Archive for March, 2009

Remembering Quiz Wiz (Updated with Robot Goodness!)

29 March 2009 Leave a comment
Coleco's Quiz Whiz

Coleco's Quiz Wiz

When Neal Postman lamented in 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death that the American public had been inundated with so much useless triva courtesy of television information was no longer useful; it had been a long time since quiz shows were prevelant on the air waves, and the second iteration of Jeopardy! was just starting to become a hit. Of course, in the late 1970’s, I had absolutely no idea about any of this stuff. I was much more interested in toys, and toys that engaged me were where it was at.

One of my favorites was Coleco’s Quiz Wiz, which was given to me sometime in the very late 70’s. The one page on the Internet that had any information about the game identifies it as a product of the early 1980’s, but I was still living with my mother when I received it, so it was definitely the late 70’s.

Quiz Wiz was a cartridge-based handheld system, similar to Milton Bradley’s MicroVision, only without the display and recessed pad controller. Each cartridge came with a theme, such as History or Mathematics, and was accompanied by a booklet that contained 1001 questions of varying difficulty. You’d key in the question number and then provide your answer and it would let you know if you were right or wrong (I actually don’t remember how it did this, probably via beeps and boops).

Additional cartridge/booklets could be purchased seperately for a vaitety of themes. I don’t quite recall what those themes are, as we only had the initial cartridges, but according to the accompanying picture you could learn/quiz yourself on such topics as energy and the ocean.

Do you remember my name?

Do you remember my name? I am the 2-XL. Greetings!

Quiz Wiz was easily over-shadowed by the much more popular and robust robot quiz toy, the name of which I have long forgotten. It also used a cartridge system, and had all sorts of flashing lights and sounds. Despite its total cool factor, we never had one of these, and I’m kinda sad that we didn’t. If you remember anything about this toy, especially if you know its name, please post a comment!

Update: I should have Googled “quiz wiz coleco”! Here’s a page all about the toy:

Update #2: After hours, and I really do mean hours, of searching, I finally found the name of this toy robot!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the 2-XL from Mego! According to the Wikipedia article, those are actually 8-track tapes, not cartridges like the Quiz Wiz uses. I wonder if you could play actual 8-track audio cassettes on it [edit: according to the commercial (see below), you could dance groovy groovy in your bell bottoms while it played your music cartridges]. Tiger Electronics came out with a more Buck Rogers-looking version of the robot, using regular audio cassettes (then in vogue with home computers) rather than the long-dead 8-tracks.

Skooldays notes that the 8-tracks came in the following flavors, and also describes how it worked:

“Challenges of General Science,” “Guinness Book Of World Records” and “Wonders Of The World.”

The fun of 2-XL began when the user inserted a tape in the robot’s midsection and pressed a red button on the top of its head. Many tapes also came with special overlay cards that could be placed over the four buttons to make them game-specific. With a press of the “Question” button, 2-XL began its string of multiple choice and true/false kid-stumpers. Once a guess was entered, the 2-XL would make a few computer-style noises and tell the user whether their answer was right or not. It would also chime in some extra information on the topic in question.

So, there we have it. Mystery solved. I’d go to sleep now, only I have to start working in 40 minutes. But it was a hunt well won!


Barbie Whores for Baby

29 March 2009 5 comments

My neice’s birthday is coming up, and so I decided to head on over to Amazon to get some ideas on what I should get her (she’s in kindergarten). It did not take long for me to discover a rather glamourous Barbie Doll of the World. Representing France, here’s Can Can Barbie:

Can Can Barbie... shes worldly

Can Can Barbie... she's worldly

The can can, or can-can (cancan), is a chorus dance made popular in the dancehalls of Montparnasse, Paris. Moulin Rouge, Folles Berger, that kind of stuff. You saw it if you watched the popular movie Moulin Rouge! by Baz Lurhmann or the old Shop-Rite cancan commercials of the 1970’s and 1980’s here in the United States.

A violent dance where women would lift up their petticoats to show off their bloomers, the can-can was oft danced by, well, whores enticing men to rent them for the night. That’s really the nature of the dance: sex for money.

Certainly these dolls are meant not for children ages 5 to 7 as Amazon is selling them. They have to be more for the adult collector, right? I mean, after all, what adult would want to get their child a hooker in stilletos like the Barbie above?

