Category Archives: Midway

#94: Ms. Pac-Man

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Maze Released: 1981 Developer: Bally/Midway / General Computer Corporation

In 2005 I waved goodbye to Blighty (UK) and set sail (boarded a plane) for the new world (Vancouver, Canada). There I was going to make my fortune (live there for a year) and wander from town to town righting wrongs (do some travelling). I went with my good friend (actually… hang on, he is a good friend) Andy. Being adventurous we decide to plan as little as possible (left everything to the last-minute and chanced our luck).

When we arrived we had no job, no where to live and only our first night in a hostel booked. Seems crazy to me now but at the time neither of us was particularly worried. That’s the confidence of a 25-year-old. You completely believe it will all work out fine in the end. And it did. We arrived on the 4th, by the 8th we had found work and a place to live.

Home to travellers, wanderers and slightly confused Brits

Unfortunately there’s a peculiar Vancouver by-law (I think) which only allows contracts to start at the end/beginning of the month which means on the last day of the month the streets are full of moving vans and people carrying sofas.

So despite signing our contract we couldn’t move in for another three and a half weeks. With no other option Andy and myself prepared ourselves for 23 days of hostel living. The YHA Vancouver Downtown became our home. 23 days of sharing a room with three other men. 23 days of eating out every night (and drinking pretty much every night). 23 days of getting strange looks in the kitchen at breakfast time as you were in a suit dressed for work.

Still, it could have been worse. The place was clean, relatively quiet and only a couple of weirdos. The main problem was trying to fill time. The books I brought with me I soon finished. The TV room always seemed to be hogged by someone watching… whatever it is they put on Canadian TV (The Rick Mercer Report, Corner Gas and hockey). There’s only so many times you can play ‘Chase the Ace’. So thank God for Ms. Pac-Man.

Similar arcade to the one I used to play. More games should come in table form.

Yes, Ms. Pac-Man. The hostel ‘games room’ had a bashed about but perfectly working Ms. Pac-Man arcade. At first I just played it in a slightly ironic ‘Oh yeah, old game… cool’ kind of way. Plus at only a quarter a play it seemed a cheap way of occupying myself. Within a few days though I was hopelessly addicted. My ultimate aim? To beat the current high score. Why? Because it was there of course, because it was there.

So did I do it dear reader? Well, the photo speaks for itself.

Possibly the happiest moment of my life.

With only a few days left in the hostel I manged to do it. The High Score. 30,470. IN YOUR FACE OTHER HOSTEL PEOPLE! So imagine my disappointment when a few days later a guy turned up to empty the machine of quarters, turned it off and the score was deleted. In many ways this tale is like a modern day Icarus. I had a brief moment in the Sun before I plummeted back to Earth.

I was even more disappointed when, while researching for this post, I found out the highest score ever was 933,580. Abdner Ashman of Queens, N.Y. achieved that in April 2006. That’s about 6 months after my high score. Maybe I inspired him?

A couple of years ago I got Ms. Pac-Man for my phone. Despite no need to find quarters and lots of time to kill on the tube I’ve never beaten 30,470. It remains a personal best. I think I might have 30,470 put on my gravestone.

Before I go, have a look at this. I never realised Ms. Pac-Man had such a lovely voice.

Ian

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Filed under 1981, Coin-Op, General Computer Corporation, Maze, Midway

#49: Mortal Kombat II

Format: Super NES Genre: Fighting Released: 1993 Developer: Midway

[A swoosh of static gives way to an ‘insert disk’ icon, accompanied by two electronic bleeps. Rudimentary wireframe graphics flit over the screen as choral singing emanates from the television speakers, accompanied by a clanging industrial beat.  The wireframe shapes resolve into a kind of gothic throne, and as the music reaches a crescendo we zoom onto the face of the throne’s occupant – Patrick Moore. Suddenly there’s a crash of thunder, the screen whites out, and in the place of Patrick Moore’s sage visage is the word ‘GamesMaster’, with the ‘M’ picked out in florid gothic script.]

[Cut to the inside of what appears to be some kind of cathedral. Wild cheering erupts from the assembled audience as the camera swoops towards a figure dressed in a red sports jacket and crisply ironed white trousers. The look is topped off with floppy hair and Lennon glasses.]

Dominik Diamond: Hello, and welcome to GamesMaster.

[The excited cheering dies down and Dominik turns to camera 2, hands clasped earnestly.]

DD: And without further ado, let’s go over to GamesMaster to find out tonight’s challenge!

[The be-monocled face of the renowned astronomer and (supposed) games expert Patrick Moore fizzes into life on the screen, topped by some kind of metal cowl that looks like it was knocked up on an Amiga in someone’s lunch break.]

GamesMaster: Greetings! Tonight’s challenge is on the gore-fest Mortal Kombat II. The pugilists will have 1 minute to inflict as much damage as possible on their opponent. Extra points will be awarded for brutality!

DD: Thank you GamesMaster! So let’s meet tonight’s opponents – Jet from Gladiators and The Bloke From 2 Unlimited!

