Category Archives: dungeons and dragons
When I started writing this entry, I was struck by a bout of senility as I could not think of the name of the arcade where I first encountered Dragon’s Lair. It was upstairs at the Gimbel’s end of the Echelon Mall, directly above Listening Booth, and had an odd shaped entrance, like a large Chevrolet symbol. When I was in high school and college, it was the place to hang out, even though it had been predated by Funway Freeway on the opposite side of the Mall by at least a decade. Most importantly it was the place where in June of 1982 I first met my future wife.
I struggled with this mind fart, I Googled, I contacted old friends I hung out with at the time, and finally, on a whim, looking at old foreign coins, as I suspected, I came across tokens (for the uninitiated, arcade games didn’t run on quarters, you bought tokens with quarters and put the tokens in the machines) from the place. Video Village. Such a simple name, yet so evasive over the years. When I saw it on Google as a store in the Mall listings I assumed it was a video retail store, but no, it was the arcade.
In the early 1980s arcades were everywhere. There was Space Port in the Deptford Mall, the Cherry Hill Mall had had several over the years, heck there was one in every mall. I’ve already talked about Malibu, there was also Bally’s across from the Cherry Hill Mall, and the Galaxy (not the rock club) down the road from it on Route 70. There was even one in my hometown right on Atco Avenue, the Sweet Shop. Like I said, they were everywhere, and also like I said, Video Village (now that I finally remembered the name) was special.
New games or games with buzz were given a special position in arcades so everyone could see them. At Video Village, this was just inside the entrance, facing into the Mall, this way, even if you were on the other side of the stairs, you could see the new game. This is how I first saw Dragon’s Lair, logo standing out above a throng of heads of perhaps two or three dozen people mesmerized by it or waiting their turn on this amazing new game. And it was amazing, at least for its time.
There were no pixels or imagination involved in Dragon’s Lair, as it was fully animated by Don Bluth, just late of Disney, and designed almost as a choose-your-own-adventure with the magic of laserdisc technology. It was all about a light touch and perfect reflexes to get heroic knight Dirk the Daring past various traps in the castle dungeons, the evil wizard Mordoc, and the dragon Singe, to rescue the Princess Daphne. Oh, you couldn’t wait to try it yourself, but it was also a blast to watch – not just a game, it was an entertaining cartoon as well.
This was a far cry from Atari’s Adventure, said to be its inspiration. Dragon’s Lair was also a notable step into the future for one other reason as well. It was the first game I am aware of that took two tokens, fifty cents, to play as opposed to one token/quarter. I am unsure if this was forward thinking or just plain greed, but at the time in my easily amused late teens, it seemed a fair exchange.
So why all the nostalgia for events that happened over three decades ago? Well, I just recently downloaded the Dragon’s Lair LLC app for my iPhone. It has the same great animation and gameplay, only using the touchscreen instead of a joystick. So Dirk the Daring lives, or at least he does when I make the right moves…
I have insomnia. Anyone who follows my Twitter, or my Miso which feeds into my Twitter know this, as they have watched me rip through entire seasons of television series in the dead of night. Yes, it’s true, not being able to sleep at night, the devil does make work for idle hands. I still write from time to time when I can’t sleep, watching TV on my iPhone is recent bad habit.
When I first got married, playing Atari was my can’t-sleep go-to. We inherited The Bride’s grandmother’s condo, and with it, most of her furnishings. Thus we had a tiny TV in the kitchen, one without cable. No cable, so not much point in watching it, but I got the bright idea to hook my old Atari 2600 up to it.
Now when I say ‘old’ Atari, it’s not an original system. It is one of those wannabe Gemini systems popular in the mid-1980s when Atari was having its first nostalgia resurgence. Back in the day, the Ataris I played belonged to seemingly everyone else in the world but me. This was my first Atari, circa 1985. The months after the purchase were spent madly collecting old 2600 games I loved years earlier at places like decrepit K-Marts, dead Kiddie Cities, and the Berlin Farmers Market.
One of the prizes of that game search was Adventure. Back in the day, this was the closest we had to a Dungeons & Dragons video game. There was no Warcraft, or Diablo, or even Bard’s Tale, just this great little vague pixilated game full of fun and forced imagination. This was a game with buzz, with everyone talking about what may or may not be the first videogame Easter egg – the dust speck. More on that later.
In Adventure, you were a small square that moved via joystick through a maze visiting castles of different colors seeking out keys, the sword, and finally the chalice. Along the way you had to dodge or kill the three dragons – Yorgle, Rhindle and Grundle (how’s that for having a brain that’s a vast storehouse of useless knowledge?). There was also a bridge that allowed you to pass through obstacles, and the mysterious dust speck hidden in the wall that led you to the game designer’s credit. Now that’s what the dust speck really did, although there was much speculation as to its other abilities.
It’s a fun but simple game, and by simple I don’t mean to imply easy at all. There was quite a lot of difficulty to it. And there still is. I play it today on my iPhone with the Atari’s Greatest Hits app. I miss the days of the original Atari, except for waiting my turn, which was maddening with Adventure, but most of all, I miss my insomniac late night kitchen adventures, they were the best.
At some point in the last few decades, the word gamer has changed. Back in the stone age when I was a kid, I was a gamer. Because then, the word gamer meant someone who played role-playing games. You know those geeks with their Dungeons & Dragons and whatnot. There were dozens of other RPGs as well, and once a year, tens of thousands of gamers got together in Milwaukee for the GenCon. Some of this is still true, but some is not.
