Lighten up

Color correction yet another aspect of my Metamorphoses/Winds of Change restoration attempt, that will be a bit of a challenge. While the Japanese DVD has the best video quality over all, some shots are just too dark. For the majority of the Perseus segment, I may end up using the just the VHS versions.

At the start of the Orpheus segment, the snake that abducts Eurydice is too dark throughout, and much of its detail is lost.

The ending of the House of Envy segment, when Aglauros turns to stone, is another scene where the Japanese transfer is too dark. It’s not too bad at the start, but it gets darker as she transforms.

Open Wide

While attempting to reconstruct a wide-screen version of Metamorphoses/Winds of Change is challenging enough, it’s complicated further by having multiple versions to work with. The Japanese version is the highest quality over all, but the American VHS is framed differently, allowing for some parts of the extended frame to be clearer than the French version would otherwise allow. An added bonus is that the trailer on the Japanese DVD contains several wide-screen shots that were squeezed horizontally to a 4:3 ratio.

For much of the film, the wide format seems largely wasted, which makes the 4:3 home video framing less jarring. There are some shots, though, that must have been a challenge. One such shot is when Pegasus appears, at the end of the Perseus segment. In the American and Japanese versions, the gorgon on the right side of the screen is completely cropped out. This gorgon is technically visible in the French version, but is outside the “safe” area of the frame, meaning it may have been cropped out by TVs at the time. An issue with the American version is that it’s framed so that Perseus is in the center of the screen, which results in the viewer not being able to see Medusa’s severed head transforming into Pegasus.

Overall, the framing of the different versions is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the American version will clear up an extra 10% of the picture. In few rare cases, it may add 25% or more. But for much of the film, it either only clears up the backgrounds, or aligns so closely to the Japanese version that it’s hardly worth the effort.

Winds of Metamorphoses

Sanrio’s Metamorphoses has been a resent interest/obsession of mine. Originally released in 1978, and envisioned as Fantasia for the rock era, the film was a flop. Critics and audiences complained that the music didn’t fit the visuals, the stories were difficult to follow without any narration or dialogue providing context, and, worst of all, many found it to be boring.

Sanrio wasn’t about to give up on the film, though – after cutting 7 minutes from its runtime, re-arranging its segments, adding narration by Peter Ustinov, and replacing the rock songs with a new disco soundtrack, the film was re-released as Winds of Change in 1979. And it flopped again.

I, of course, knew none of the the film’s history until fairly recently. I’d grown up with the Winds of Change version on VHS, but it was one of those films that I watched over and over, but forgot about as I got older. Thinking back on it as an adult, I couldn’t even remember its name. But as luck would have it, by the time I’d identified it, it had been re-released on DVD! In Japan.

星のオルフェウス (Orpheus of the Stars)
(Orpheus of the Stars)

Now having had the film on DVD for nearly 20 years, you would think that would be the end of it. I have it, and even if I didn’t, I could watch it in full on Youtube. So what more is there to think about? Well for one thing, there’s those 7 minutes of footage that was cut from the original version. That’s… a lot. What was cut, and why? How was the original music?

And then there’s the fact that the theatrical release was wide-screen, with an aspect ration of at lease 2.35:1, while the home releases were cropped to 1.33:1. That’s quite a lot of visual information to lose. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that I’ll never be able to know. Unless Sanrio decides to re-release the film with a new, wide-screen transfer, all I can do is wonder about what it once was.

…and then I happened upon the French version.

While the video quality of this version of the film is not great, I was excited to see that it’s letterboxed. Very quickly, I had the idea of combining this with the Japanese DVD, using it to fill out the frame and restore some of its original wide-screen presentation. How hard could it be?

…even harder than one might expect, actually.

One detail I’d learned after starting this obsessive little endeavor, is that Hoshi no Orpheus is a different cut than Winds of Change. Its segments were restored to their original order, and the film runs 5 minutes longer. This adds quite a bit back in, but at the same time, there are small bits from the Winds version that were removed, while other shots are repeated. By combining the two versions, the runtime could be even closer to the original!

Now there’s just the tiny problem of needing to match each of the film’s segments frame-by-frame, and having to correct the lens distortion on the French version. I don’t even want to think about what to do about the music or narration, if I ever finish the visuals. As far as I’m aware, the Rolling Stones’ Criss Cross, is the only song from Metamorphoses that is now available in any form.

When 32 bits wasn’t enough

Sega’s 32X could be described in many ways, hardly any of them positive – unnecessary, a wasted opportunity, a mistake, a desperate cash-grab…

For me, in hind sight, the addon was something of a betrayal. Promises were made, expectations built up, that ultimately never panned out.

1994 was a wild year for gaming. Coverage of the then-upcoming 32-bit systems dominated gaming publications. Sonic 3 debuted early in the year, followed by Sonic & Knuckles 8 months later. Super Metroid landed in Spring, while Autumn saw the release of Mortal Kombat II for home consoles.

