The Retrogaming Times

- The Bimonthly Retrogaming Hobbyist Newsletter -

The Retrogaming Times
Fortieth Issue - September 2022 - Page Two



Caught On Film - The Last Starfighter (1984)
A Desperate Battle Against Incredible Odds
by David Lundin, Jr.

Video game movies are almost their own genre at this point.  Unfortunately they're generally not all that great and are often compared against one another as a throwaway part of the film industry.  Of course there are exceptions and many of them have huge fans, myself included, but the phrase "for a video game movie" tends to detract from those films within the genre that garner praise otherwise.  I have to ponder what the reason for this reputation truly is.  Is it because of the subject matter or the generally lower budgets?  Perhaps it's due to them usually being based on licensed properties or straying too far from their source material?  Or is it the ridiculous idea that video games are just for kids and outliers?  If I was asked what the best video game related film is, I wouldn't respond with the film that had the most star-studded cast, or was the most financially successful, or even the one that is my all time favorite film.  No, I'd respond with what I believe is the best film in the genre to this very day, 1984's The Last Starfighter.

Alex Rogan is a teenager who dreams of getting out of the sleepy town he lives in and making something more of his life.  He lives with his mother and younger brother in a small trailer park, which he is often called upon to lend a hand in the maintenance of.  One of his only means to unwind is playing the arcade game Starfighter at a roadside store operated by the trailer park's manager.  The game drops the player in the role of a lone starfighter, recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada.  Alex seems to have a natural gift at Starfighter and one night he completes the game and achieves a record breaking score.  Later that night a strange car pulls up to the store and its driver asks Alex who broke the Starfighter record.  Once Alex states it was he who did so, the driver introduces himself as Centauri, inventor of the game, and asks Alex to step into his vehicle to discuss an important matter.  After Alex agrees, Centauri's vehicle is revealed to be a spacecraft that transports them to Rylos, the world from the game.  There Alex learns that the game was created as a way to find capable starfighters from worlds outside of the Star League, as the conflict between Rylos and the Ko-Dan Empire is in fact real.  Alex is drafted to be a gunner in a Rylan spacecraft, known as a Gunstar, and is partnered with a reptilian pilot named Grig.  While an android clone of Alex attempts to cover for him back on Earth, Alex and Grig set off in a lone Gunstar to take on the Ko-Dan Armada and liberate the galaxy.

Alex plays a game of Starfighter while his little brother Louis looks on and gives him advice

On paper The Last Starfighter sounds like it could be a typical teen film of the early 1980's, with a pretty corny premise of video game aliens being tossed in.  However the film avoids all those cliches with how well it is written, acted, and paced.  The script is actually very serious when it hits the larger beats of the relentless tyranny of the Ko-Dan Empire.  It's far more mature than many space operas in this respect and gives itself time to allow for dialogue exchanges that reveal depth in its characters.  That's not to say it doesn't have all the trappings of a classic space opera in its broad strokes.  Good and evil are clearly defined, there's a big reveal of the primary villain, betrayal is a cornerstone of the villain's power, and the heroes are a rag-tag group fighting against all odds.  Now the 80's teen film tropes do show up at one point, but they are played for fish out of water comedy involving Alex's android clone, and are almost self-aware in how they are being used.  These scenes also serve to break up the heavier concepts of the film but never feel as if they step out of the over all narrative or abandon character motivations.

The cast is superb with Lance Guest playing Alex Rogan in addition to Beta, the Centauri-delivered doppelganger of himself.  Robert Preston as Centauri channels an intergalactic version of his most famous role, The Music Man's Professor Harold Hill.  Dan O'Herlihy as Grig carries most of the dialogue's weight and comedy in the film's third act, and is probably best known to many as portraying The Old Man in 1987's RoboCop.  The rest of the cast is also very good, especially Vernon Washington as Otis the trailer park manager, and Chris Hebert as Alex's younger brother Louis.  Louis has some very funny and very genuine little brother lines that Chris Hebert hits perfectly.  Without such great performances from absolutely everyone throughout the film, this easily could have dissolved into nothing but a cheesy 80's teen movie.  Thankfully it never approaches anything of the like.  It's a film about being a teenager and looking to the rapidly approaching future on the horizon, doing everything you can to reach out for that future, and all the encounters along the way that change that journey.  It's the reason why of all the "video game" movies, and many 80's teen-centric movies in general, The Last Starfighter has remained the most timeless and least dated.

Alex arrives on Rylos and meets Grig, the pilot of the Gunstar he is assigned to as a gunner

The Last Starfighter is also very well known for being one of the first films to extensively use computer graphics for its special effects.  The space battles, ships, some of the sets on Rylos, and pretty much anything that a contemporary film of its time would use models or matte paintings for, are instead computer rendered.  The undertaking required to create such effects at the time was incredible and many home video releases of the film include a documentary that goes into great detail concerning this.  The clean, smooth renderings still look great in my opinion and I find them very fitting for the movie's video game related subject matter.  Of course there isn't the level of detail or realism seen with modern CG, but it absolutely does not look dated since everything has a very uniform look and feel, with object movement that doesn't betray conventional cinematography.  I also love the soundtrack of this film.  Craig Safan's compositions are perfect in creating a booming and triumphant sensation to heighten action, while at the same time weave a somber and longingly bittersweet tone when necessary.  The title theme is especially memorable and it is called back to throughout the film.  Even if you're familiar with this movie, give the soundtrack a listen to on its own, you may be surprised at its complexity.

If there is one disappointment with The Last Starfighter it is due to the era it was released into.  The American video game industry was going through a time of transition and restructuring, which meant taking less risks like releasing games based on uncertain properties, even if there is a reference to such in the end credits.  An arcade game was in development by Atari but never made it out of very early development before being abandoned.  Atari home console and computer versions were also in development, only to either be scrapped or reworked into other games - Star Raiders II for Atari computers and Solaris for Atari 2600, both outstanding games in their own right.  The Last Starfighter name was slapped onto an NES conversion of the Commodore 64 game Uridium, along with a few small changes, in a supreme display of cheaping out on the license by Mindscape.  This was a huge disappointment to me when I was finally able to track down a cartridge in the late 1990's, although Uridium is a fine game on its own merits.  There have also been more accurate fan games made since but it's a shame there was never an official proper arcade game.

The CG renderings in the film still look pretty amazing and create their own consistent visual aesthetic

Unlike most video game related feature films, The Last Starfighter had a much more generous run on television and home video.  I had seen the movie broadcast on both local television stations as well as national networks, including a MonsterVision screening hosted by Joe Bob Briggs on TNT.  Every video rental store I had ever been in had a VHS copy of it available.  A widescreen collector's edition DVD released in 1999 was one of the most feature-packed releases of any film I had ever encountered.  It includes a brand new documentary about the film's production, with tons of interviews and insight, all hosted by Alex Rogan himself, Lance Guest.  They actually built a fresh mock-up of the Starfighter arcade cabinet specifically for this feature and the disc contains some very slick menus for a release from 1999.  It has since been released on Blu-ray a few times, with the Arrow Video release from 2020 being the one to grab, as it looks great and contains all the special features from the previous releases.

Although the film ends by opening the door for the possibility of a sequel, it seems such was never originally intended.  Since 2008 there were some rumblings of a sequel or reboot being in the works but they failed to materialize.  These have persisted right up through last year, when a concept reel titled "The Last Starfighters" was revealed by Gary Whitta, who is rumored to be working on a sequel script with Jonathan R. Betuel, who wrote the original.  While I would hate to see the movie totally remade or re-imagined, I would love to see a sequel that follows the first film in some way.  Most importantly a sequel should keep the same timeless concepts at its core, rather than being massively contemporary or a total throwback.

Centauri barters with a Rylan broker as he attempts to collect on discovering an Earth-based starfighter

Of all the "video game" movies this is the one I recommend most to those who haven't seen it.  It's not specifically tied to its era, it doesn't require a modern audience to take a step back into a different mindset, and it doesn't require being into video games to enjoy it.  Having spent my teenage years living in a small town I can totally relate to some of the concepts the film touches on and some of the frustrations Alex is faced with.  I suppose that's one of the things that makes the film feel so timeless to me.  It also doesn't try to be overly trendy the way most teen films do, instead framing itself as kind of an old fashioned story - a fairy tale with a sci-fi twist.  I also have to mention that my favorite arcade game is Namco's massive StarBlade from 1991, which plays an awful lot like a loose adaptation of The Last Starfighter.  The Last Starfighter gets my highest recommendation and I believe it has the widest appeal of all the movies that get talked about in retrogaming circles.  If you haven't seen this one please give it a watch.

id Software and GT Interactive: The Match Made in Hell
by George "mecha" Spanos

id Software was founded by John Romero, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack (obligatory "no relation"!), and Tom Hall in 1990. Originally called "Ideas from the Deep", lead programmer John Carmack devised a technological marvel that had not been achieved up to that point: creating smooth side-scrolling games for DOS PCs. So confident were they, they recreated Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. 3 in the new game engine and propositioned the company with their PC port. Nintendo refused, choosing to keep Mario exclusive on their consoles, and it was then designer Tom Hall rearranged the game into their own Commander Keen. Apogee Software founder Scott Miller was so enamored with the games they were producing he would write in anonymous letters, which John Romero was able to decipher all had the same address. The different names on the letters were to get past Softdisk's screening practices to prevent their employees getting poached. Romero would speak to Miller and then proposed Keen as a project they would like to do. They would subsequently leave Softdisk and pursue writing their own games to be released through Apogee and thus the legend began to take shape.