[Wild applause accompanied by industrial music. Jet and The Bloke From 2 Unlimited walk down the aisle of the church, escorted by two monks. Jet is wearing her Gladiators costume and looks slightly uncomfortable at being surrounded by an audience of leering 14-year-old nerds. I’d describe The Bloke From 2 Unlimited but no-one can actually remember what he  looks like. Let’s face it, he wasn’t the one you were looking at in the videos. The challengers take their seats. Dominik moves into what appears to be an altar and stands next to a man wearing a garish bandana and a hoodie.]

DD: And with me as always in the commentary box is Rad Toon from Mean Machines magazine. So Rad, can you give the contestants some advice?

Rad Toon: Well, what they’ve really got to focus on is moving their characters next to each other and pressing the punch or kick buttons. The real experts, like me, can use secret combinations of button presses to unleash what we in the industry call ‘special moves’, but perhaps we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

DD: And what about fatalities? Do you think we’ll see any of those today?

RT: [Looks confused] …what?

DD: OK, thanks Rad, let’s go over to the contestants. Jet, The Bloke From 2 Unlimited, you have 1 minute to pound your opponent into submission, starting… NOW!

[Wild cheering as the fight begins. The Bloke From 2 Unlimited is using Kung Lao and immediately unleashes a special move, flinging his razor-edged hat across the screen and causing Jet’s character, Scorpion, to spout fountains of blood. Jet looks down at her controller in confusion and starts pressing the A button repeatedly. The she laughs a bit – a rather self-aware laugh, as if she’s feeling suddenly awkward. She has clearly never played a computer game in her life.]

RT: Jet is using some classic Mortal Kombat tactics here, repeatedly pressing one button to create a flurry of fists that’s all but impossible to penetrate. But wait! She’s switched tactics! Now she’s making a stealthy retreat by running in the opposite direction from her opponent and just crouching in a corner… Ah, but The Bloke From 2 Unlimited has seen through the ruse and is just kicking her repeatedly… Jet’s trying a new tactic – she’s put down the controller and has starting doing her hair in an effort to confuse her opponent. But it hasn’t worked! The Bloke From 2 Unlimited is doing something with the controller… the screen’s gone dark… wait, what’s Kung Lao doing? Oh my God he’s sliced Scorpion in half! I didn’t know you could do… I mean, of course, the classic Kung Lao fatality, it’s what I always do when I play against my games expert friends. Who I always beat, by the way.

DD: Thanks Rad, now let’s go over to the contestants. Jet, what happened?

Jet: Did I lose? I thought I was the other one!

DD: And on that bombshell it’s time to go over to GamesMaster for the Consoltation Zone.

[Cut to a dodgy-looking CGI room. A short, rotund child with glasses materialises in front of the GamesMaster.]

Rotund Child: [Speaking with lisp] GamessssMaster, how do I get infinite lives on Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja on the Sssssuper NESSS?

[Before you can hear GamesMaster’s wisdom on the subject, a shout of “TEA’S READY!!!” echoes from the kitchen. You press the television off switch and GamesMaster’s Amiga-generated face shrinks to a white dot in the middle of the screen.]

Scorpion vs. President Baraka with classic ‘toasty’ fatality.

Dexter Fletcher-era Gamesmaster, featuring the actors from Mortal Kombat.

Lewis

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Filed under 1993, Fighting, Midway, Super NES

#40: NBA Jam

Format: Super NES Genre: Sports Released: 1993 Developer: Midway

You’ve probably noticed that there are precious few sports games on this list – the reason being that I hardly ever play them. I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with football games (people I’m playing against often wonder why I cheer when they score – it’s usually because I thought I was controlling their team), and the only sports game that has successfully piqued my interest in recent memory is Golf on Wii Sports. Back in 1993 though, you’d have had to pry the joypad out of my hands with a crowbar to stop me playing NBA Jam.

It’s not like I even like basketball – in fact I find it incredibly boring – but somehow this game managed to make basketball not only bearable to watch but actually exciting. Its first stroke of genius was to get rid of all those surplus players on the court – with only two players per team there’s none of the usual confusion you get with sports games over which player you’re controlling and where they’re going to pass the ball next and hold-on-I-didn’t-mean-to-pass-it-over-there-damn-you-computer-for-cheating-oh-now-you’ve-gone-and-scored DAMN THIS MACHINE. No, none of that.

The second wave of the genius wand ensured that all of the gameplay knobs were turned up to eleven – you don’t just slam dunk the ball in this game, you leap 30 feet into the air, spin 360 degrees, do the splits and dunk the ball so hard the backboard shatters, as multiple flashbulbs erupt in the audience and the announcer builds himself into a frenzy.

Realistic? No, but who cares, this is a video game, right?

"BOOMSHAKALAKA!"