It was an especially big year for Street Fighter fans – Super Street Fighter II arrived on the SNES and Genesis in July, several months after the Turbo edition had made its debut in Arcades. Super Street Fighter II Turbo would then get a home release for the 3DO in November, pissing off all but the two Street Fighter fans whose parents could actually afford a 3DO. Summer also saw the release of the animated Street Fighter II Movie in Japan, while the U.S. got its own live-action Street Fighter film in December. And in July, Darkstalkers made its arcade debut.

In between the year’s game releases, the next generation of consoles loomed. Every month brought new details of not one, but two new systems from Sega, as well as Sony’s upstart Playstation. The 32X was especially promising for anyone who’d already had the Genesis, as it was hinted – if not officially claimed by Sega of America representatives – that the addon would serve as an upgrade to transform a Genesis and Sega CD into a Sega Saturn. Even if that had been the intent early on, that it never came to be would be just one of the system’s many disappointments.

No system can survive without games, and the 32X actually had an impressive selection of launch titles – Doom, Virtua Racing, Star Wars Arcade, Mortal Kombat II… But it was Darkstalkers that really sold me on the system. The game had quickly become a favorite of mine, so knowing it was getting a home port, so soon after its arcade debut… I had to have it!

Unfortunately for me, Darkstalkers for the 32X ended up being vaporware. Capcom had quietly cancelled it after it became clear that the 32X was a flop.

Just how badly the 32X bombed can’t be overstated. The addon made its U.S. debut on Novermber 21, 1994, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. Just ten months later, the price was slashed from $150 to $99, and in early 1996 Sega of America had officially retired the system.

I can only imagine what the immediate response to the 32X might’ve been, if today’s internet had been a thing in 1994. While I might’ve still asked my parents for a 32X for Christmas, I might’ve found out about its failure and the cancellation of Darkstalkers much sooner. Instead, I spent the next year hoping to see or hear any updates on Darkstalkers 32X in Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Fan Magazine, only to find the 32X coverage dwindling.

When I sat down to write this post, I wanted to include that Darkstalkers 32X announcement. I know I had read it in either EGM or Game Fan, but finding it now has proven difficult. The closest I’ve been able to find is this exchange from the letters page of the November ’94 issue of EGM2 –

Mortal Kombat II on 32X was another disappointment, at least in the long run. While it had arrived three months after the SNES and Genesis versions, that might not have mattered, as I would have had to wait until Christmas regardless. What was disappointing about it was that it wasn’t any more impressive than the SNES version. It certainly looked and sounded better than the Genesis version, but I’d expected a 32-bit port to be arcade-perfect in every sense.

Many years later, I would find out that the 32X port of Mortal Kombat II was even more disappointing than I’d originally thought. On closer inspection, the graphics – mainly the backgrounds – were less detailed than those of the SNES version. This might have been due to many 32X games using the base Genesis hardware to render background layers, while the 32X itself handled the characters and foreground elements.

I might’ve been far more disappointed in the 32X at the time, if my life hadn’t been taking its own twists and turns. I’d started my freshman year of high school in the fall of 1994, and had a part-time job. By the end of the school year, I lost my job, got another, and had started saving to buy a Saturn AND my first car. I guess it’s no wonder I’d never noticed the 32X’s demise.

Street Fighter II: the phenomenon (part 2) – Ultra Turbo Supreme Mega-Rehash Edition

I can’t talk (at length) about SF2 and its many editions, without also covering the Capcom fighters that were basically SF2 in disguise – Darkstalkers, Marvel Super Heroes, Street Fighter Alpha, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom… I played the hell out of all of them. Compared to the rest of the Street Fighter II timeline, 1995-1997 were some pretty busy years for fans of Capcom fighters –

  • 1991
    • February 15 – Street Fighter II (arcade)
  • 1992
    • March – Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (arcade)
    • July 15 – Street Fighter II (SNES)
    • December 21 – Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (arcade)
  • 1993
    • August 1 – Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES)
    • September 11 – Super Street Fighter II (arcade)
    • September 28 – Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition (Sega Genesis)
  • 1994
    • February 23 – Super Street Fighter II Turbo (arcade)
    • July – Darkstalkers (arcade)
    • July 18 – Super Street Fighter II (SNES/Genesis)
  • 1995
    • January 5 – X-men: Children of the Atom (arcade)
    • April 6 – Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (arcade)
    • June 27 – Street Fighter Alpha (arcade)
    • October 24 – Marvel Super Heroes (arcade)
  • 1996
    • February 22 – Night Warriors (Saturn)
    • March 6 – Street Fighter Alpha 2 (arcade)
    • April 6 – X-Men: Children of the Atom (Saturn)
    • June 6 – Street Fighter Alpha (Saturn)
    • September – X-Men vs Street Fighter (arcade)
    • November – Street Fighter Alpha 2 (Saturn)
  • 1997
    • March – Street Fighter III (arcade)
    • March 28 – CyberBots (Saturn)
    • August 8 – Marvel Super Heroes (Saturn)
    • August 27 – Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (arcade)
    • September 30 – Street Fighter III: Double Impact (arcade)
    • November 27 – X-Men vs Street Fighter (Saturn)
  • 1998
    • January 23 – Marvel vs Capcom (arcade)
    • October 22 – Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Saturn)
  • 1999Street Fighter III: Third Strike (arcade)
  • 2000 – Marvel vs Capcom 2 (Dreamcast)