Apogee had a unique mode of distribution for their games that was known as shareware. The idea was a game would be written into three parts, and the first part would be freely shared amongst players on floppy disks. This effectively meant they didn't need to pour money into advertising, as the players were marketing the games for them. id had been granted stipends for their pizza orders and the like to keep churning out games, but with each game that amount would get bigger. After several releases they would create Wolfenstein 3D, and thus the first-person shooter (FPS) as we know it today was born. This partnership with Apogee had proven successful up to a point, but by time id was ready to make Doom, they would sever ties with Apogee and publish the game themselves, as mismanagement in the Apogee office led to id losing sales on their games.

Doom would go on to be a huge seller, generating tons of money for id. It too had a shareware release, one that had spread like wildfire on millions of computers. In 1994, GT Interactive Software (GTI) (a branch of GoodTimes Home Video) had reached out to id about brokering what would be a significant distribution deal. id rejected their offers multiple times, prompting GTI to travel from New York to Dallas to make a formal offer that id simply could not refuse. Their offer was an actual advertising budget and the ability to sell their upcoming game Doom II: Hell on Earth in retail stores. With a promise that GTI could sell 2 million units, id agreed, and this is the story of id Software and GT Interactive.

Doom II: Hell on Earth
Released: October 10, 1994

id sold the registered and full version of the original Doom in 1993 via an over-the-phone method that delivered the game to customers directly on floppy disks. Rather than concentrate a budget on advertising the game, id distributed it using their successful shareware approach where players could freely share the first episode of the game without negative legal ramifications. The players were effectively doing the advertising for id and without having to break a piece off to Apogee like before, rendered the company greater profits than ever. For Doom II however, they had GTI pushing the game out in the retail world with even larger returns. The game had no shareware or demo release, but with a marketing budget and the reputation of its predecessor, being one of the all-time greatest games ever produced on its side, it would go on to sell over 2 million copies meeting their sales goal.

The game itself had foregone the episode format in favor of 32 levels (or in FPS terms, maps) broken up into thematic different thirds instead. Stylistically the game was different from the original in that it took place on Earth and the nameless space marine character faces off against Hell's invading forces in order to save the world. The game added several new enemies but was mostly unchanged save for a new Super Shotgun weapon and the Megasphere power-up.

The Ultimate Doom
Released: April 30, 1995

With GTI having demonstrated that Doom had a place in the mainstream retail market, they proposed releasing the original Doom the same way to generate even more sales. Originally titled "The Definitive Doom Special Edition," it would find its entry into the world as The Ultimate Doom. GTI pushed for the game more than id wanted to work on it due to development on their next game Quake having already begun. Designer John Romero and map designers American McGee and Shawn Green were inactive at the time while lead programmer John Carmack was trying to piece together Quake's engine, so they led the effort. They would enlist the help of fan community map authors Tim Willits (the company's future lead designer) and John "Dr. Sleep" Anderson to help produce 9 new maps for what would become the game's new 4th episode, Thy Flesh Consumed. In terms of storyline continuity, not much effort was made to tie up Doom and Doom II with the new episode, leaving it up to a community debate as to whether it takes place in Hell or on Earth. The game had other subtle modifications done by Romero for Deathmatch and an updated executable.

For the people that purchased the phone-order version of the game, id dispatched free upgrade patches to bring their games up to The Ultimate Doom. Thy Flesh Consumed was harder than the original stock game, so if you were up for the added challenge then it may have appealed to you. The first map E4M1 Hell Beneath features a cameo of the Nine Inch Nails NIN logo in the floor, a sign of what would come later with Quake.

Hexen: Beyond Heretic
Released: October 30, 1995

Similar to Doom II hitting the retail channels first before its predecessor, Hexen: Beyond Heretic (or simply Hexen) was the first Raven Software game to market under the GTI banner. John Romero was executive producer on Heretic, to help acclimate the Raven Software team to build a game in the Doom engine (retroactively named idTech1) and while Quake was still in programming limbo would do it again for Hexen. The game would serve as the second act in what would later be known as the Serpent Rider Trilogy. In Hexen, the main antagonist is Korax, one of the Serpent Rider brothers. While its predecessor Heretic was effectively a medieval spin on Doom (the weapons function almost identical), Raven would forego the episode format of the first game and introduce what is known as the hub system. A hub would consist of a level that has entrances to the other levels, whereby you would have to collect keys or items to bring back to the main level to unlock the exit to progress to the next hub. At the time it was a radical and fresh new concept and would be the feature that Hexen was most known for. The game also implemented selection from three different character classes: Fighter, Cleric, and Mage, each of which have different attributes and provide different gameplay experiences throughout to increase replay value.

The game pushed the absolute boundaries of what the Doom engine was capable of, with breakable glass and objects, doors that swing open, and a jump function. Another novelty feature of the game was that in addition to the standard MIDI music playback there was an option for CD audio as well. The Redbook audio consists of higher quality Roland SC-55 renditions of the MIDI music, although not every MIDI track from the game was included. A 3rd entry in the trilogy tentatively titled Hecatomb was planned but was eventually canceled and later replaced with direct sequels Hexen II and Heretic II.

Master Levels for Doom II
Released: December 26, 1995

Since Doom launched in 1993 with the ability to create your own maps and weapon assets out of the box, there was a strong demand to edit the game. With virtually no internet to really speak of quite yet on a mainstream level, the way to access these mods was actually quite limited to floppy disk exchanges or bulletin-board systems (BBSes). Until D!ZONE came along, effectively creating shovelware compilations of various maps to throw on CD-ROMs and sell in stores. id were not getting any of the action from the sales of these discs, so they proposed a way to produce higher quality map compilations in what would be called Master Levels for Doom II. The name was a bit misleading in the sense one would assume it meant the difficulty would be ratcheted up to an 11. It was really a descriptor for the quality of the levels, engineered by some of id's and the fan community's most popular map authors. Given Master Levels was a collection of singular levels that didn't adhere to any episodic format, it came with a program called DOOM-IT which was a menu interface for selecting the levels to play. Upon completion of a level an asterisk would be placed next to the map name and then you could select another. As a bonus, id included their own compilation of maps from the internet called Maximum Doom, consisting of thousands of maps, but of equally dodgy quality to D!ZONE.

In contemporary times with the era of MS-DOS long since come and gone, the DOOM-IT utility is no longer usable (save for the use of DOSBox or a retro computer). There exist utilities that can combine all the map WAD files into a single MASTER LEVELS episode to play through in order.

Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders
Released: March 31, 1996

Next up was the retail release of Heretic, branded Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders. Like Doom in 1993, Heretic was independently published by id. It had a shareware release (tucked away on The Ultimate Doom CD-ROM, my first exposure to the game) and you could purchase the full game over-the-phone. The Ultimate Doom's inclusion of an additional episode proved to be so great that the new Heretic added two more of its own, The Ossuary and The Stagnant Demesne, totaling out to a riveting 45 maps in all. Even before Hexen, Heretic was able to stretch the boundaries of what the Doom engine was capable of up to that point. A very welcome addition was the ability to manually look up and down, rather than relying on centering your crosshairs on enemies perfectly to get the game to autoaim up or down for you. The game introduced an inventory system much akin to role-playing games (RPGs) of a wide variety of different power-ups, like the Wings of Wrath to enable the ability to fly or the Tome of Power that supercharges your arsenal to deal more damage. The Morph Ovum may be one of the funniest novelties, throwing these eggs at enemies turns them into harmless clucking chickens.

The environment of Heretic is particularly enthralling, with enemies that can shoot tornadoes at you to throw you back, or bodies of water and icy terrains that you can slip around on. Open your ears and you will find the audible cues have more layers than Doom was capable of with ambient sounds like bells gonging in the distance. Before Hexen pushed Doom's envelope to the limit, Heretic demonstrated a sizable chunk of that growth and gained Raven Software some serious mainstream attention.

Final Doom
Released: June 17, 1996

A group of Doom modders named TeamTNT were poised to release their 32 map 'megawad' TNT: Evilution (TNT) on the internet, free to download, and then in the 11th hour John Romero swooped in to offer them the deal of a lifetime. Turning the team pro just one day before release, TNT would go on to become one half of Final Doom, the final retail release of the classic Doom era. Members of the team, brothers Milo and Dario Casali, submitted a handful of maps they crafted to id, who were impressed with their work so much they were granted the opportunity to produce their own 32 map 'megawad'. This second half would be called The Plutonia Experiment (Plutonia), handcrafted by the Casalis for maximum punishment. TeamTNT was fairly large, with a lot of different contributors, making the TNT pack much of a mixed bag in the design department, mostly to its critical detriment. Plutonia was more polished and concise, with the brothers each dedicated to 16 maps each. Final Doom offered nothing new over its core game Doom II, which both map packs were built upon. Released almost a week before Quake, Final Doom filled a niche for people with older computers that couldn't run Quake well seeking a new game from id.