I wonder if there’s a Ken john available to compliment this doll.

I didn’t actually have Barbie when I was a child. My mother did try to get me on the doll thing briefly. She purchased a set of Sunshine Family stuff for me. They were the hippy dolls of the 70’s, and I think you could even grow pot in the laminated cardboard house that you got with it. I never played with it. It gathered dust and eventually went somewhere else once Star Wars came out and I got all sorts of cool action figures like R2-D2 and the 6″ Luke and Leia action dolls.

Okay, I lied. I did get one Barbie doll, but it was Ken. The Ken where you could draw facial hair on him. That was neat, because you could draw a beard on him and be literal in that gay way of his.

Today’s GDC Quote…

24 March 2009 4 comments

Comes from Scapes’s Twitter:

New acronym: TTP, “time to penis”, a metric of the time it takes for a penis to be made as user-created content (from #GDC Spore talk).

Categories: GDC, qotd

I Don’t Choose You, Pikachu!

24 March 2009 Leave a comment
Don't keep your Pokemon in Pokeballs too long!

Don't keep your Pokémon in Poké Balls too long!

The InnerWebs were abuzz yesterday with news that there was not going to be neither an online nor massively multiplayer version of Pokémon. In an interview with What They Play, series director Junichi Masuda said:

“At this point, we’re not thinking of going in that direction. Trading is a core concept of Pokémon. So when you’re trading, you meet with a friend and decide which one you want and which one they want. I would like to emphasize real-world communication. You don’t see each other online.”

The interview comes on the heals of the newest Pokémon Nintendo DS release Pokémon Platinum. Where Diamond/Pearl, the last set of Pokéemon games to be released, was suppossed to be the “ultimate” Pokémon game, Masuda calls Platinum the “evolved version of Diamond and Pearl […] it is more like a sibling.” Regular Pokémon players, of course, will know that Platinum will play just like all the others, with tweaks here and there further perfecting the famed franchise formula. Which is why I, too, must play Platinum. I never actually catch all of the Pokémon, but I do seem to catch all of the games.

I can actually visualize an online version of Pokémon. Perhaps a Magic the Pokémon Online, where players trade and battle with their virtual-life Pokécard Pokédecks. Collect ’em All Online could be a new revenue stream in the ever-growing tide of Poképroducts. 40-year old overweight American male Pokéfreaks can battle royal with 7-year old Japanese female Pokédaemonesses while a/s/l’ing some sting cop at the local precinct. I think this could really work!

But would a Pokémon Online MMO? Are there enough IP elements to actually sustain that type of game for the long run? Certainly there is the element of collection, a huge component in MMO gaming. Entire skill trees can be designed around the myriad abbilities and moves. Leveling is a key element for many MMOs, and certainly a key element of Pokémon, especially when it comes to Pokévolution. Player-versus-player and Player-versus-environment (either via grass battles or trainers), role-playing, adventure, discovery… yes, I do think a Pokémon MMO would have some potential. Players could mix and match their Poké Ball-held Pokémon, perhaps create their own new creatures through mating at the, uh, perverted nursery that I would probably design into this game.

The more I think about it, the more I can see Pokémon Online as a doable product, and the more I wish they’d reconsider. I am almost 40, you know.

Categories: handheld, MMO Tags: , ,

GameMentorOnline Announced

23 March 2009 Leave a comment

The other day I blogged a lament about the status of women in the games industry. In yesterday’s IDGA newsletter they announced the GameMentorOnline initiative:




IGDA Women in Games, in partnership with Women in Games International, is presenting GameMentorOnline, the first-of-its-kind online mentorship program for the international games industry.

GameMentorOnline is generously supported by title sponsor Microsoft Game Studios, with additional support from premier sponsors Design, Direct, Deliver and Sony Online Entertainment. Designed to serve students and young professionals, men and women alike, GameMentorOnline has been developed to meet the growing need for peer-to-peer mentorship support in games.

As our industry expands, contracts and evolves, there is a continually pressing need to shepherd and educate new talent, while tapping into the significant knowledge and resources of a growing community of advanced game professionals whose expertise could be lost if not passed on to new generations of game industry employees.

GameMentorOnline is a free service, open to mentors and protégés of all types and in all disciplines of games business and development. GameMentorOnline is powered by a turn-key mentorship matching solution that enables multiple options for protégés when selecting their mentor of choice. GameMentorOnline has been created with a purpose in mind, to carry the mentorship relationship through key milestones to an eventual outcome.