Released just a few months after Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Darkstalkers might’ve been my favorite out of the Capcom’s many Street Fighter re-skins. In terms of gameplay, Darkstalkers didn’t re-invent the wheel at all – if you played Street Fighter II, you could jump right into Darkstalkers. The main draw to Darkstalkers was its entirely new cast of characters, largely inspired by classic movie monsters, rendered with colorful, highly-animated sprites. Perhaps because its gameplay was nearly identical to SF2 – and because SSF2T was still a major draw – my local arcade never gave it a prime position. While the likes of SSF2T and Mortal Kombat II enjoyed spacious areas near the middle/front of the arcade, Darkstalkers was tucked into the back corner, where it would mostly only be noticed by kids like me who didn’t have time to wait for their turn to play (and be beaten at) the more popular fighting games.

Darkstalkers was even one of my primary reasons for wanting a Sega 32X when it was announced, because Capcom was reportedly working on a port. That port never materialized, and the 32X ended up being one of the biggest disappointments in gaming history, to put it mildly.

Several months after Darkstalkers, in January of 1995, X-Men: Children of the Atom was released in arcades. Like Darkstalkers, the game featured highly animated, brightly-colored sprites that suited the comic book characters very well. That the X-Men animated series was still running at the time likely helped the game, as well.

Unlike Darkstalkers, X-Men used Street Figher II’s gameplay more as a template. It still felt like SF2, but it added super jumps and air-combos, and the stages were HUGE.

At this point, I’m not sure where I first saw X-Men COTA in action. My local arcade never had it. I only remember being disappointed by the game, because by that point other, faster entries were available. X-Men just felt clunky. It’s entirely possibly I hadn’t played it in the arcade at all, but instead rented it for the Sega Saturn once that version was available. By then Marvel Super Heroes had already been in arcades, and I probably thought that X-Men was the next best thing at home.

In the summer of 1995, I turned 16, and got my driver’s license. That new level of freedom meant that I could hang out with my friends – who all lived miles away – outside of school, and I could visit the mall – and its arcade – almost any time I’d wanted. The only problem was that by then, the arcade at the mall had closed. Luckily one of my friends knew of another arcade not far from there, which became one of our regular haunts. The first time we went there, Marvel Super Heroes was the latest & greatest fighter on the market, and it was a sight to behold – rather than a standard CRT, the game used a large rear-projection screen, with the controls placed a few feet in front of it.

MSH attracted a crowd and dominated the immediate area, to say the least. With faster & tighter gameplay than X-Men: COTA, plus the randomness the use of the Infinity Gems added, players would compete to see who could knock out the most devastating air-combos… and we would all have our asses handed to us by The Pro, whenever he was there.

That might’ve been how I played Street Fighter Alpha for the first time – its machine was against the wall not far from MSH, but it never drew a crowd like MSH did. That meant I could play it without waiting in line, and I didn’t need to risk being swiftly defeated by The Pro.

Night Warriors on the Sega Saturn was something special, not just because it was one of my favorite games, but for what it represented – up to that point, home ports were always downgrades from the original arcade games. Smaller sprites, less animation, fewer colors, worse sound, fewer things moving on the screen… You always had to accept something that was “close enough”, no matter how much it paled in comparison to the arcade. That is, until Night Warriors.

The home version of Night Warriors was pretty much perfect. It looked, sounded, and played like the arcade game. Not “close enough” – it was spot-on. Reviewers for Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Fan would point out that the characters had fewer frames of animation – unless two players chose the same character – but I can’t say that it was noticeable. As far as I was concerned, the game was a flawless port.

The Saturn was the system to have, if you were into 2D fighting games. Street Fighter Alpha 1 & 2 were again perfect ports. X-Men: Children of the Atom felt clunky, mainly due to its slower gameplay. If you had a sharp eye, you might’ve even noticed the missing animation frames on each character. Marvel Super Heroes was another perfect port, with the use of an optional memory expansion cartridge. X-Men vs Street Fighter required an 8 MB expansion cart, but if you were a fan you’d happily pay the extra price to have an arcade-perfect port at home. 2D fighters were perhaps the one area where the Saturn blew the Sony Playstation out of the water.

…of course, by the time X-Men vs Street Fighter was released, if you wanted the game you had to import it from Japan. Even before then, you had to import most of the Saturn’s good games. The system was such a flop in North America, the game publishers just didn’t see any point in translating and releasing titles.