While Final Doom received its share of panning from critics and players alike, TNT and Plutonia were popular enough with their design themes that multiple teams from the fan community produced sequels, TNT: Revolution and Plutonia 2 (and even more). For all Final Doom's perceived flaws, the TNT half had some rocking new music to heighten the intensity of fragging some more demons. Plutonia recycled musical assets from Doom and Doom II, but had its own fan pack release of new music years later. TNT's voodoo doll puzzle and Plutonia's map filled with Arch-viles chasing you down are among some of the highlights in this conquest, and lest we forget one of my favorite maps ever, Deepest Reaches and its haunting music.

Released: June 22, 1996

After a year and a half of development, Quake had finally emerged. What players like myself were unaware of was the trials, tribulations, strife, and utter chaos that ensued in the id offices to deliver the game unto us. John Carmack, even with the assistance of Michael Abrash and John Hook, was locked into a programming quagmire trying to build the fully 3D Quake engine (retroactively named idTech2). The game was also among the first to be playable over the internet with TCP/IP protocol. The networking subsystem being a sizable endeavor all to its own, that Carmack looking back said should have been a separate project. The artists and map designers would create assets for the game that would have to be scrapped and redone multiple times to coincide with the engine development. John Romero was the lead designer on the game, intent on creating something more rooted in melee combat in a medieval RPG world. With it taking so long to create the game, it was deemed that his original vision was too ambitious, and the game was stripped down to be more like Doom, albeit the dark gothic themed HP Lovecraft-inspired world remained.

Behind the scenes, GTI offered to purchase id outright, which id had refused. id's new business director Mike Wilson thus motioned for Quake to see a shareware release, despite GTI proclaiming that the shareware format was dead. The shareware CD-ROM featured the Redbook audio soundtrack by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (who gets a nod in-game with the NIN symbol once more emblazoning the nailgun ammo boxes). It also contained id Stuff, software which contained full versions of Quake and other id games that you could order the unlock codes for over the phone and install right away. While id had released a multiplayer-only test demo called Qtest (Official Quake Deathmatch Test) to sample how the game would perform, players had already found ways to tap into the game's file system and modify it. Upon the full game's release its gameplay modes of standard Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Team Fortress, and Rocket Arena would lay the groundwork basis for what virtually every FPS game that came after would follow.

Hexen: Deathkings of the Dark Citadel
Released: September 3, 1996

In what would be the final release through GTI, Hexen: Deathkings served as an expansion pack for Hexen, extending the core game's storyline for an additional 3 hubs. Deathkings takes place immediately after Hexen ended, with the player discovering the Chaos Sphere, but rather than the happy ending, the player is transported to the Realm of the Dead. The 3 hub campaign of Deathkings isn't easy, in fact it's incredibly difficult, but it's what must be completed in order to reach the true ending. Respawning enemies were a staple of Hexen, but Deathkings has more types of enemies that reemerge to fight off to really ramp up the difficulty factor. Weighing in at 20 maps in all for the expansion campaign, Deathkings also includes Deathmatch exclusive levels packaged in its own hub called Transit. The expansion has subtle changes, such as retaining more inventory items when progressing to the next hub.

In all it takes a certain degree of patience to undergo more action in the Hexen universe, but Deathkings will certainly fit the bill if you're interested in more item gathering torture.


The strenuous development cycle of Quake and all the internal fighting that erupted resulted in the resignation of John Romero with Michael Abrash, Shawn Green, Jay Wilbur, Sandy Petersen, and Mike Wilson's departures following soon after. With Quake only selling 250,000 units by Christmas 1996, id would split with GTI and later sign with Activision, taking a 49% ownership stake in id. Raven Software would likewise partner up with Activision, still affiliated with the company to this day. id would effectively continue where they left off with Quake and release Quake Mission Pack No. 1 Scourge of Armagon (Hipnotic Software) and Quake Mission Pack No. 2 Dissolution of Eternity (Rogue Entertainment) in early 1997. Raven Software would release Hexen II in August 1997 and Heretic II in November 1998. id would rebound from their losses and reform with a larger team to release the masterfully crafted and highly anticipated Quake II for Christmas 1997. id would later revisit their past IPs in Wolfenstein and Doom before being acquired by ZeniMax Media (owner of Bethesda Softworks) in June 2009.

Wizball - My Favourite Game
by Merman

Sensible Software - Jon Hare the artist and designer, and Chris Yates the programmer - created the unique and incredible Wizball in 1987. It was inspired by "painting by numbers" and the progressive weapons system of Gradius / Nemesis in the arcades. Rather than a spaceship, you control a bouncing ball containing the wizard. Collecting Green Pearls allows you to add extra weapons and the Catellite, a small satellite containing your pet cat. This is used to collect droplets of colour.

The original loading screen from Wizball on the C64 and Collecting a Green Pearl, with the icons at the top representing your power-ups.
(Note: These icons are shown at the bottom of the screen on NTSC machines)

Mixing the colours (red, green, and blue) in your lab allows you to "colour in" the levels, which start out in shades of grey. It is this unique idea coupled with the shoot 'em up action that really appealed to me. I first played it on the Magnificent Seven compilation, which gathered seven of Ocean's games from 1987 together (along with the bonus game, Yie Ar Kung Fu).

Adding to the game's atmosphere was Martin Galway's brilliant soundtrack. Jon and Chris had been in a band when they were younger and contributed ideas. Jon played bass riffs that became the basis for the bonus round's music, while Chris played a formidable guitar riff that became the "game over" jingle. The title tune builds and changes dramatically, while the high-score tune is a celebratory rumba rhythm. I recorded the music to an audio cassette to listen to again and again.

On level 2, mixing red and green gives the brown colour and level 3's blue theme includes this miniature Mount Rushmore.

Wizball can be a tricky game to get into, thanks to the control method, but persevere and gain the first two power-ups (Thrust and Anti-Grav) and it becomes a lot easier. Once you get the hang of the clever colour mixing, it's great fun. ZZAP! 64 awarded the game 96%, but controversially it just missed out on the Gold Medal award. The magazine later called it the Game of the Decade.

Don's Desk - Champ Games Redux
by Donald Lee

As I have revisited many old columns and topics this year, I realized I had not revisited one topic.  That topic is Champ Games.  In my early days of writing, I discussed Champ Games (or maybe Champ Programming as they were known back in the mid to late 1990's) and their ports of classic arcade games.  Back then the ports for mainly for the PC computers.  If I recall correctly Champ Programming released their games as shareware.  Meaning you could download a free version of the game with limited levels but if you wanted all the levels you had to purchase the game.  I don't remember the full catalog from Champ Programming but remember that in 1990's you could really only play arcade games in the arcade or use MAME to emulate.  Due to the technology at the time home arcade ports weren't quite as good as the originals. 

When I started writing for Retrogaming Times Monthly, I had written about Champ Programming and also looked into why it seemed like the company suddenly disappeared.  I believe I discovered that there were some copyright issues that caused Champ Programming to close its doors, which was a shame.  But some time again I discovered that Champ Programming had revived itself as Champ Games.  (  Following their website and Facebook group, it looked like Champ Games had turned its focus toward developing ports of old arcade games for the Atari 2600 / VCS.  I've watched video of the Champ Games port of Galaga and it's incredible that the Atari 2600 / VCS had a version of Galaga, I wish it was available for the Apple II.  Champ Games looks to be doing well with a multitude of games released and in development.  For fans of old arcade games and Champ Games it's well worth following and supporting their efforts.

For those of us (like me) who were fans of the original Champ Programming efforts, I discovered that has several of their games online and playable in your browser:

Champ Pac-Em:
Champ Ms. Pac-Em:
Champ Galaxia:
Champ Kong:
Champ Galagon:
Champ Invaders:
Champ Asterrocks:
Champ Centiped-Em:

I went through each of the games listed and I have to say I was impressed with the effort put into each game.  All the games except Asterrocks were faithful to the original arcade games.  The original Asteroids used vector graphics but Asterrocks went with a more modern approach which still looked great and played fine.

Pac-Em and Ms. Pac-Em seemed to play most like the original counterparts.  Kong looked like the original but the game felt quite a bit harder than the original arcade version, not sure why.  I had trouble playing Galaxia, Galagon and Invaders.  Not sure if it's the browser emulation or what, but the game play was slow and virtually unplayable.  Asterrocks was playable but difficult to control using a keyboard.  Centiped was playable like the arcade version but there was noticeable lag or lack of response occasionally when trying to control the game.   Again, some of these issues may just be related to the nature of emulation and not necessarily the fault of the games themselves.

