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© Tom Zjaba 1997 - 2015      

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Bit Age Times #1

Table of Contents
01 Welcome
02 Is the Jaguar the Last American System?
03 I'm Bat...man!
04 Neo Game Review
05 A History Lesson, courtesy of Koei
06 What Systems are Covered?
07 Site of the Month
08 Conclusion

You have arrived at the first issue of "Bit Age Times", our new monthly magazine devoted to the next era of video games or as I call it, "The Bit Age". While you may be scratching your head at the name or coming up with some clever or not so clever names (Fred and myself have already come up with most of them like "Bit Me Times", Bit the Big One" This Bit", etc...), let me explain where the strange name came from and the meaning behind it. In the classic era of video games (the Atari, Intellivision era), you only thought of the games and systems. We never heard or cared how many bits a system had or how big a cart was. All we cared about was the games and how fun they were. But that era ended and when a new era began, one of the selling points for new game systems was how many bits the system had. The Nintendo had an 8-Bit processor and when the Turbo Graphx came on the scene, the selling point was that it was a 16-Bit machine.

As I tried to come up with a name for this modern age of gaming, I tried to think of what made it different. Someone had coined the term "Neo-Classic", but I thought it wasn't very good and Fred said using it may make people think this is a Neo-Geo only newsletter. So I started thinking about the controllers and how we went from joysticks to joy pads. Maybe it is me, but any newsletter with the word joy pad in it, sounds corny, if not a bit risqué. So as Fred and myself sent possible names back and forth, and then it hit me! One of the most obvious differences from era to another is the obsession with the processing power of a game system. So from that came the name for the era, "The Bit Age"! You may like it or you may hate it, but you must admit it fits. Especially for the classic gamers who still feel resentment against Nintendo, this era really "bites". So welcome to the "Bit Age Times" or BAT for short (which also happens to be the name I use when putting my initials on video games). Hope you enjoy it and feel free to send in all the silly names you want.

Is the Jaguar the Last American System?

A great tradition died with the Atari Jaguar. A tradition of American made video game systems. From the very start with the Odyssey 1, the home video game (and the arcade too) market was created and developed by American companies. From those early pong units, up to the highly successful Atari, the market was all American. Coleco, Intellivision, Odyssey, Vectrex, you name a system and they were American.

But the market crashed and in moved Nintendo and Sega, both Japanese companies. From that day forward, the tide had switched and it has been all Japanese markets. Besides the two mentioned, Sony with the Playstation, SNK with the Neo Geo and NEC with the Turbo Graphx were all Japanese. Even the 3DO was a collaboration of American and Japanese companies. The only exceptions were the overlooked Atari Lynx handheld and the Atari Jaguar, which stumbled out of the gate and never got up.

My question is, is there any American companies out there that have a possibility to enter the completely Japanese dominated market and successfully compete? Or will the stranglehold the Japanese have on our video game market continue into infinity? I did some research and found a handful of companies that have the resources to make a serious run at the lucrative video game market. I put them in order from least likely to most likely.

5. IBM-Big blue has the experience with the technology, so they wouldn't have to get someone else to design and manufacture the hardware. They also have connections with many of the companies in the industry, so they could get the best onboard. But they just teamed up with Nintendo for the Dolphin and would most likely rather be on the sidelines, where their profit is guaranteed. But don't be surprised if a successful showing with Nintendo doesn't spurn them to give it a try.

4. Time Warner-This multi-national company has the money, being one of the richest companies in the world. They have the properties already in hand, from movies released from Warner Bros Pictures, the DC Superheroes, Warner Bros cartoons and even the WB Network. Plus, with the WB Network and owning Time Magazine, plus others, they will have instant coverage! The big question remains, have they gotten over the huge losses they took on Atari at the end of its run (for those who didn't know, they bought Atari from Nolan Bushnell). While they could probably match best against a Sony, it is a question of whether they would want to.

3. Apple-Like IBM, they have the experience, so they have a good step there. They also have a recognizable name and a devoted following, so they could benefit there. They have also tried their hand at the market (remember the ill-fated Apple Pippin?) But their biggest obstacles is software as they have nothing really set up. The other problem is they have finally gotten their computer line back into the black and may not be ready to take the plunge into a new venture.

2. Hasbro-They have a recognizable name (even if it is for toys), they have a software line already in place and they have been actively buying up game companies. With Atari and Tiger both under their wing, they already have some recognizable properties. Even if the Game-Com wasn't a success, they have gotten their feet wet. They also have allot of their other properties to draw from. including recently acquired Wizards of the Coast (who make the highly successful Magic: The Gathering card game and also own the Dungeon's & Dragons rights).

1. Microsoft-They have the money and then some! They have knowledge with computers and the different medias and they already have a software division up and running. They also have a brand name (which is an asset or a detriment, depending on who you talk to) and now with their partnership with Sega on the Dreamcast, they have some experience in the video game market. Add in the fact that they already have tons of experience with online gaming and you see the possibilities. If anyone out of this group takes the plunge, look for it to be Bill Gates and Co. He has pretty much conquered the computer market and would love to do the same to the console market.

(Please note that after I wrote this article, stories started circulating about Microsoft actually working on a console).

I'm BAT…man
By Fred Wagaman

What ?!? A new newsletter ?!? Whatever will I write about ? Oh, it's called Bit Age Times or BAT. BAT... Bat... Batman ! That's it! I'll write about Batman.

Batman is one of my favorite comic characters of all time. I may not have liked all of the incarnations of Batman over the years, but I've stuck with him.