Speaking of the announcer, the sampled speech was a real highlight – speech was rarity in games before the CD-based consoles arrived. As I remember, the announcers didn’t have that many soundbites, but for some reason they never got repetitive (maybe I was still tickled by the novelty of people speaking IN A GAME). The best bit was when a player scored three points in a row, which caused him to (literally) become ‘on fire’, accompanied by the commentator booming “HE’S ON FIRE!”. The phrase has penetrated my brain to such an extent that I still find myself thinking “HE’S ON FIRE!” every time I do something noteworthy in a game.

‘Achievement: Brumak Rodeo 10G’

[Thinks] “HE’S ON FIRE!”

"HE'S ON FIRE!"

But the true brilliance of NBA Jam emerged in multiplayer – the game was good when played alone, but it was utterly fantastic with four players. Along with Super Bomberman, it was one of the first games to be compatible with the Super NES multitap – imagine kids, you had to fork out £20 just to play with more than person! – and the two games barely left my SNES for the whole of 93 and 94. You can keep your Modern Warfare 2, just give me NBA Jam, four controllers, a bottle of Virgin Cola, Maid Marian and her Merry Men on the telly and several flavours of Push Pops, and I’ll be happy.

Lewis

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Filed under 1993, Midway, Sports, Super NES

#22: Gauntlet Legends

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Hack and Slash Released: 2000 Developer: Midway

I have to admit that I’ve never played the original Gauntlet, but from what I understand, Gauntlet Legends is a fairly faithful simulacrum of the gameplay of the original, albeit with fancy(ish) 3D graphics. The basic set up is this: kill the monsters, find the key, open the door, then repeat. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s a helluva laugh with four players.

Gauntlet legends box

Multiplayer is the key to this game – playing on your own is a poor affair, and the repetition of the gameplay quickly begins to grate. There’s some satisfaction to be had from watching your character become more and more powerful as they gain experience, but nothing can disguise the fact that you’re basically traipsing from one point to another whilst smacking goblins in the face, the tedium of which is only occasionally alleviated by the almost equally tedious hunt for a rune or key.

Gauntlet Legends Screenshot 1

However, the game really comes into its own when you add another three players into the mix. The repetitive trawl through wave after wave of baddies suddenly becomes a joyous frenzy of high-spirited button bashing and camaraderie. Team organization quickly develops, with the stronger, short-range characters (barbarian, dwarf, etc.) taking the lead and the weaker, long-range characters (magician, archer, etc.) bringing up the rear. Instinctively, you find yourself manouvering to protect the weaker characters, and an unspoken agreement forms that one of you will hunt for keys and switches while the others hold off the deluge of enemies. In a nutshell, tactics and depth that are entirely absent in the single player game begin to emerge in multiplayer, and this is the reason why the game has made it onto this list.

Gauntlet Legends Screenshot 2

I was quite surprised by just how good Legends is in multiplayer – I picked up the game for a pittance during a sale and was pretty disappointed on my first go. But when I took the Dreamcast round to a friend’s house for games night, this simple hack and slasher was an instant hit. Other, supposedly superior DC games (Soul Calibur, Quake III) didn’t even get a look in, and we ended up playing Gauntlet for pretty much the whole night. And then we did it again the next week. Not bad for a ‘subpar button-masher that’s neither interesting nor nostalgic’ (Gamespot).

Gauntlet Legends Screenshot 3

I think the key to this game’s success is that it fosters co-operation and competitiveness in equal measures, leading to some highly entertaining moments. Inevitably, one of the players will take an almighty kicking, leading to him* pathetically bleating that he ‘deserves the next food’ as the game announcer dramatically booms ‘PLAYER ONE NEEDS FOOD BADLY‘. Obviously, the game requires a team effort, therefore logic dictates that the other players should protect the stricken Player 1 and give up the next available food for his sustenance. However, you also need to take into account the potential entertainment factor: why give Player 1 the food when you can just stand next to it, wait until he’s almost upon it, then take it for yourself, laughing heartily as his bleating and protesting goes up another octave?

Gauntlet Legends Screenshot 5

The same underhand rivalry applies to collecting gold – every group has at least one player who will happily wander off and nick all the gold while everyone else is busy fighting, leading to hoots of derision (and possibly a dead arm for the gold thief) as the scores are totted up at the end of the level.

However, the one thing that seems to unite the group and put a temporary end to the backstabbing is the emergence of Death. Every now and then, rather than yielding a nice lump of gold or a tasty beef joint, a treasure chest will spew forth Death itself, who will then proceed to chase the panicked players around the screen. Death can only be defeated by the use of magic, so any player with magic credits left is expected to heroically step forward and protect the others… Unless, of course, the one who opened the chest is the gold thief, in which case the others might take sinister pleasure in watching his health being drained away by the Grim Reaper. 

Yep, if there’s one thing that Gauntlet Legends does with aplomb, it’s letting you know who your friends really are. 

Lewis

 *Apologies go out to all the ladies for the use of the masculine pronoun here; my Gauntlet sessions were inevitably conducted in an all-male environment.

(Screenshots from www.gamershell.com)

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Filed under 2000, Dreamcast, Hack and Slash, Midway