The home version of X-Men vs Street Fighter also felt like a nail in the coffin for arcades… New arcade games in general weren’t being released as frequently as they had before, likely due to the growth of the home market with the Playstation. Crowds at the arcade were also getting fewer. Not to mention, but that point the amount of time between the arcade and home releases was getting short and shorter.

In hindsight, it seems fitting – poetic, even? – that the age of the video arcade happened to end around the same time that I reached adulthood.

I started college in the fall of 1998, and from that point forward, I had little time to venture out to find an new arcade. I was in a new city, and many of my classmates weren’t from the area, either. The school did have a Marvel vs Capcom machine and perhaps one other game in its student lounge, and that was about the extent of my arcade gaming for the next couple of years. MvC hardly ever went unplayed – we were all nerds, geeks, and gamers, after all – but playing it between classes just wasn’t the same compared to having hours to waste at the mall.

Something that was equal parts depressing and exciting, was a chance encounter with an arcade owner at a shopping center near my apartment, shortly before I’d graduated college. He and an employee were unloading a new machine from a truck, while I was grocery shopping. Out of curiosity, I asked if they happened to sell older games. The manager/owner didn’t hesitate to ask what I was looking for. When I said “something like Street Fighter II”, he told me to follow him.

The storage area behind the arcade dwarfed the arcade itself, and it was so packed with games that it was difficult to navigate. In the middle of all of those machines, was Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. It was exactly what I was looking for! And for just $250, they offered to replace the screen and deliver it to my apartment!

At some point between graduation and landing a job, I would convert that SF2 machine into a M.A.M.E. cabinet that could play far more games. After landing a job, moving the cabinet into my new apartment wasn’t much fun, as I was on the second floor. There, it mostly just took up space in a corner. Moving it out a couple of years later was worse. For the next 10 years or more, it collected dust in my parents’ garage. I’d finally gotten around to selling it when they decided to put their house on the market, because moving that cabinet anywhere else just to have it collect more dust sounded insane.

Now, I look at the half-sized cabinets from Arcade 1-Up, and smile, but I would never consider buying one. Apart from the cabinets being too small, and space being a commodity, I think having an arcade cabinet now would be a depressing reminder of a time and place that is long gone. The feel of the arcade – the variety of games, the mixture of sounds, the social aspect – just can’t be duplicated at home. Just thinking about it makes my heart ache…

Street Fighter II – The Phenomenon (part 1)

Sometimes I wonder if any other game has had as big an impact on me, than Street Fighter II. It seemed that no matter how many times Capcom revised, re-imagined, or re-skinned the game, or branched out into other media, I couldn’t get enough.

SF2 was a game I’d gotten hooked on well before I’d ever played it. Seeing the graphics and variety of characters in Electronic Gamic Monthly and other magazines, it was certainly a game I’d play if given then chance. I was 11 years old when it debuted, and the only arcade I was able to visit with any sort of frequency was at the Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, MI.

I don’t think I’d even seen a SF2 machine in person – much less played it – until the Champion Edition was released. It was 1992, and my 6th grade class took a week-long field trip to Toronto, Canada. One of the first places we’d visited was the CN tower, and one of my main takeaways from the whole experience was being able to play SF2:CE for the first time in the arcade at the tower’s base. It was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. And of course I got my ass kicked, because while I’d read up on the moves and combos extensively, I had no idea how to actually perform them.

A day or two later in the Toronto trip, we all had a free day to explore the city. My then-best-friend and I came across a game shop that, to me, might as well have been Candyland. It wasn’t the biggest game store I’d ever been to, but it was the most well-stocked that I’d seen up to that point. No space was wasted. They even had accessories I’d never seen anywhere but in the ads in the back of EGM, like the Hyperboy Gameboy mini-arcade mount… thing.

What stood out the most at that store, though, was SF2:CE hooked up to a TV in the front of the store, via a Supergun Jamma harness, another thing I’d only read about in EGM. And for $20, my friend and I could play the game with unlimited continues for 30 minutes. My mom wasn’t too thrilled about that – either the price or having to stand there for 30 minutes while we played – but we had fun.

My last SF2-related memory from that trip might’ve been the day we’d left. We were at a bus station early in the morning, just in time for the arcade there to open. We had time to kill, and whether the manager did it intentionally or if it was just a standard power-on thing, all the games were free to play for the first 10 minutes or so. This arcade didn’t have SF2, but it did have plain old Street Fighter, which surely would be almost as good, right?

…yeah, no. It sucked.

When SF2 was released for the Super Nintendo later in 1992, I was ecstatic. Yeah, it was a little disappointing that it wasn’t the Champion Edition, but it was still Street Fighter II, and I could play it as much as I wanted. And by this point the arcade at Summit Place had a Champion Edition machine, which I’d also play whenever I had the chance.

SF2:CE always drew a fairly large crowd, at the mall. If you wanted to play, you’d put your quarter up at the bottom of the screen, and wait your turn. Unless this one guy was playing. The Pro. An Asian-American dude with hair that went down to his hips. I don’t know if he played SF2 on a tournament level – if that was even a thing, at the time – but he did know all the moves and combos, and was pretty much unbeatable. But everyone wanted the momentary bragging rights that’d come from defeating him, so we all lined up our quarters on that machine, and we all lost, every time.