When one looks at these games one might be tempted to compare them to the original versions, which are more available in modern times via MAME or compilation packages.  But if one takes a step back and considers that these games were produced in the mid to late 1990's when the options were more limited, you have to give Champ Programming props for doing a fantastic job.  I'm also happy to see the Champ folks come back with their work on games for the Atari 2600 / VCS.  I would recommend folks give these versions of the classic arcade games a spin.  It may not be quite 100% like the original but they come close and back in the 1990's, that's all you could ask.

Start a Journey, See the World
Illusion of Gaia - My Favorite Game
by David Lundin, Jr.

Anyone who has spent some time reading my contributions to these pages will see I mostly play a lot of Famicom and NES, PC Engine, oddball arcade stuff, and other obscure games.  With that in mind it may come as a surprise that my favorite video game is a Super Nintendo title.  Illusion of Gaia is a game that has become far better known over the years since its release.  It is the middle game in what is generally regarded as an unofficial trilogy of Super Nintendo games developed by Quintet, along with Soul Blazer and Terranigma.  Some also consider the first ActRaiser game part of the series, while the PlayStation game The Grandstream Saga was created as a spiritual successor.  Even in that group of heavy hitters, Illusion of Gaia stands apart, with a greater emphasis on story and character development than almost any other action RPG of its time.

My copy of Illusion of Gaia looks like it was pulled out of ancient ruins! No idea how the box got worn like that, as I bought it off eBay around 2001.

I first encountered Illusion of Gaia in a different way than any other video game.  I didn't read about it in Nintendo Power, my subscription having lapsed prior to it being featured, and the small town I was living in at the time didn't afford many opportunities to go shopping for expensive non-mainstream Super Nintendo games.  I actually first saw the game when it was featured on the television shopping network QVC during a video game presentation.  They were taking pre-orders for the game and showing footage of a kid at the studio playing it, which amounted to him walking back and forth through a couple areas, unsure of what to do.  I recall the guest host from either Nintendo or their video game distributor going on and on how the kid playing was "locked in" and focused on the game because it was so exciting.  His comments didn't sell me on the game but have stuck in my memory as one of the strangest marking ploys I've ever heard.  Just the same, for whatever reason that short glimpse of the game interested me, although I would never see it in a store and nearly forgot about it.

Next year a Hollywood Video opened in town, part of a video rental chain that was expanding to rival Blockbuster, which we had stopped renting from due to false late fees.  At that time most of my game rentals came from the local grocery store, which much to its credit had an eclectic assortment of awesome games I probably wouldn't have experienced otherwise - Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Wanderers from Ys, Musya, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Spanky's Quest, and tons more.  My step dad was heading over to Hollywood Video to check it out a few weeks after it opened and asked me if I wanted to go with him.  With nothing particular in mind, I roamed around the store a bit before finding their very large video game section.  A few things were different with Hollywood Video compared to the grocery store or Blockbuster.  All the video games were five-day rentals for $5.00 and they all had their original instruction booklets secured inside their plastic rental boxes.  Seeing Illusion of Gaia on the shelf instantly sparked the memory of seeing it on TV and flipping through the thick instruction booklet sealed the deal - I had to play this game.  We rented it and over the next couple days I completed it for the first time. 

I'm not sure what it was but from the moment I started the game up something about it just totally clicked with me.  I had a real emotional connection to the characters and events that shaped them.  I was immersed in the presentation and music and all the little nuances.  I actually sat back and thought about things that occurred during the events of the game as it proceeded.  Perhaps it had something to do with my age at the time, I was thirteen-years-old if my memory is correct.  The game actually made me feel sad in some parts and truly surprised in others.  It elicited a tangible response in me, especially the ending, that I had never experienced before while playing a video game.  It just totally blew me away unlike anything else.  As the years rolled on I figured a lot of its impact must have had to do with me being a kid at the time but no... Illusion of Gaia continues to stir those feelings in me over twenty-five years later and has remained my absolute favorite video game since that first play.

Young Will jumps down from a ledge (left), the Moon Tribe are encountered many times throughout the game (center), the first boss battle (right)

Illusion of Gaia is an action game similar to The Legend of Zelda but with much more emphasis on a structured narrative, revolving around travels with a group of companions, akin to a traditional RPG.  The game takes place during the age of exploration, when travelers and adventurers set out to search for relics and treasures to unravel the mysteries of the ancient world.  Young Will accompanied his father Olman on one such expedition, from the seaside town of South Cape to the legendary Tower of Babel.  Upon discovering and entering the tower a mysterious tragedy befalls the party and everyone is lost without a trace - everyone except for Will.  Will is unable to remember what happened to the lost expedition, his father, how he escaped, or even how he was able to return to South Cape.  However in his possession is a strange flute he recalls was found within the tower.  Stranger still, since his return he is able to move objects through the power of thought alone.  Unable to reconcile the events of his father's lost expedition, Will sets out with his friends in an attempt to piece together what happened to him in the Tower of Babel.

What sets Illusion of Gaia apart from many adventure games is Dark Space, a gateway that only Will can see due to his psychic powers.  When in Dark Space, Will can communicate with Gaia, his guardian spirit.  This serves as a means to save the game and replenish Will's life, in addition to be given progression advice and hints from Gaia.  It is here at the beginning that Gaia warns Will about an approaching comet that will cause chaos and destruction, and tasks him with locating the Mystic Statues.  As the adventure progresses Gaia will also bestow new powers upon young Will, granting him expanded abilities.  Additionally as Will gets deeper into his adventure, he will be able to turn into two other beings from inside Dark Space.  The first, Freedan the Dark Knight, has a long sword for better reach and can also learn various special abilities.  The second, Shadow the Ultimate Warrior, attacks with waves of pure energy from his body and can also sink through floors to access new areas.  A lot of the game is spent changing back and forth between Will and Freedan, utilizing their individual special abilities to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles.  While Shadow is the most powerful character on paper, he doesn't appear until near the very end of the game and is really only used for the final dungeon and end battle.

Due to its setting during the rediscovery of the ancient world, Illusion of Gaia sends Will and company to every corner of the planet as the adventure progresses.  There is a ton of diversity in the environments encountered and each area has a unique feel and visual style.  Many sites are modeled on real-world locations and ancient structures, even if some artistic liberties are taken on occasion.  A bit of myth and legend also works its way into the journey, mixing things up, with reinterpretations such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon being a UFO that hovers above the Nazca lines.  I love stuff like that, combining different interpretations of myth and fact, both ancient and contemporary.  It makes the game just a tiny bit historic but constantly throws surprising occurrences and plot twists at the player, which keeps things engaging and unpredictable.

Illusion of Gaia isn't afraid to slow the action down (left), Will must make a moral decision (center), exploring the Seaside Palace (right)

Although always played from the same perspective, there are two main styles of gameplay that make up Illusion of Gaia, which will be familiar to anyone who has played an RPG.  Towns, villages, and non-action areas place emphasis on talking with characters and exploring the environments to obtain information.  Action areas can be considered Illusion of Gaia's dungeons and are centered around combat.  Young Will uses his flute as his primary weapon but he eventually learns an extremely useful and powerful sliding kick.  His psychic power can move some objects and enemies, in addition to drawing items toward him.  Enemies generally drop small or large Dark Gems and collecting 100 of them grants Will a Renew, what the game's extra lives are called.  Being revived with a Renew will start Will at the entrance to the area where he lost his life, with half energy.  Enemies will also occasionally drop a Heart Gem, which allows Will to recover 5HP of his life bar but these drops are rather infrequent.  Destroying all the enemies in an area will award one of three permanent status upgrades: an increase of the life bar, an increase in attack strength, or an increase in defense that will reduce damaged incurred.  This makes finding and destroying every enemy in every area critical to building up Will's power.  To assist in this an enemy radar is displayed on the status screen.  Clearing an area of all enemies can also open up doors to new areas or reveal new paths, so be sure to dispatch them all.

A side objective to exploration is finding and collecting 50 Red Jewels that are hidden across the world.  The Jeweler Gem is encountered very early on in the game and he will offer rewards depending on how many Red Jewels are collected.  Some of these can be very tricky to find, especially one right at the beginning of the game that requires a fisherman to pull a pot out of the ocean with his fishing line.  Obtaining all 50 Red Jewels actually requires Will to make some questionable decisions, such as telling a labor trader where an escaped laborer is hiding.  This is also something very unique about Illusion of Gaia - death and despair are everywhere at every turn and this goes far beyond fighting demons in dungeons.  There is a global slave labor trade that runs throughout the events of the game, with it permeating nearly every industry within the world, especially mining.  Most towns try to hide this dirty secret under a shining facade but those involved in the trade see it as a necessary part of business.  A couple lines of dialogue concerning this have always stuck with me, one spoken by a man at a labor market, "These laborers are the same age as you. Remember, there are people everywhere who live this way."  The other, much later in the game, occurs in a room where women are weaving carpets that take forty years to complete.  Essentially they will spend their entire life weaving a single carpet in bondage.  A whip-holding supervisor in the room tells Will, "Remember, little man.  Some are born to misfortune."

