Sunday, November 12, 2017

Control Issues: The Faster Blaster



          Video games are an interactive medium, this is part of their very nature. An interesting aspect of the hobby is that, short of bundling a controller with the game, the creators of the games don’t get much of a say in how we interact with their creations. Further, a robust market of third party manufacturers makes it so that even the companies responsible for producing the gaming consoles themselves don’t get the final say in the form and function of the input devices we use to play games on their hardware. All of this is to say that anyone who collects games likely has a plethora of control options beyond those that shipped with their systems at their disposal, from cheaper knock offs of the first party controllers to options specialized for certain games to true oddities that purport to improve on some short coming of the more standard options. In each article in the Control Issues series, we will take a deep look at a particular controller and then try to evaluate it in terms of both form and function.

Believe me, this thing feels worse than it looks (and it looks pretty bad).

          In this Control Issues, we are taking a look at product of Transcriber Company Incorporated: The Faster Blaster. This is one of the oddest controllers that I have in my personal collection. As a controller for the Atari VCS and other systems that use that controller standard, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply a cheap third party keyboard controller replacement with an overlay. The truth, however, is much worse. First, the build quality of the Faster Blaster is atrocious. Rather that the hard plastic shells favored by pretty much all other manufacturers, Transcriber decided to use a cheap, flimsy feeling plastic that seems only slightly stronger than the kind of plastic that things are regularly packaged in. The Faster Blaster literally bends and flexes in normal use. Making matters worse, the front is not an overlay; it is a membrane keypad that maps out the functions of a normal Atari joystick. All of the function with none of the tactile feedback.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Retro Game Treasure Mystery Subscription Box #1

          I've been tempted to give subscription boxes a try for a while. The idea of receiving mystery items in the mail each month seems fun, but after watching my friends brief experiences with Loot Crate and its derivatives, I have always decided not to give in to that temptation. The boxes all seemed to be packed with far too many useless trinkets that would just end up as clutter and, believe me, I have enough of that already. Further, many of the items that I’ve seen come out of the more mainstream subscription boxes are tied to properties that I have little to no interest in. All of this prologue is to set up that I have found a box that has convinced me to finally pull the trigger. The box in question, the astute readers of this post's title will already know, is Retro Game Treasure. As its name would suggest, every month they send you 4-5 video games for a number of retro systems with a purported value of $35 or more. When you sign up you get to fill out a profile so that they know what systems you have or are interested in receiving games for. You also get to go through the more arduous process of listing out the games that you already own so that you can avoid duplicates. I’m going to give them at least three months before I decide whether to keep them around or not. The first box from Retro Game Treasures showed up at my door a  little while ago so let’s see how they do at making a first impression.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 30


           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. We have reached the end of this project. Time to reveal the last feature.


The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

           Full disclosure, this pick was not random. Since around 2007 or so it has become tradition for my brother and I to watch this every Christmas Eve. Why do we subject ourselves to this? That is a really good question. The Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS exactly once and has never received an official retail release. However, because it is Star Wars related, early VHS recordings of it have persisted, dubbed and passed from fan to fan through the years. This pick is also the second one where I am not viewing an unadulterated copy. Like Nestor earlier this month, the version that we always watch is the Rifftrax version. Believe me, if you are planning on watching along do yourself a favor and get one with intentional jokes added.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 29


           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. We have finally arrived at the penultimate Christmas feature. What will it be?


It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

           This may be the most stereotypical Christmas classic on this list. It airs as an event on NBC every year, with a near 4 hour run time with commercials. Beyond this, numerous shows have riffed on it, borrowing the idea of showing characters and events as they would be without one of the primary character’s involvements. My own personal confession is that I have never really cared all that much for this film. It could be the length, two hours and ten minutes seems exorbitant for this type of feature. Though I do like other Capra films and I think it is impossible to hate Jimmy Stewart so I really don’t know why this has never completely clicked for me. It has been a number of years since I last gave it a try so maybe this year will be different. At the very least, it has to be better than Nestor.

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 28


           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. We are down to the final three. What feature awaits us today?


Frosty the Snowman (1969)

           Frosty the Snowman is the final Rankin-Bass special that is a part of this project. It is unique from the others that we have looked at in that it is not stop motion animated but is instead traditional two-dimensional hand drawn animation. This special is another holiday season staple and airs frequently on whatever name ABC Family is going by now (Freeform, I think). I am certain that I have seen this special numerous times in the past, but I don’t think I have seen it within the last decade or so. I certainly don’t have too many vivid memories of it other than Frosty saying “Happy Birthday” every time he is brought to life by the hat. I’ll be interested to see if it all comes flooding back to me as I give it a watch. Also, I’ll be curious as to whether or not I find the hand drawn animation preferable to the stop motion or the other way around.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 27

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. Here we go with day twenty-seven! What will it be?