The only time I’d get to play SF2:CE on any sort of equal footing, was after Mortal Kombat was released later that year. The Pro moved on to that game along with everyone else, and he kicked wholesale ass at that one as well.

Christmas of ’92 may have been one of the biggest for me, in terms of gaming. My parents had gotten me a Sega CD, Night Trap, Sonic 2… and a Championship Joystick for the SNES. The funny part about the joystick is how much of a surprise it was, after everyone had unwrapped their gifts and cleaned up. I’d gone back to my room to hook up the Sega CD and take it for a spin, when my dad came back to ask what I thought about the controller. I was confused, and had to ask “what controller?”

My parents owned a small business in Union Lake, MI. The building had a storage room in the back, where they would store my & my brothers Christmas gifts. But because it also had a fair amount of the shop’s inventory, it might’ve been easy for some things to get overlooked. That’s what had happened on this particular Christmas – while loading up the gifts the night before, one got left behind – the joystick.

When my dad realized that the joystick had been left behind, he got in his truck and went back to the shop. 20 minutes later, I had a surprise gift to unwrap!

Having that joystick felt like leveling up – it felt like the arcade controls, because it used arcade parts. It made the home version of SF2 feel that much closer to its bigger counterpart.

Another stand-out SF2 experience might’ve been in the summer of ’93, at a weekend car show my dad was attending in North Carolina. The show was between the hotel and a mall – the Four Seasons Town Centre – and where there was a mall, odds are there’d be an arcade. And indeed there was, right near the entrance!

This arcade had a rainbow edition of SF2:CE. I didn’t know that mod chips and bootlegs were a thing at the time, but I could tell that something about this game was different, just from the title screen. The game itself was pretty nuts – projectile speeds, depending on the button you pressed, were either so fast that your opponent would have little time to react, or so slow that you could walk up behind your own fireball. Projectiles could also move diagonally, nearly every move could be performed in the air, and you could change your character by hitting your start button. It was wild.

Another great thing about visiting new arcades, was the chance to see and play games that your usual ones didn’t have. Apart from SF2:CE Rainbow, this arcade also had World Heroes 2, and Martial Champion. While World Heroes 2 was definitely the better of those two by far, Martial Champion stood out because of its large character sprites. I felt it was a shame that the only home port was exclusive to the PC Engine CD, in Japan.

One more thing that made that weekend special, to me – Coca-Cola in 16 oz. cans. Today I look at normal 12 oz. cans as being too much, but as a sugar-addicted adolescent, having that much more Coke in one serving was one of the best things ever.

Piracy and unofficial enhancements to SF2 apparently were so rampant, Capcom had to do whatever they could to compete. Several months after Champion Edition and the SNES release of SF2, SF2: Hyper Fighting was released. Playing it at the arcade – when The Pro wasn’t there, drawing a crowd – made it difficult to go back to the home edition, which felt so slow by comparison.

The home edition of Street Fighter II Turbo would arrive several months later, in August of ’93. Just in time for my birthday! And then just one month later, Super Street Fighter II would land in arcades. By that point it was starting to feel as if Capcom was taunting me specifically.

Speed-wise, Super SF2 felt like a downgrade, but the new characters, moves, and combos were the big draw. I also thought it was funny that Guile’s voice was now the same as the announcer’s, which wasn’t very masculine.

September of ’93 also saw the release of the Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. At the time I thought it was a joke that the Genesis was a version behind the SNES, not realizing that the Genesis version had all of the Turbo features (and then some), just under a different name.

By this point, my familiarity/obsession with SF2 was such that I was picking out the differences between the arcade and home versions. The arcade had more (and smoother) animations, and the sprites were bigger. The Genesis game’s music sounded much closer to the arcade, compared to the SNES. The Genesis voice samples were also closer to the arcade, but sounded worse than the SNES ones at the same time, due to how compressed they were. My friends at the time made fun of me for noticing these things. That certainly hurt at the time, but looking back, I can hardly blame them. Maybe I should have been more interested in music, as they were, except I felt most popular music in ’92-93 sucked.

Summer of 1994 would see the release of Super SF2 on the SNES and Genesis. The SNES version might’ve been the first game I’d purchased with my own money, which also gave me my first taste of buyers’ remorse. The game was as accurate to the arcade as the SNES could get, but the fact that Super SF2 Turbo had been in arcades for several months by this point stung a bit. I felt like I’d paid $80 for an inferior game.