At one point the party makes their way to a small village littered with bones.  It is later revealed that the natives in the village have resorted to cannibalism due to how scarce food has become.  This is censored in the English release, explaining the bones to be those of natives who perished due to hunger, but it's easy to see what the original intent was.  One of my favorite places in the game, Angel Village, is inhabited by ancient people who adapted to live underground.  They will die if exposed to the light and in the darkness they have learned to live devoid of human expression and emotion.  Will approaches one inhabitant standing where a ray of sunlight is shining through the ceiling, and states that she is motionless, as if her spirit was gone from her body.  In essence she has committed suicide by standing in the light, possibly due to the lack of purpose from living without emotion.  There are many encounters such as these throughout the game, little vignettes of the reality of life and death, that are unexpected for a game of this era and platform.  The entire adventure has very dark undertones in this respect but hides it just a bit below the surface, requiring the player to absorb these encounters and then think about them as the game progresses.

Equally unexpected is the amount of character development that occurs within the small group that accompanies Will on his journey.  The interactions among the group are what really make the game more than a simple action title.  The cast changes and grows as the events of the game and time together impact them.  They actually mature as relationships are formed, which is something I find lacking in most RPGs, including more modern offerings.  People leave, they come back, they're thrown curve balls that upend their lives, they decide on different paths, or fate pulls them in unexpected directions.  Most importantly nearly every story that has to do with the group pays off, and pays off fully, with some real emotion and maturity.  There may be a dark side to every shining happy town but a notion of responsibility to change one's predetermined path when able runs through the entire game.

Searching the Nazca Plain for clues (left), Angel Village is interesting but ultimately sad (center), Will sliding to attack at the Great Wall (right)

I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on the music of Illusion of Gaia, which contains some of the most incredible compositions to ever grace the hardware.  Pounding drums, eerily lonely flutes, soaring orchestrations, quiet moments of remembrance... there is simply nothing like the soundtrack to this game.  The tune that plays while on the map screen is one that has always stuck out for me in particular.  It begins as a smooth rhythmic whistle with a bit of backing, as if Will is whistling to himself as he crosses the land.  It then trails into acoustic strumming, which further emphasizes the idea of a party walking from one location to another, as if the group is playing this tune to pass the time as they journey on.  There are also some very haunting pieces of music that are timed masterfully with story events.  A perfect example of this takes place on the Nazca Plain.  An encounter in this area still freaks me out and sends chills down my spine - every time - even after all these years.  Like genuine actual shivers, from the first time I played it to my most recent playthrough prior to writing this article.  That encounter may not surprise me anymore but man does it still freak me out for whatever reason, and the music has a lot to do with that.

Although I love the game and it remains my favorite, there are some things I really don't like about it.  While the music is amazing, it's honestly kind of strange what little emphasis is placed on sound effects and how limited they are.  They're mostly relegated to sounds of enemies shooting, areas opening up, and attacks deflecting.  While there are sounds for all these events, they are generally very quiet and simple.  What's strange is until specifically thinking about the modesty of the game's sound effects, I really didn't notice them as being lacking.  The game's audio package doesn't feel empty or missing and that has to do with the amazing music.  Perhaps that's why the sound effects are so subdued but not absent.  Enemy design is also pretty mixed although the bosses are generally impressive and the character sprites are very nice.

Admittedly the later part of the game really does begin to drag story wise, with the group narrative falling to the wayside in favor of simply moving from dungeon to dungeon.  When the drive to journey off and explore these locations is character driven it's fine but the push becomes to just go somewhere and clear it out with minimal plot exposition.  Granted, reason is always given why Will needs to head to a specific place or look for the next quest item but toward the end these events aren't very well explained.  Most of the time a discussion about an item or location is only spoken of by a single NPC and can be missed, with the plot advancing via Will's narration or internal monologue once exiting an area regardless.  This can catch you off guard, as walking to a town exit will sometimes advance the game by leaps and bounds or mention heading out for a special item unexpectedly.  It would be nice if more emphasis was placed on how or why events occur in these instances, and if the player had to meet exploration or discussion objectives before the plot went speeding off to the next key point.  The strange translation doesn't help much in this respect, with many important exchanges near the end either phrased oddly or spoken in an incorrect order.

Although the Mystic Statues are framed early on as the key to solving the events of the game, exactly what they are or what significance they hold within the world is never explained.  I see kind of what they were trying to do, with two Mystic Statues either being created or revered as spiritual artifacts each time the comet passes Earth, after the comet's creation around the time the Tower of Babel was constructed.  The Mystic Statues are found near regions where ancient civilizations once flourished, created and then destroyed by the evolutionary power of the comet, every 800 years when it passes Earth: Egypt and China on the comet's first pass, Angkor Wat and the lost continent of Mu on its second pass, the Nazca and Inca civilizations on its third pass, and finally when the events of the game take place on the comet's fourth pass.  The comet having an 800 year orbital period and its current approach being the fourth time it has arrived are specifically mentioned in the game as major plot points.  It also makes sense that only during the "modern" age of exploration, in which the game takes place, would one person have the means to be able to travel across the world and discover all six Mystic Statues.  However other than a tiny bit of dialogue about who made them near the end of the game, what the Mystic Statues are specifically or what power they contain remains a total mystery from beginning to end.  That's something that has never sat right with me, no matter how much I think about it.

Mt. Kress can be rather confusing (left), inventory fills quickly when playing conservatively (center), Will in Dark Space with Gaia and his alter egos (right)

Inventory management is a huge hassle and the worst part of the game.  There are only sixteen inventory slots and often at least four of them will be taken up by quest items.  Some quest items can be dropped once utilized or will automatically be cleared out at specific points but Will is often saddled with them long after they are useful.  While Red Jewels can instantly be sent to Gem by activating one when equipped, there still has to be space in inventory to first collect it.  Herbs are the only standard health replenishing consumable but they cannot be purchased, instead there are a finite number of them spread throughout the game.  Inventory items do not stack, so the majority of Will's inventory will usually be filled with herbs, conserved due to their scarcity.  The thing is while herbs are very useful early on when Will is weak, they only replenish a very small amount of life, meaning you'll need a whole lot of them to have any real effect later in the game.  They can get you out of a tight spot but are often more of a bandage until a Dark Space can be found.  Since dying and being revived with a Renew starts Will with half energy, that can become a better strategy once his life bar is built up.  That said, if you play perfectly and locate every herb, there is a point in the game were you will have to toss one to collect a quest item as Will's inventory will be full.  Additionally the inventory system is very clunky, making it both somehow difficult to equip an item you want yet easy to select an item you don't.

Illusion of Gaia is a surprisingly linear and story-structured game compared to most other action RPGs, especially its cousins Soul Blazer and Terranigma.  Some people may dislike that but I really enjoy it.  There's a story to be told and the game is built around telling that narrative through experiences and encounters.  I understand the mechanic of defeating all the enemies in every dungeon may also not sound appealing but it has never bothered me.  The game would greatly benefit from a fresh translation as there are some terms and lines of dialogue that were quite botched in the English release all those years ago.  Some of these aren't a huge issue but others have actually created disagreement among some fans concerning interpretation of main game events and even the ending.  It's almost criminal that of all the games that have received fan re-translations, Illusion of Gaia has continued to be ignored.

I've probably played through Illusion of Gaia at least thirty times over the years and enjoyed it each and every time.  When playing it again in preparation for writing this article I did so over the course of a few evenings and every time I sat down to play I was genuinely excited and looking forward to it.  Even if the mysteries had all been solved, even if I knew where the odd spots in the translation were, even if I knew where to find the Red Jewels, and even if I knew I'd get lost in the depths of Mu and the heights of Mt. Kress.  No other game has ever gotten close to the impact Illusion of Gaia made upon me and continues to make upon me every time I play it.  I'm glad I still love it as much as ever and that it has become far less obscure than it was when I first discovered it decades ago.

Nightmare / Clean Octopus
The Lost Video Game of the Spanish Company Playmatic
by David Torres

I'm a Retrogaming Times reader from Europe, mostly from the Tom Zjaba era, around the early 2000's. I loved the regular sections like "The Many faces of..." Also back then it gave me a US video game perspective, as opposed to Europe. In my country, Spain, popular computers were the likes of Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. In Retrogaming Times I learned about Apple II, COCO, TI-99/4A and consoles like ColecoVision and Intellivision.  One of the motivations that have led me to delve into the beginnings of the video game in Spain is the lack of information and knowledge; there are Spanish games that are still missing, and many remain unknown even to the majority of Spanish fans.  Proof of this is the arcade video game Nightmare from the Playmatic company.

Detail of the Clean Octopus flyer, Playmatic. Source: Amado Ferri,


To speak of the beginnings of arcade video game design in Spain it is necessarily to speak of CIDELSA, Playmatic, and EFO SA, located in Barcelona. Playmatic was one of the most important pinball manufacturing companies in Spain. EFO SA (Electrónica Funcional Operativa SA) was commissioned to design the hardware for Playmatic's first solid state electronic pinball games, based on the RCA COSMAC CDP1802 CPU. Their first model of this new era of pinball was Space Gambler at the end of 1977, then imported to the United States and Canada by Universe Affiliated International, Inc.