National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)


          Released in 1989 this film quickly became a holiday classic. I know that my family used to watch it nearly every Christmas. At some point we burned out on it and took a number of years off. We started watching it again a few years ago and, I have to say, I think I like it more now as an adult than I did as a child or teen. Let's see if that trend continues.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 26

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. Day twenty-six is on deck. Will it hit a home run?


Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

           So here we are, day 26 and we are staring down a film that frequently finds itself on worst of lists. Originally released theatrically in 1964, this film gained new life after being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I have never actually seen that version nor any version of this film. I haven't even seen clips. Unless I have gone insane from writing about so many Christmas features, I believe that fact makes this feature unique amongst the picks from the stocking. This is the only feature that I have no prior experience with. It figures that the only one truly new to me would be one that many consider terrible. I'm a glutton for punishment. Let's get this over with.


Synopsis

           The film opens with a broadcast from KID-TV. They are interviewing Santa live at the North Pole. All of this seems pretty normal, but the film then pulls back to reveal two Martian children watching the broadcast. Their father, Kimar, is concerned. They have been spending a large amount of time watching the Earth broadcasts and have seemed sullen and listless of late. In fact, he has been forced to use the sleep spray to get them to go to bed everyday recently. His wife, Momar, shares his concerns and suggests that he call together the Martian council and see the advice of Chochem, an 800 year old Martian sage.
           With the council assembled, they seek out Chochem and explain the issues they are experiencing with their children. Chochem states that he is not surprised and that he has seen this coming for some time. The source of the problem, according to him, is that Martian children are machine educated from the moment they are born. By the time they walk they are already like adults. They need to be allowed to have fun. The only solution he can see it that Martian children need Santa Claus. Voldar, one of the other council members is strongly opposed to this solution, but Kimar is resolved. The Martian council sets out to Earth to capture Santa.

You can tell Voldar is evil because of his mustache.

           They arrive in Earth orbit but are spotted by Earth radar as their radar shield is malfunctioning. It turns out that Kimar's assistant Dropo has stowed away in the radar box and is the cause of the technical issue. With him found and removed, the radar sheild is fixed and the Martians can begin their search for Santa in earnest. They quickly encounter an issue in their search. They are incapable of figuring out which of the many guys in Santa suits is the real Santa. To resolve this the Martians find two Earth children, Billy and Betty, and press them for information on where Santa can be found. The children tell the Martians and then Voldar suggest that they take the children with them as otherwise the children may tip off the Earth authorities to their plot. Kimar is reluctant but eventually sees the logic in what Voldar suggests.
           With the children in tow, the Martians go to the North Pole and soon capture Santa with out much difficulty. Santa is obviously perturbed at being taken against his will but he also can't allow children, even Martian children, to go without knowing the joys of Christmas. Voldar continues to oppose the change that Santa and the Christmas spirit are bringing to the Martians and makes multiple attempts on his and the Earth children's lives. These attempts are thwarted and Voldar is forced to flee to the wilderness to continue his plots. With Voldar dealt with for the short term, Kimar sets Santa up with an advanced Martian workshop to begin construction of the Martian Christmas presents. However, as Kimar's children improve in spirits, Billy and Betty begin to get sullen. Momar accesses that they are homesick and tells Kimar that they must be sent home. Kimar doesn't think that is possible as the Earthings would then arrive to take back Santa.

Stockholm syndrome has set in pretty well by this point.

           Dropo is taking a great interest in Santa and his work and happens to be trying on an extra Santa suit just as Voldar launches an operation to sabotage the workshop. Mistaking Dropo for Santa, Voldar and his men kidnap him. With what they think is Santa secure, Voldar and his men go to use this captive to negotiate for the end of this folly of experimentation with Christmas. Surprised by the presence of a second Santa, Voldar and his men are overcome by Santa, the Martian and Earth children, and Kimar. It is decided that Dropo will become the Martian Santa and Santa and the Earth children are allowed to return home.

Witness Dropo the Martian Santa.  Martian Christmas is doomed


Final Thoughts

           I am surprised to find myself saying this, but this wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, it looks like it was made for about $5.00. And, there are plot threads that go nowhere, such as the U.S. Space Force's pursuit of the Martian ship. Also, it falls into the trap of a lot of low budget 1950s and 1960s sci-fi and uses copious amounts of military stock footage. But if you can get over the goofy sets and less than great acting, there is at least an attempt at a charming Christmas tale. It doesn't always or even often work but there is an effort there. Sometimes that is all you can ask for. It was good enough for day 26. What will I see tomorrow? Come back here to find out (please).

This is the level of effects to expect if you watch this.  Brace yourself and abandon all hope.