A year later, Super Turbo was released for MS-DOS. I didn’t hesitate to buy it… despite the fact that my family would not own a computer until some months later. And once we did have a computer, the game’s sound wouldn’t work. Graphically it looked exactly like the arcade game, but the lack of any sound robbed it of its impact. By that point, Street Fighter II had been my #1 gaming obsession for 3 years, and showed no signs of stopping…

My Life in Gaming – the before times

Thinking back on some of my fondest gaming memories, I’m amazed by the number of major games that were released each year, that would later become long-lasting franchises. But of course my memories only go back so far. Past a certain point, they’re more like puzzle pieces, or memories of memories – I know that I experienced them, but I don’t remember the experiences themselves.

That is what this post is mainly about – those nearly-lost fragments of memories that I managed to dig up and piece together.

It goes without saying that Pac-Man was a huge phenomenon, though it was technically before my time – the game hit U.S. arcades in 1980, when I would have been 1 year old.

Instead of the games, I was probably more familiar with Pac-Man from the cartoon series that ran from 1982 to 1983 –

…or the breakfast cereal that was sold up until 1988.

aka Lucky Charms

The 1983-1984 TV season brought more video game cartoons to Saturday Mornings, as part of the hour-long Saturday Supercade block. Mostly I remember watching Donkey Kong and Q-Bert once or twice. Also the weird-ass Rubik The Amazing Cube show. Either the shows didn’t make much of an impression, or there was something arguably better on one of the other channels.

One challenge with Saturday mornings back in the 80s, was that while there were only 3 TV channels to pick from, each of them aired four hours of cartoons on Saturdays, starting at 7 a.m. If you wanted to know what was airing when, you either needed to check the listings in the newspaper, subscribe to TV Guide, or flip through the channels during a commercial break. Recording shows to watch them later wouldn’t be an option until the price of VHS recorders came down, in the mid to late 80s. And even then, the VCR couldn’t record on one channel while you watched another.

The first game console my family owned was the Atari 2600. Unfortunately I can only remember three distinct things about it – that we had it, that one our games (Galaxian, maybe?) came with an Atari Force mini-comic, and that the system eventually died on us.

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After our Atari died, I took it apart, because that was a thing I liked to do. Maybe I thought I could fix it? Or it could just be that I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside. I ruined several of my toys that exact same way – I’d take them apart, and then couldn’t quite put them back together again.

R.I.P., you glorious Transformer wannabe

Another gaming memory I can’t quite place, is the tabletop Donkey Kong game by Coleco. Originally released in 1981, perhaps it was something one of my older brothers had gotten that year for either Christmas or their birthday. To me, it was just always there.

One of the oldest games that I remember the most clearly and fondly – and actually played – is Mappy.

I have a bunch of memories attached to Mappy, that have little to do with the game itself. Most of those memories are from the Alpine Valley ski resort in White Lake, Michigan. Apart from arcades, what could be more synonymous with the 80s than skiing?

Ronald Reagan, Back to the Future, cocaine, greed, cocaine, leg warmers, cocaine, Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies, cocaine, slasher movies, cocaine…

The year I learned how to ski… it’s somewhere between 1984 and 1988. I might not remember the year, but I do remember the experience. I wanted to follow my brothers onto the bigger slopes, but had lessons on the bunny hills. For roughly an hour each night – I want to say between 6 and 7 – the lifts and slopes would all be shut down so the resort could run their snow machines and grate the hills. This gave everyone an hour to go inside, warm up, and get some food. Returning to the slopes afterword was rarely a pleasant experience, because the fresh, machine-made snow was always too wet, and had frozen into a grated crust by the time everyone got back onto the slopes. Your chances of wiping out – especially if you were inexperienced – shot up 100%

The warmth when you stepped into the lodge after a couple of hours of skiing was such a great feeling. Sitting by the fire might’ve been even better, but to do that you needed to time it so you’d get inside 10 minutes or more before everyone else.

The next best way to warm up was to grab a cup of hot chocolate, although this was also a curse – the cups didn’t have lids, and were filled to the top. Considering the ski boots were rigid and required you to learn a new way of walking, burning your fingers was unavoidable. You also couldn’t drink the top portion of your coco right away, because it was scalding hot and burn your lips and every inch of the inside of your mouth.

The cafeterias – one in the upper level, and one below – always had their share of familiar faces, as several of the teachers from my school – as well as classmates’ moms – worked there part-time.

What does any of this have to do with Mappy? Well, one of my favorite things to do in the lodge after getting some refreshment, was to kill time in the arcade. Plenty of kids crowded in there to play the latest & greatest games, but Mappy was one of the “old reliables” – it might not have been the latest or the greatest game, but it was always available. Year after year, games would be swapped in and out, new ones replacing the old, but Mappy managed to stick around. The background music is stuck in my head to this day.

Sadly, like most arcades of the time, Alpine Valley’s arcade is just a memory now. I can’t say when it closed, only that it was a long time ago. Still, every winter when I’m in Michigan, I’m tempted to go back to Alpine. If I ventured through the lower cafeteria, what would I find in the arcade’s place? Probably more seating, at the very least. The only reason I haven’t found out yet is that it’s been so long since I’ve skied, I’d probably wipe out and break something. And I’m old enough now that that something is probably going to stay broken.