Playmatic Space Gambler pinball flyer, with electronics developed by EFO SA.

As a consequence of the video game revolution at the end of the 1970's, in 1980 the CIDELSA brand (Centro Industrial de Desarrollos Electrónicos S.A.) was born, devised by Playmatic and EFO, and under it appeared the first video game designed entirely in Spain, Destroyer. It was a vertical shooter, contemporary to games like Galaxian, Phoenix and Astro Fighter. Destroyer was followed by Altair, Altair II and Draco, the latter a multiscreen game with two joysticks for independent control of the character and direction of fire, in the style of arcades like Space Dungeon (Taito) and the famous Robotron (Williams Electronics).


However, these first titles were not the only ones released by Playmatic. While researching the history of these companies while writing on, I found Playmatic's record of several titles that were totally unknown to me. Among them stood out Nightmare. I had little information then, except that other titles such as Clean Octopus or Chuby were being considered for Nightmare. But hardly anyone clearly remembered this machine, nor were any images of the game available.  Finally, thanks to contact with a former Playmatic employee, I obtained graphic material with game flyers. Likewise, Amado Ferri, pseudonym of this contact, cleared up the confusion about the names: Nightmare was the original name, which was kept for the Spanish version, while for the version planned for foreign countries it was renamed to Clean Octopus. Chuby was simply the name of the game's protagonist octopus.

Playmatic novelties for 1982: Spain '82 pinball for the World Cup, Miss Disco bingo machine, and Night Mare video game.
The “Nigth” error in the marquee was fixed in time. Source: Amado Ferri,

Once the mysteries about this game were clarified, only the most difficult part was missing: find a PCB and get the game dumped to prevent it from disappearing forever. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the members of the asociación A.R.C.A.D.E., based in Barcelona, over time a PCB corresponding to the Spanish version (the so-called Nightmare, with texts in Spanish) was located by two arcade fans: Jordi Beltrán and Paco Ortiz. Once the ROM was dumped, MAME devs Tomasz Slanina, Miguel Angel Horna (aka "ElSemi") and Roberto Fresca were in charge of studying the hardware in depth to write a specific driver for emulating the game. Unfortunately the board was missing the sound ROMs, consequently the emulation in MAME lacks them.

As for the game itself, Nightmare consisted of driving a friendly octopus named Chuby through eight different screens. In each of them, ten hidden treasures had to be recovered in labyrinths, which were plagued by enemies such as beetles, crabs or scorpions. If the player took a long time to pass the screen, the enemies ended up turning into piranhas, which were indestructible.  The greatest difficulty, however, was in the sea currents that appeared on certain screens, with only a small hole to be able to cross them and thus access other areas of the screen. On the other hand, an interesting detail was that the game included a map that allowed you to choose the order to complete each of the eight screens.  The hardware consisted of two RCA CDP1802 COSMAC, one as main processor and one for sound, and two VDP (Video Display Processors) similar to TMS9928 from Texas Instruments. This allowed sprites to be layered to simulate more colors. Finally, the scores and configuration of game parameters (difficulty, number of lives, etc.) were saved in an

Screen selection (left), gameplay (center), title screen (right). The hardware uses two VDPs to display multi-color sprites.

Nightmare was released in 1982 directly under Playmatic, thus eliminating the CIDELSA brand. After Nightmare, Playmatic would abandon the business of video games and would return to focus on the production of pinball. Fernando Yago, designer of these games and considered the father of the commercial video game in Spain, would also leave video games to start a new professional career with Cedar Computer. But this would not be the final outcome in his relationship with video games and arcade machines.

Nightmare used two VDPs to overlay sprites to display more colors. Image credit: Tomasz Slanina.

RELATED LINKS (in Spanish):

- EFOSA and CIDELSA, pioneers of arcade video games, at
- Preserved Nightmare by EFO / Playmatic, the octopus game, a Spanish arcade game from 1982, at

Arms - My Favorite Game
by Donald Lee

When our dear editor asked the writers to write about their favorite game for the final issue, the directive was somewhat open ended so I decided on a game on a modern system.  That game would be Arms by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch.  Arms was released by Nintendo in June of 2017, several months after the Nintendo Switch was released.  I bought the Switch sometime in late 2017 or early 2018.   My intent in buying the switch was to have a portable game system to play while I was traveling for work or for pleasure.  While I liked playing games on my iPhone initially, the fun had slowly gone away trying to push button on a screen.   While buying the Switch was a good idea, the problem with buying the Switch system so early was that games were quite lacking at that time.  Most of the games were Nintendo releases and third party games had yet to take off.  I was not aware of Arms at all during its initial release.  I was looking more for classic 80's arcade games and sports games versus a new fighting game.  That would explain some of purchases like Namco Museum, FIFA 18, and RBI Baseball 2018.

Fast forward to April of 2020 though.  The country is in the early stages of the COVID pandemic and everyone is on lockdown at home.  As documented in The Retrogaming Times, my Switch (and my Wii) became lifelines.  I played games and also exercised a lot using the game systems, and still do even though we are no longer stuck at home.  At one point while using my Switch, I saw a news article mentioning Arms and a free trial.  I had just missed playing in a tournament a week or two before, and as I was stuck at home and looking for ways to stay active, I downloaded the Arms trial and gave the game a spin.  It took me a while but I realized I like Arms because I could use the motion controls.  I felt very active playing the game and could break a little sweat.  I played Arms a lot during the free trial.  However when the trial ended, I debated if I wanted to pay $60 for the game.  I thought about it for a week or so and ended up purchasing the game late April or early May of 2020.

Now in August 2022, Arms is my most played game versus any other program (game or exercise) on my Switch.  The Switch has me playing the game for over 1500+ hours if I recall correctly, and I'm still playing it today.  I like jumping into a party match where I can do one vs. one fights, among other games - basketball, volleyball, 2 v 2, etc.  There is also a ranked component where you fight someone else in a best of three battle.  The more you win, the higher your rank goes.  I managed to get myself to Rank 17 but have not progressed beyond that in the past year or so.

Arms is fun but can be frustrating as well.  The party matches are fun because you can fight and not worry about screwing up your rank.  It can be frustrating depending on the opponents.  There are a lot of nuances to the game and sometimes the matchup just won't go your way.  Ranked fights can be one of the more frustrating aspects of the game.  During the early days when you'd try ranked fighting, you'd probably get matched to players at a similar level.  As you move up, sometimes you get matched up with a higher ranked player.  Higher ranked players aren't automatically better than you, it means the player has won a lot of matches to advance.  That being said, I'd like to think of myself as decent Arms player.  As a player ranked 17, I have gotten matched up against players ranked 18, 19, or 20 and simply gotten destroyed.  For a time, there were players in the upper ranks that looked to only play against lower rank players they could beat easily, so they could move up faster.  I play sports so I understand the nature of competition and I get frustrated purely because it's an ego thing.

These days with Arms being over 5 years old, there are still a lot of players playing party matches but less players (at least in my area) playing ranked matches, and that is ok by me.  I like to drop in, get some games in and move on to the next thing.  I am a strong supporter of the Arms game though Nintendo hasn't announced a sequel or any future plans.  There's a small Reddit community still discussing Arms and I hope Arms can be refreshed, updated and introduced to a new generation.  Arms isn't your typical button mashing fighting game, which is probably why I like it.  If you like button mashing, stick with Super Smash Bros.  If you have a Switch and like fighting games with an online component, check out Arms.  I think you'll like it.

Remembering Retrogaming Times and Looking Ahead
by Merman, Donald Lee, Dan Pettis, David Lundin, Jr.

On the occasion of our silver anniversary, many of our current staff take a look back at their time with the newsletter and what lies ahead for them.


It was former editor Bryan Roppolo who got me involved after I saw him posting about Retrogaming Times Monthly on the Lemon64 forum. My initial contribution was a "cult classic" article, highlighting a C64 game I love - Mancopter from Datasoft. That column continued until 2014, a mixture of reviews and news. When David Lundin, Jr. approached me about continuing to write for the revived Times in 2016, I accepted. And I have managed to contribute to every issue since, despite major health problems during that time. The articles for this period have been a mixture of news, reviews and retrospective pieces looking at a particular publisher or genre.

A reminder of my new venture and my first Retrogaming Times Monthly appearance.

It was always a privilege when my article was chosen to be the cover feature, getting the headline on the front page of the "newspaper." Its been great fun researching and writing these articles, and I have enjoyed being part of the team. Going forward, I plan to publish a book / eBook compiling all my articles under the name MORE C64 (with extra material, unpublished pieces, and updates). So for more information on that, check out my new website at and sign up to the mailing list to find out more, follow me on Twitter at @merman1974 or and see my YouTube channel at

~  ~  ~

Donald Lee:

I must admit that when David announced that The Retrogaming Times was going to end, I was a bit disappointed.  Not in David of course.  Once I got past the initial jitters of writing back in 2006, I looked forward to writing a column as it was something fun to do...  Keep in mind that Retrogaming Times Monthly was published monthly (obviously) so I would be literally writing just about every month.  When RTM abruptly stopped some years ago, I was equally disappointed, but in some ways it was a blessing as it gave me a break.  When David decided to revive the magazine about six years ago, I immediately jumped on board.  The bi-monthly schedule has been good so I can find topics to discuss and write about.