The biggest challenge for GameMentorOnline and any similar program is the ability to attract and maintain committed mentors. We are asking all experienced members of the game trade to consider dedicating themselves to a minimum of one protégé relationship per year. By meeting this goal, we all contribute to strengthening the games industry as a whole, and giving back to a community that needs our support.

There are two PDFs of interest:

And a bit of what it entails:

The mentoring program is a semi-formal eight month program where you exchange weekly emails with a protégé. The estimated time commitment is about 15 minutes a week, but the benefits of sharing your knowledge with a protégé will last much longer!

Win a Copy of Vintage Games

22 March 2009 1 comment
Vintage Games

Vintage Games

Focal Press is running a survey where you can win a $25 gift card and a copy of their book Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time. I’m not too sure about their choices because it’s a mix of genres and there are certainly some older, more important titles of influence.

The options are:

  • Super Mario Bros
  • Final Fantasy IV
  • Castle Wolfenstein
  • Doom
  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • The Legends of Zelda
  • Tetris
  • The Sims
  • Flight Simulator

Really a mix of genres and stuff. The question itself isn’t of help, either: “Which game do you consider to be the most influential?” Influential how?

Anyway, I thought long and hard and decided on Civilization. But there are so many titles I could have put down if I had some sort of better focus (pun not intended) of the question’s intention.

Regardless, Vintage Games is on my wishlist, so here’s hoping I win.

Categories: books, surveys Tags:

Channel F and Minorities in the Industry

22 March 2009 1 comment

Fairchild Channel F

There’s a connection here, I promise you 🙂

Vintage Computing and Gaming interviewed recently Jerry Lawson, designer of the Fairchild Channel F console. I’m not overly familiar with the system. To my knowledge, none of my friends had one. The one thing that I did pick up in my numerous vintage gaming readings over the years was that it was originally called the Video Entertainment System, but changed it’s name to Channel F when the Atari VCS was released. The other thing that I knew about it was that there were issues with interference that the FCC did not take kindly to, and so Fairchild had to line the inside of the console with aluminum in order to comply with FCC requirements.

Lawson, who grew up here in Queens, NY, had some interesting anectdotes about his creation:

BE: Lets get back to your career at Fairchild. How did the whole video game thing at Fairchild get started?

JL: I did my home coin-op game first in my garage. Fairchild found out about it — in fact, it was a big controversy that I had done that. And then, very quietly, they asked me if I wanted to do it for them. Then they told me that they had this contracted with this company called Alpex, and they wanted me to work with the Alpex people, because they had done a game which used the Intel 8080. They wanted to switch it over to the F8, so I had to go work with these two other engineering guys and switch the software to how the F8 worked. So, I had a secret assignment; even the boss that I worked for wasn’t to know what I was doing.

I was directly reporting to a vice president at Fairchild, with a budget. I just got on an airplane when I wanted to go to Connecticut and talk to these people, and I wouldn’t have to report to my boss. And this went on, and finally, we decided, “Hey, the prototype looks like it’s going to be worth something. Let’s go do something.” I had to bring it from this proof of performance to reality — something that you could manufacture. Also, a division had to be made, so I was working with a marketing guy named Gene Landrum, and sat down and wrote a business plan for building video games.

I was the number one employee. My set task was to work on the prototype and hire a bunch of people to work with me, most of which came from Fairchild. In fact, the big man asked me, “Where did these people come from?” And I said, “They were working here all the time.” He said, “They were?” I said, “Mmm hmm. All they needed was a reason to do something.” I just went out and talked to them.

So, it was an interesting thing, because the memory we used — 4K RAMS, dynamic RAMs — I would use four of them per system. Now, in making the pricing up, I used to go to MOS (even though Fairchild also made these things), and they were throwing out the ones that weren’t passing their tests. And I would go up there — literally with a little red wagon and two cardboard boxes — and I would load them up with RAMs: they’re throw outs, they’re garbage. And I’d take them to an outside test lab, and I got 90% yield out of their garbage can.

So I was sitting there going, “Great, it’s for free!” [MOS] heard I was doing it for free, so they got in there and decided, “Uh uh, you’re going to pay for them!” I said, “You dirty rats.”