Remembering Summit Place Mall

Back in April, I started to feel Nostalgic for the former Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, Michigan. It had closed in 2009 and was finally demolished in 2019, so there are few ways for me to indulge my nostalgia apart from a handful of pictures posted online, and one or two urban explorer videos.

Like something out of a Chris Rock bit, Summit Place was arguably the less of Oakland County’s malls, with the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi being the larger and more upscale of the two. Summit Place always felt much more comfortable to me, though. It could be that, by the time I was able to drive myself there, Summit Place was already in decline, which meant that crowds were lighter.

One of my earliest memories of Summit Place, is my father taking me and my brothers there to see the theatrical re-release of Disney’s Pinocchio, in 1984. In particular I remember seeing a trailer for a then-upcoming Disney film, that I couldn’t wait to see – The Black Cauldron.

…I wouldn’t get to see The Black Cauldron until its first home video release in 1998. By then I was a high school senior, and while I still liked animation, I found the film to be underwhelming.

Summit Place’s cinema – a separate building from the mall proper – closed in 1993, but wasn’t demolished until 2014. While it wasn’t the biggest cinema, I’d still held out hope that it might re-open. Instead, it was left to rot.

One thing that definitely made Summit Place better than Twelve Oaks, in my opinion, was that it had an arcade. Nestled in the corner of the foot court, it was THE place to experience the latest & greatest games, for a time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Final Fight, Konami’s 6-player X-men, Street Fighter II (and all its revisions), Mortal Kombat, Darkstalkers… though if you were to ask my best friend, THE crown jewel of the arcade might’ve been the Ms. Pac-Man machine, near the entrance.

There always seemed to be one machine at any given time that drew a crowd. The 6-player X-Men game absolutely dominated the front right corner of the arcade, when it debuted. Street Fighter II and other subsequent fighting games attracted competitive players. In particular, there was always one guy – an Asian dude with hair down to his hips – that was practically unbeatable. He knew every move and combo for every character. With every new fighting game, players would line up their quarters at the bottom of the screen to challenge this guy, and nearly every one of them would walk away defeated.

Since this was the part of the mall I’d probably spent the most time in, I guess it’s oddly fitting that it’s also an area that I can now only glimpse in my memories. The arcade had closed well before the age of smart phones, and taking pictures at the mall was strictly forbidden in its heyday. To my knowledge no pictures of the arcade exist, and in the Ace’s Adventure video it’s boarded up.

The arcade was my only source of gaming memories. I always love to check out Babbage’s and Electronics Boutique, any chance I got. At least until I was working/driving age, I usually couldn’t afford to buy anything more than the latest issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly or Game Fan, but I like to see what was new on the shelves.

Electronics Boutique was where I feel I leveled up as a gamer, in a way – after the Sega Saturn was announced, I’d reserved mine there, and it was the first console I’d purchased with my own money. I was so nervous carrying it back to my car, afraid that someone might try to take it from me… although realistically, if someone had, they’d probably throw it back at me and beat my ass for not buying a Playstation.

One of my last memories of E.B., they had Sega Nomads on clearance for under $100. I did not have $100, and even if I had I probably wouldn’t have spent it on a system that was outdated even when it debuted, but now I think back and kick myself.

I can thank/blame one of the artists I follow, for triggering my mall memories. The pandemic got him pining for 90s-era malls, and so he’d built himself one as a VRChat world. My own nostalgia got me thinking a recreation of Summit Place could be fun, and if nothing else it might be something I could render my 3D characters in. But modeling the mall would be a crazy undertaking, seeing as the only reference I have are that Ace’s Adventures video, and a handful of interior photos.

…and 3D data ripped from Google Maps. Their 2D map is post-demolition, but they hadn’t updated their 3D view!

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Even if I only tried to model a portion of the mall – say, the food court – that would still be a huge undertaking. It certainly wouldn’t help that I tend to get obsessive, and would want everything to be accurate, down the size and spacing of the floor tiles… despite the fact that no one at this point would know if any of the details were wrong. Aside from the locations of certain stores, perhaps. My best friend could help me on that front – having worked at the mall for a few years, even know he likely knows its layout better than anyone.

Stores aside, if I structural accuracy remains important to me, I suppose I could see if I can’t purchase copies of the mall’s blueprints from the Oakland County Clerk’s office…

Another challenge to modeling the mall, in whole or in part, could be hardware or software limitations. While I was matching the extracted map to the scale of my Daisy model, Maya had slower to a crawl. This could be because the map is fairly dense and has a lot of redundant data, but I’ve also read that most 3D programs and game engines start to bug out when things move too far from the origin. And even at 1/10th scale, this mall mesh extend pretty far from the origin.