Focusing specifically on the Apple II, when I started writing in 2006, the Apple II series of computers had been discontinued for over a decade.  In the public eye, the Apple II was dead.  But there was still a small community of users developing hardware and software.  It is shocking to see that even in 2022, there is still activity within the Apple II community.  I have several pieces of modern software for the Apple II that I play via emulation on my iMac.  I never got around to discussing the games at length in the magazine, but perhaps one day I may return to writing about retrogaming.

While The Retrogaming Times is coming to an end, the retrogaming communities around the world will live on.  What’s next for me?  Outside of writing, I’m generally busy and I will return to my regular job and basketball activities.  However, as I was talking to my friend tonight, it so happened we were discussing about blogging.  This was more for my friend than me but I happened to look up some blogs I had setup and guess what?  I have an "Apple II Incider" blog tentatively setup.  I just haven’t registered an official domain yet for the blog, but I have looked into domain name options so there are some I could pick in the future.

Wrapping up here, it has been a pleasure to write for Retrogaming Times Monthly / The Retrogaming Times for much of the past 16 years.  I have truly enjoyed writing and sharing my experiences and I hope the readers have enjoyed reading it.  While there won’t be a next issue, perhaps I will see you at a blog near you sometime in the future.

~  ~  ~

Dan Pettis:

Writing for the Retrogaming Times has been one of the truest joys of my life. From my time growing up obsessively reading Nintendo Power, Player's Guides, and Game Informer, I’d always wanted to write for a video game publication and this newsletter gave me the chance to live out my dream. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.

I think the coolest thing will be that my very first and last Retrogaming Times articles wound up being about my all-time favorite game, Bucky O'Hare for the NES. Bringing things full circle with the green rabbit could not be more perfect to me. Some of my other favorite memories include the pride of landing a cover story, and feeling like a real movie critic by reviewing Sonic 2 after seeing it in a theater. The ultra-hard NES games I reviewed and attempted to beat that gave me the old-school feeling of accomplishment when I completed them, and the other nostalgic feeling of wanting to smash a controller and pull my hair out. There was penning a super lengthy retrospective on the twentieth anniversary of the GameCube, and writing with twenty-one different suggestions for new Smash Bros. characters. I also immensely enjoyed cramming as many puns as I could into an article about the recently released Zelda Game & Watch. Finally, there was the genuine fear that I might get beaten up by the actor who played Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat Annihilation, when I found out he'd be appearing at a local gaming convention I attended after I wrote a less then stellar review of the second MK movie.

I have a few people I'd like to thank, first and foremost, supreme kudos have to go out to our tireless chief editor David Lundin, Jr., for keeping The Retrogaming Times alive for so long, and for putting my articles out there on the World Wide Web. Thank you for taking a chance on me and for publishing so many of my pieces. Secondly, I have to give a special shout out to my fabulous fiancée, who has been so supportive of me chasing my dreams, and for being the best unpaid editor a nerd could have, and for catching so many of my typos. Finally, I have to thank all of our readers. You give us writers a reason to exist. Thank you for reading and for keeping the old fashioned art of writing alive.

I’ll be taking a brief break from writing about my favorite subject to focus on planning my upcoming wedding, working on my house and playing more games purely for fun. The best place to find my future dorky postings will be on Instagram at the username Egonatello85. Finally I’d like to leave you with one final piece of advice: follow your dreams and never stop getting your game on!

~  ~  ~

David Lundin, Jr:

I first discovered the original Retrogaming Times when I was a senior in high school, late 1998 into 1999.  At the time retrogaming was what many consider "vintage gaming" today, as at the time you could walk into a FuncoLand and purchase pretty much any game from the NES era to what was then current - and I mean any game, usually for only a few dollars.  I read the newsletter off and on for years, continually rediscovering it as life marched on.  It was always interesting, and informative, and just a bit humorous.  When Tom Zjaba announced in 2004 that Retrogaming Times issue 80 would be the last, a number of people on the very large staff at the time expressed a desire to continue.  Tom granted their request and in June of that year Retrogaming Times Monthly was launched with Adam King as editor, joined by many of the regular writers who had contributed to the original newsletter.  The call went out, as it always had from the beginning, for people to join the staff and send in articles.  I responded toward the end of the year and my first contribution was published that December in Retrogaming Times Monthly issue 7, kicking off a long-running column covering all the NES arcade conversions released by Tengen.

Carving out my niche in the newsletter in 2004 with Retrogaming Times Monthly issue 7, where it all began for me.

While I wasn't the most regular contributor back then, I tried to remain reasonably frequent and found my niche comparing NES home ports of arcade games to their original counterparts, even long after the Tengen titles ran out.  We had a few different editors during that time, writers coming and going, different personalities, and both successful and disastrous format changes (anyone reading remember the infamous RTM blog issue?).  Yet no matter the uncertainties faced, we pulled together and kept the newsletter rolling until 2014.  Reviving the newsletter in 2016 as The Retrogaming Times was honestly undertaken to allow its staff, readers, and history to conclude on a high note - with a celebration and farewell at an appropriate milestone.  That milestone was to be the 20th anniversary in 2017 but once we arrived there it was like old times and we decided to keep going.  Here we are, five years later, at an even bigger milestone - a quarter century - and the time feels right to cap things off on that high note mentioned earlier.

After we wrap you'll still be able to find me right here - maintaining the legacy archive, answering and routing e-mails, and maintaining The Retrogaming Times social media accounts.  I'm also planning on getting a few of my other mixed interest information and fansites going again at, which will continue to host all Retrogaming Times legacy content separately, as it has since 2016.

Weekly Retrogaming Trivia Recap
by David Lundin, Jr.

Every Friday on The Retrogaming Times Facebook page (, we presented a Weekly Retrogaming Trivia question.  This just-for-fun trivia challenge provided each week was an opportunity to test your arcane and oddball retrogaming knowledge.  The answer to the question from the previous week was posted along with a new trivia question every Friday!

Below is the recap of all questions and answers posted between this issue and the previous issue:
07/01/2022 - WEEK 269
Question:    Japanese pop star Yoko Ishino was featured in what Sega arcade game?

07/08/2022 - WEEK 270
Question:    What three games are utilized on the 1990 Nintendo World Championships cartridge?

07/15/2022 - WEEK 271
Question:    Mary Barrows is the main antagonist of what horror game?

07/22/2022 - WEEK 272
Question:    "Rockabilly Paradise" is the subtitle of what game?

07/29/2022 - WEEK 273
Question:    What was the first amusement park operated by a video game company?

08/05/2022 - WEEK 274
Question:    Who are the playable characters in the original Japanese version of Guerrilla War?

08/12/2022 - WEEK 275
Question:    What is the name of the player character in Konami's Yie Ar Kung-Fu?

08/19/2022 - WEEK 276
Question:    The Bydo Empire are the antagonists of what shooting game series?

08/26/2022 - WEEK 277
Question:    Balloon Saloon, Flying Saucers, and Window Pains are modes in what game?

Yoko Ishino on the flyer for Teddy Boy Blues, her sprite is also used as our Upcoming Events icon (left) Super Air Zonk's title screen (right)

Week 269 Answer:  Teddy Boy Blues (1985).
Week 270 Answer:  Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris.
Week 271 Answer:  Clock Tower.
Week 272 Answer:  Super Air Zonk.
Week 273 Answer:  Wonder Eggs in Setagaya, Tokyo - operated by Namco from 1992 to 2000.
Week 274 Answer:  Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, with the Japanese title being Guevara.
Week 275 Answer:  Oolong.
Week 276 Answer:  R-Type.
Week 277 Answer:  Barker Bill's Trick Shooting (NES).

Although developed by Irem, R-Type was distributed by Nintendo in the USA (left), Barker Bill's Trick Shooting is an excellent NES lightgun game (right)

Thank you for following us on our social media accounts for many years of Weekly Retrogaming Trivia!

See You Next Game
by David Lundin, Jr.

Reading through past issues, I recall Scott Jacobi making reference to the feeling of an episode of Saturday Night Live wrapping up, as he wrote his farewell during his tenure as RTM Chief Editor.  It's no secret that his style of managing and editing the newsletter is what I've attempted to emulate more than any other.  In this moment I feel less like a guest host of Saturday Night Live and maybe more like Conan O'Brien on his last episode of Late Night.  I didn't create this newsletter, and I was probably one of the last people anyone thought would step out of the shadows to edit and publish it, let alone attempt to unify its history and maintain the archive.

I was only able to do it because so many of you came along for the ride.  Those who were contributing day one, those who were reading day one - and those who are first doing the same here at the end, in addition to anyone discovering us years after we've wrapped.  Late Night was never the same after Conan O'Brien departed but it wasn't just because of him, it was due to the unique mix of talents and dedication of everyone coming together to make the show - lightning in a bottle.  The Retrogaming Times has been successful due to everyone here sharing their experiences and knowledge over the years.  If I have anything to do with that success, it's simply for being along side them.