While the term gamer is different, now predominantly referring to videogames rather than nerds (it’s okay for me to say the N word, cuz I am one) and their polyhedron dice, the games still exist in many different forms, and they are still folks who play them, again, myself included.
Now those who know me, know that I do a weekly vidcast about comic books, well, in case you didn’t know, that format began as the All Things Fun! Podcast, which just relaunched this month after a long hiatus. The Podcast continues to present reviews and discussion on all the great games out there old and new, with its hosts Wes and Jess (if you think Allison is going to hit me at any given moment of the Vidcast, wait until you hear these two) and of course store owner Ed Evans. You can listen here.
And if that’s not enough game stuff for you other kind of gamers out there, I would also suggest you try Not Just Another Gaming Podcast run by some really cool folks, and also friends of All Things Fun! as well.
And as long as we’re talking about All Things Fun!, and non-electronic games, and you’re in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area, you might want to check their calendar for what gaming events are happening when! Shameless plug over. 😉
Shot live in a real comics and gaming store in West Berlin, New Jersey, All Things Fun!, co-hosts Ed Evans, Allison Eckel, and Glenn Walker, discuss the new comics out this week in two fun video segments, now in high definition.
The first segment includes discussion of the following topics: Charlie Sheen, the Maxwell Lord/Wonder Woman connection, the busy Batman Inc. #3 cover, the 1959 Avengers, Hawkeye: Blindspot #2, Venom #1, and Fear Itself from Matt Fraction himself.
The discussion continues in segment two including: Ed’s Leftovers featuring Incredible Hulks #624, Punisher Max #11, Zatanna #10, Age of X, Fables, Spawn and Donald Duck, Super/Flash racism, The Challenge featuring the mystery of 5 Ronin Hulk, iZombie #11, badly drawn feet, Dark Sun sure is printed on nice paper stock, and eight comics in under a minute by Glenn.
March 21st 2009 is the third annual Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day, celebrating the fantasy role-playing game created by the late Gary Gygax waaay back in the 1970s.
So grab your polyhedron dice, graph paper and lead miniatures, along with a two-liter of Mountain Dew and a bag of Doritos, re-memorize your spells and sharpen your two-handed swords and get out there and play some D&D!
The third straight-to-DVD “Futurama” flick, Bender’s Game, is a true mixed bag. It could have been one of the more hilarious half-hour episodes but they stretched it to feature length making it for the most part insufferable.
It begins with clever parody of Dungeons & Dragons, the current oil crisis and quite possibly a little bit of Sarah Palin thrown in for good measure, and then turns to mush. Most of the second part of this one is an adventure taking place in a D&D-like world satirizing Lord of the Rings, and doing it badly.
This DVD doesn’t even have any fun extras that could possibly make up for the lack of quality in the actual feature. In my opinion, more Hypnotoad, both figuratively and literally, could have helped this package quite a bit. I recommend you skip this one, wait for it to show up on basic cable, and hope for the final “Futurama” feature to improve on this downward spiral.
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs ~ David Cross is a sick sick monkey, and I think he’s hilarious. His presence can virtually turn around a usually bad movie – witness Alvin and the Chipmonks, he made that flick fall-down-and-wet-yourself funny. So when I heard he had a major guest-starring role in the second “Futurama” feature I was already sold.
Things pick up from the last feature as if we hadn’t had to wait a few months. Amy and Kif get hitched, Fry gets a polyamorous girlfriend and there’s a rip in time and space above the earth. As with any extra-dimensional rift, it must be explored, and there a polyamorous tentacle monster named Yivo, played by Cross, is found. It goes downhill from there.
Little things like the Death Ball Arena, the Upscale Human Domicile, the Exorcist 2 and Wishmaster references and of course everything with David Cross are kind of amusing, but for the most part, this feature doesn’t come close to Bender’s Big Score or even the TV series. The subplots are boring and I’m being kind. If only there was more David Cross, love his gonorrhea joke though. Nothing on the DVD special features either this time out, although the preview for the next one looks fairly interesting – a spoof on Dungeons & Dragons. There are two more of these straight-to-DVD Futuramas coming so maybe they can make up for this one.
Uncle Monsterface is one of those bands that has to be seen and heard. You just can’t get the full effect from listening to their music, even though the tunes are very cool. The Massachusetts-based ‘sock puppet rock band’ is an experience. Taking their musical cues from Devo, Ookla the Mok, the Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants, and their lyrical inspiration from videogames, comic books, television and even Harry Potter – throw in some “Muppet Show” sensibility, a little improv cabaret and some “Kids in the Hall,” and you’ve got the full Monsterface stage experience.
Like their previous work, the new album “This is an Adventure!” is another loving musical journey back into geek pop culture. Superheroes, videogames and Dungeons & Dragons permeate the tunes as well as the most fun you’ve had since you played your Nintendo 64. My favorites are “Kill Your Boyfriend!” “Save Our Superheroes,” “The Gary Gygax Song” and especially that clash of the titans, “Mashed Potato Vs. Vampire.” But the whole CD is marvelous. And if you hurry, you can download it for free, with a promise, at their website. Your favorite Uncle is also available on iTunes as well.
Don’t forget to check them out when they come to your town with Harry and the Potters and Math the Band on the Unlimited Enthusiasm Tour this summer – in Philly on June 29th. Come on out! After all how many bands have their own sock puppet monster?
Album artwork by Daria Tessler, band photo by Shannon Casey Splain. Uncle Monsterface can also be found on MySpace. And special thanks to the original Potterdelphian, Andrea, for turning me on to this band.