round over the course of the day's events!  Truth be known this one probably isn't going to remain in my collection for very long, but learning of its mere existence, let alone in such a concrete fashion, sparks delight.  (Really with Tandy, as with Coleco, any technological fruit bore from the tree that sprouted from seeds of leather craft kits is already so delightfully improbable... a chess computer?  Why not!?  It was the '80s, and any business pivot seemed possible.  Just fake it 'til you make it... or break it.)

... which brings us to the present! Sadly, I won't have another slate of presents to report on until Christmas... unless any of my (purely hypothetical, at this point) readers feel like sending me a surprise in the mail or delivering a hopelessly antiquated technological artifact to my doorstep at my upcoming party. But don't feel it's necessary -- I already have enough hopelessly antiquated technological artifacts for all of us to enjoy!