In my time serving as Chief Editor I've had the privilege and responsibility to do things that I could have never imagined previously.  I've had the opportunity to welcome many new contributors to the lasting legacy of the newsletter.  I've documented occurrences from my younger days that I had never discussed previously, finding parts of retrogaming memories that go beyond games.  I've written a eulogy for a lost friend, who left this place far too soon and is still missed terribly.  I've had to defend the valid opinions and concerns of our writers when they were challenged by established video game industry creators.  I've had the opportunity to publish so many genuinely excellent articles and learn from those who submit them.  I stand by what I've said for so many years - this really is the coolest gig in the retrogaming fandom, at least I've always thought so.  There have been ups and downs, challenges and rewards, however I truly loved every moment.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't quite misty-eyed as I close us out with this column.

Thinking back, I guess I really must thank Adam King, the initial Chief Editor for Retrogaming Times Monthly, for giving me a shot way back when.  If I didn't start there in 2004 we probably wouldn't be here now.  I never considered myself a "retrogamer" or a "collector" and surely not a writer or anything like that.  I played games, they were fun, they never quit being fun as time moved on, and I enjoyed discussing and learning about them.  Back then it was never an intention to have a huge library of games, they were simply prevalent and cheap.  I've written in past issues how attempting to reacquire a copy of Dragon Power for the NES, after nearly all my games were stolen in a robbery when I was nine-years-old, lead me down the path to unintentionally "collecting" video games.

Looking through games at the San Jose Flea Market in 2008.  I did business with this vendor, seen to the right of me, for many years across multiple cities.
Note the boxed clear green replacement Dreamcast shell and Densha de Go! controller beside me - $1.00 each back then, I use both to this day.

Walking into a FuncoLand store, grabbing the current price list, and then reading game titles off to an employee for purchase wasn't to build a collection - it was to be able to play all the games I didn't have the opportunity to play before.  That's how it went most of the time, with the employee answering back, "Got it, got it, not that one, got it..." until I would say, "Alright, that's good for today!"  Then I'd get rung up for the 15 - 30 games I requested, pay about $40 all said and done, and walk out to the stunned expressions of other customers in the store.  I miss that time so much, if only because it made everything so approachable for anyone.  It kept old games from being old because they were right there, right along side brand new PlayStation games, with systems and accessories that were all reasonably priced.

My last haul from local game store "8 Bit Gamers" in 2015, with the surprise of a 500GB HD in the Xbox, which lead me down the softmodding path for a while.

Of course the reasonable prices wouldn't last as retrogaming became its own industry and marketing juggernaut, both rivaling and influencing current generation gaming.  The flea market and yard sale finds began to dry up.  Even a local game store closed its doors, due to the very old school and professional owner becoming shocked at the rising values of old games and hardware.  He realized it was fast becoming something beyond the masses to have some affordable fun with, and remembering the days when a boxed Sega Saturn would be $30 and you'd pass it up as too expensive, he decided it was time to change focus.  I was happy that when I decided to slim my "collection" way down, that most of my games were sold to him prior to his closure and then sold to people who bought them to genuinely play and enjoy.  I was just starting to move to flashcarts, which along with Optical Drive Emulators is how I play most games to this day.

I did make one last purchase from him when he announced he was shutting the game store down.  I was on foot that day when he was liquidating inventory and walked a mile and a half each way from the closest transit stop to his store, to get there right when he opened.  I got a pretty amazing haul - a pair of Saturns, a Master System, Jaguar with controller, PSOne, and an Xbox.  I would have bought more but I had to lug all that back by hand and in my backpack, even though he offered to let me borrow a milk crate.  Everything needed some repair but one of those Saturns is actually still my main system.  I was only testing the Xboxes at the store to make sure they sounded okay and that the drive door opened.  Wasn't until I got home I realized the one I grabbed had a 500GB HD and was softmodded.  That actually launched me into a couple years of softmodding Xboxes for family and friends.  I doubt he'll ever read this but if he does, thanks Naht for operating such a great game store and giving many of us in the South Bay a little taste of the old days for a while.

Standing with my first full size arcade cabinet in 2007, a very rough Pole Position that I converted into a stealth MAME setup (left).
At California Extreme 2012 with Klax, the one arcade game I can give anyone an upper level competitive run at (center).
As my alter ego Taizo Hori / Dig Dug at California Extreme 2017, always fun to see if anyone recognizes me after I change a few hours later (right).

I dabble in a lot of different hobbies, never going full-bore into any one specific interest, but enjoying each of them and adapting experiences from one into the others.  An example of this is a Japanese slot machine I completely rebuilt recently, using decades of electronics hobbyist experience, and knowledge obtained in the past five years working on radio control car gearboxes.  Video games are the same way.  I've never been burned out on them and my love for playing games and learning about them has never diminished one bit.  Video games are supposed to be fun, they are fun, they have never been anything but that to me.  They're not work, even they were my work off and on over the years, the joy of experiencing them has never been outweighed by anything else related.  I'm honestly a fairly private person but you probably wouldn't realize that if you ran into me at an event or we were talking video games.  I suppose this is all a really roundabout way to say being part of the newsletter, especially these past six years as Chief Editor, is a way for me to give back to an awesome industry and hobby that has given me so much fun.  Thinking about it, that sounds an awful lot like something Tom said in the very first issue twenty-five years ago.

My wife and I power sliding through hotel hallways as the Hornet multiplayer cars from Daytona USA at FanimeCon 2019 (left).
Having ridiculous fun as my Street Fighter main, Chun-Li, last Halloween (center).
Working on my small scale one-off Galaga Multigame MAME cabinet that is setup for classic vertical games (right).

While I am forever thankful to everyone who has ever been a part of our newsletter, there are three people I want to give a very special and very heartfelt thank you to.  First is Andrew Fisher, who has contributed to every single issue of The Retrogaming Times.  His More C64! column is not only an important transitional link from Retrogaming Times Monthly, it has given our publication reach in the C64 hobbyist circles, allowing us to find global readership outside of the Americas.  With superb journalistic quality and enthusiasm in every article, it lent credence to our newsletter right from the very first issue of the re-launch.  These are some of the many reasons More C64! has been our lead-off column since near the beginning and has continued as such right up to this final issue.

Next is Rob Luther, who was outgoing senior staff and proprietor of Retrogaming Times Monthly.  It was only after getting his support and approval that I moved forward in developing a new generation of the newsletter.  I truly feel very privileged to have been given such an opportunity and to have Rob contribute to many of our issues.  Third is Tom Zjaba, creator of the original Retrogaming Times.  I never wrote for the generation of the newsletters in which he was editor and publisher, but I was honored to have him write for mine.  A very special mention to Donald Lee, who like Andrew came over from an earlier generation of the newsletter and really encouraged me that there was still interest in a project such as this.

Special thanks to KansasFest for being our constant promotion on the Upcoming Events list, and contacting me right from the start to be hosted in our listing.  They are the most grass-roots of retro computing events and it has been my pleasure to promote their annual convention within our newsletter.  I hope to get out there sometime and attend myself.  Apple II forever!  I thank our staff and readers for humoring me by not complaining about my "See You Next Game" column, my own unique addition to the makeup of the newsletter, in the vein of Howard Phillips' closing note at the end of each issue of Nintendo Power that he was at the helm for.  Doubly so for this longer than usual final entry!  Finally, thank you to my wife, whom has always graciously tolerated many entire weekends and evenings of me writing, editing, and taking care of newsletter business.

This final issue isn't meant to say that we won't ever get together again down the road or there won't ever be anything else from us.  As you've read in this issue much of our staff will continue elsewhere, whether with parallel gigs they've been a part of during their tenure here or entirely new projects about to begin.  However it really does feel right to cap Retrogaming Times right here at twenty-five years.  I will continue to maintain this site, the archive here, as well as monitor our social media accounts and e-mail.  So if you need to contact the newsletter for any reason, please continue to do so and I'll personally respond to you.

One thing I am very proud of is we have remained 100% free and 100% independent since day one.  Not only this generation of the newsletter, but all the way back to the original beginning.  It is something that has always been at our core - an open tablet for any retrogamer to inscribe with their thoughts, memories, experiences, and musings.  Keeping our submissions open to pretty much anyone is why it has been my absolute privilege to serve in the long line of Retrogaming Times Chief Editors and Publishers.

Signing off one last time - thank you for over six wonderful years as Chief Editor and nearly eighteen years contributing to the greater newsletter.

So here at the end, as I prepare to sign off for the final time, I hope we have created something befitting of the legacy of a quarter century of retrogaming fandom.  We've been able to close out the greater Retrogaming Times with proper fanfare and respect.  I suppose from the time the idea popped in my head to resume a new generation of the newsletter, that has been what I most intended to accomplish.

I hope you feel that is what we have done.  The journey was only possible with dedication of our contributors and you, our readers.  Thank you.

See You Next Game!


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