Now several months later, I’ve made no effort model any part of the mall. As fun as my nostalgia made the idea seem, it’s unfortunately a side project on an ever-growing list of side projects that I may never have time for. At best it might be something that I start, lose interest in, revisit several months or more later, and repeat…


If you played video games in the U.S. in the 1980s or 90s, you’re probably no stranger to bad box art. You’re probably thinking of some examples right now – images that are over-rendered, poorly composed, with characters that look nothing like anything you’ll find in the game. And usually those characters will be posed in ways that look unnatural or very uncomfortable. Not only that, the characters’ faces are usually either angry, or look arrogant, like they either inspired or were inspired by the Disney/Dreamworks trend of a character smirking with one eyebrow raised. This is all what marketing executives at the time thought would make a game stand out on a shelf, and appeal to kids. Either that, or they just didn’t care, so long as the game sold well enough to fund their cocaine habits.

Perhaps one of the more notorious examples of bad box art, is Mega Man. The first game looks as if an executive with little or no drawing ability scribbled a concept, then handed it off to an amateur painter. By the third game, the cover art would start to more closely resemble the the original Japanese designs, but Mega Man would still look cocky and over-rendered. And RIPPED.

From doughy to six-pack abs in just three games!

By contrast, the Japanese covers were bright, cartoony, and appealing –

Over the past couple of years, I’ve start to collect games I used to own, and decided to make custom covers. It started with the Sonic the Hedgehog games. The cover art for the Sonic games in North America weren’t the worst, but they still suffered from the usual problems – over-rendered, mediocre posing, “attitude”, etc.. Granted, it fit Sega’s marketing campaign of Sonic being cooler/edgier than Mario, but something about the character always looked off.

The Japanese cover was much simpler, by comparison, and yet busier at the same time.

also very, VERY 90s

Compared to the Japanese version, the American character art is just strange, to me. Sonic looks meaner, and his spikes are meant to look more like a mohawk, because ATTITUDE!

Since I find the Japanese cover to be much more appealing, I decided to copy it almost exactly –

Once I was finished with my Sonic covers, I found others to work on. Visiting Japan in 2019, I picked up a few Famicom games for myself and my best friend, and figured those games could use covers as well. Famicom cartridges fit perfectly inside Sega Genesis game cases, but those cases are much bigger than the games’ original boxes. After adapting a Famicom template from The Cover Project, the first challenge was to find copies of the original art at a high enough resolution for printing. The second and perhaps bigger challenge, was finding clear enough pictures of the backs of the boxes, so I could scan the text with my phone. My goal was the make them look as authentic as possible.

It didn’t take long for me to run out of Genesis & Famicom games to make covers for, so I turned my attention to the SNES. Probably the most difficult cover was Super Mario All-Stars.

This is a rare case were I think the North American box art is better than the Japanese version, but there was no way to fit it to a portrait-style layout. I needed to be able rearrange the composition, but couldn’t find any high-resolution source art to work with. To get the cover I wanted, I needed to recreate a good portion of it, starting with magician-Mario and the Bowser cloud. Most of the other characters had existing art that I could use, although frog-Mario was another that needed to be recreated… only to barely be visible in my final cover.

It isn’t just the front of the box that needs to pop, in my opinion. Most SNES covers are styled after the original boxes, which means most of the them use black as their background color. No matter how colorful the game’s logo might be, the black background makes them blend together. No one game is going to draw your attention, unless you’re up close. But with a wider spectrum of colors, every game screams out for your attention, even from across the room!

As I add more games to my collection, I’ll likely be making more covers as well. When they’re not being played, I want them all to look good on a shelf!

Check out some of my other covers below –

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North and South (NES)

In the past year, I’ve started to collect games I either used to have as a kid, used to play frequently, or otherwise have fond memories of. North and South wasn’t a game I ever owned, but my brother Justin and I would rent it on a regular basis. Sometimes we’d have it for so long, I wonder now if it would have been cheaper if we’d just asked our parents to buy it for us.

The video store was a place called Entertainment Tonight, in Waterford, MI. “Like the TV show!”, we thought. It wasn’t the biggest store, though I remember it being twice the size of the place we’d previously rented from. And the previous place didn’t rent games. Blockbuster Video would be even bigger, when one eventually opened in our area.

Not too long before North and South was released, there was a mini series on TV by the same name. We thought that the game was based on the show, even if very loosely. I’d only find out, well, today, that the game was actually based off of the Belgian comic series Les Tuniques Bleues.

Playing the game, I want to say we would take turns playing one side or the other. I do know that we’d get a kick out of the south winning, regardless of who was playing. “That’s not how it happened!”

…And that’s all I can really remember about the game. Very little about the game itself, but a few loose, surrounding details. I did watch a play-through video, thinking it might job some memories, but… nothing. Granted, it’s been about 30 years since I played the game, and there’ve been many more games since then, that had a much bigger impact on me.

Still, this is a game I look at now, and wonder if I should add it to my collection. My memories of the game itself may be dim, but it could still serve as a sort of bookmark for that time and place. And seeing that there’s a remake on the Switch, I may have to let my brother know about it, if he has the system or plans on getting it for his son.