BE: How much total RAM did the Channel F have in it?

JL: 16K.

BE: Really? 16K? That was a lot at the time. I think the VCS had 128 bytes of RAM.

JL: See, our memory was used as a screen. The screen was memory. What you were doing when you played our game, you were actually putting symbology in a memory, and that memory was being displayed on screen. What you looked at when you were looking at the screen was an array of memory so-many-bits high by so-many-bits deep. In fact, when we had to move a character around, we had a thing we called “self-erasing characters.” Now what we would do is black out a square — say eight by eight — and around that eight by eight would be a border or background, and the symbology was put inside of it. So every time it moved, it would automatically erase the previous position. If we hadn’t done it that way — like we tried to fill it in — each time we moved it, we’d have to erase the last position it was in. If we did it that way, we ended up having objects that look like they’re jumping around and flashing.

A lot of little things we used to do were different. Our hand controllers were special. They were analog equivalent, but they were digital. And somebody asked how we did that. Well, we would drive the objects. In other words, when the [switch] closed in a direction, we would send the object in that direction. We’d send it fast, then we’d slow it down, so that it would have a kind of a hysteresis curve. We needed to do that for the human factors of using the hand controllers.

The hand controllers had a lot of — nobody has duplicated one yet. They’ve used them in other things. The hand controller had eight positions: up, down, left, right, forward and backward left and right. Eight positions.

16K!!! Wow!

What really attracted Vintage Computing to do the interview with Lawson is that he is an African American. Being a person of color working in the tech field was quite rare back in the 1970s, which makes Lawson quite the pioneer.

BE: Did you experience any difficulties in your career because of your race?

JL: Oh yeah. There’s two ways I used to experience it. First of all, I’m a big guy. So not too many people confronted me face to face. But I’ve had instances where I’ve walked into places where they didn’t know I was black.

I’ll give you an example. Not that the guy was a racist, but a guy named John Ellis, who was one of the Atari people. In about, oh, 1996 or 7, a law firm in Texas hired me as a consultant. And they were going to sue Nintendo. And they told me they want to bring John Ellis in too, ’cause he’s from Atari, and I go, “Oh, fine.” They said, “You know John Ellis?” I said, “I know John — very well.”

So the next day, John comes in the room, sees me, and says, “Hi Jerry.” And he looked kind of strange. I said, “What’s the matter with you, John?” He said, “I’ve always known you as Jerry Lawson. I didn’t know you were the same video game guy Jerry Lawson — I didn’t know you were black!” And I said, “Huh?” He said, “Al Alcorn, Nolan Bushnell, talked about you — all of them talked about you — Joe Keenan. But they never said you were black.” I said, “Well, I am.” He said, “I don’t know whether they did you a favor or not.” I said, “Well I don’t go around telling everybody I’m black.” I just do my job, you know?

With some people, it’s become an issue. I’ve had people look at me with total shock. Particularly if they hear my voice, because they think that all black people have a voice that sounds a certain way, and they know it. And I sit there and go, “Oh yeah? Well, sorry, I don’t.”

Granted, today there are more people of color in the industry, however, the new… pardon the pun… women are the new black. Women in games are still mostly relegated to marketing or marketing-related fields such as community. You do get the occassional support staffer who is female, but even today a game designer who is female is a rare find in most any company. The most notorious, of course, is Stevie Case, one of the lead designers of the horrific Daikatana. She later wound up taking her clothes off for Playboy.

Tracy Fullerton is a designer and highly regarded professor who’s students have been responsible for Cloud and flOw. Roberta Williams co-founded Sierra On-Line with her husband, helped bring Richard Garriott‘s Ultima series to the masses, posed naked in a hot tub for SOL’s Softporn Adventure title, and was a chief designer and programmer for the King’s Quest series. There are a few others, too: Mary Flanagan of Tiltfactor and Katie Salen of Parsons School of Design are designer/academics of reknown. My favorite happens to be Danielle Bunten Berry who created one of my favorite games of all time. She and Jessica Mulligan are even more in the minority: male-to-female transexuals.

These are just a handful of women who are paving the way for others with their talent, intelligence and brilliant work. Sadly, like Jerry Lawson, women are still being overshadowed by their more majority counterparts. Perhaps in the future the gaming industry will find itself better balanced in both race and gender. Until then, ladies, please keep your clothes on =P