The classic game era did not see any version of Batman. Superman, yes, but no Batman. In some ways, that was good. Could you imagine the Dark Knight on the 2600 ? Well, maybe I could imagine the "Adam West" Batman, with his blue and grey tights, moving through the same sort of towns and buildings as the 2600 Superman trying to defuse "Cat"bombs or some such nonsense. But it never happened.

The 1989 Batman movie brought about resurgence in the character. Batman was everywhere. There was even a Batman cereal. And videogames were looking for new material to work with. Not every licensed product or characters had been placed into a video game, yet. (That would come later).

The Bit-Era finally saw Batman on our game screens. The first full Batman game appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was a platform game (weren't they all ?) Excellent game. The game played very well. It had good balance with the challenges and had some very tight controls. Batman even had this cool wall jump. With the proper timing, he could propel himself up walls by alternately jumping from one vertical surface to another. The final battle took place in a bell tower against the Joker (just like the movie !), but everything that took place up to that point was unique to the game. Batman versus the Super Computer. Batman wending his way through the sewers (Watch out for the Deadly Drips!). While this game was good, it seemed like Batman was an afterthought. It could have easily been Mechaman or Sergeant Savior that was the main character. Batman's cape and cowl and the name of his weapons were the only identifying characteristics.

One of the early issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly (back when they staff was more interested in reporting on games instead of how cool they could make themselves appear) had a profile of a Batman game for the Genesis. Actually it was for the Megadrive (the Japanese version of the Genesis), and was never, ever (guaranteed) going to be released in the US. Being a Batman fan, I had to have it. A few months later, I found an importer in the back of the magazine that had it for sale. $79.95 plus shipping. I went for it. When it arrived, I crammed it into my machine.

(I had to cram it because the foreign carts were a different shape than their US counterparts). I turned it on and a scrambled SEGA logo appeared. What was this ? A pirate cart ?!? Argh ! After a few seconds the game appeared. The storyline from the movie was explained in English text with digitized pictures from the movie. Then the game started. Batman dropped from the top of the screen and with a sweep of his cape, the level began. The game was a platformer again. You began on a city street. The opponents you faced were street thugs. Much more in line with the movie and Batman in general. There was parallax scrolling and the graphics were so good, I kept expecting traffic to come down the side streets as I crossed them. This version also had some driving and flying levels where you used the Batmobile and the Batwing. Again, the last battle was in the bell tower with the Joker, but it was more true to the storyline getting there.

Later this game was released in the US. You can pick it up for around $10 now. Oh well.

There was another version of Batman released around the same time. It was for the PC-Engine (the Japanese version of the Turbografx-16). This game was more of an isometric view maze game. Batman would wander around the maze, beating up the Joker's goons and picking up power ups. I picked up a copy a couple of years ago and never got far enough to give a fair review. Maybe another time.

BIT of History. Batman's first appearance in a videogame predates any of these. A pseudo-Batman appears as a boss in the early releases of Revenge of Shinobi for the Genesis. Spiderman is also there. Both were graphically altered in subsequent releases after the threat of lawsuits from both DC and Marvel Comics.

There have been numerous other Batman games in the Bit era.

Batman: Return of the Joker, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, etc. But none of them were quite as fun as those first couple of games.

This is the same Fred that has been contributing to Retrotimes for more than a year. He can be reached at fcw3@postoffice.ptd.net. Unless Tom shuts him down, he'll be regularly contributing to this newsletter too.

You've been warned.

Neo Game Review

Each month, I will review one Neo Geo game. If there is enough demand, I will expand it to more. This month's inaugural game is Puzzle Bobble. This game is so addictive that I have called it "the video game equivalent of crack". I personally have lost more time than I care to admit to this infernal game.

If you ever played Bubble Bobble, you will instantly recognize the little dinosaurs at the bottom of the screen. Those cute little dinos are the ones that move your balloon gun back and forth. But this game is not a Bubble Bobble clone or sequel, they merely make an appearance. This game is more akin with a Tetris or any of the other numerous clones. The gameplay is simple, extremely simple! You have to take the balloon at the end of your gun and shoot it at balloons that match the color. Do this and they disappear. Do it enough times and you will clear the screen. Do this fast enough and you will get bonus points and go to the next screen. Get it? Good!

As you can already see, the point of the game is to clear the screen and clear it as fast as possible. If you clear the screen in 5 seconds or less, you get 50,000 points, and the amount goes down until it reaches zero for too much time (usually over 60 seconds). So you better get precise with your aim and take down those balloons or bubbles or whatever they are.

Where the game gets tricky is learning to use bank shots. It is both possible and necessary to bounce the balloons off the way at an angle to get balloons. The faster you master this skill, the better you will become. It becomes quite necessary as sometimes this is the easiest way to clear a screen. But put the piece in the wrong place and you may end up covering a potential move. Also, make sure not to let the pieces drop too far. If they reach the bottom, your game is over.

While one player is great, this game really shines in two player mode! Grab a friend, spouse or whoever and get ready for some serious playing! As you clear space on your side, balloons will end up on your opponent's side which will result in some serious aggravation for them (and a possible snide remark or punch in the arm as my wife is known to do). Nothing is more pleasant than hearing them complain loudly how you just messed them up.

Puzzle Bobble is an extremely addictive game and one that you will get your money's worth. Whether it is a cart, at the arcade or on emulation, you need to find and play this game. It is worth it! Just don't blame me for the time.

A History Lesson courtesy of Koei

Out of all the games companies made for the Nintendo 8-Bit system (and there were many), one company made a different kind of game. Instead of the typical platform games that were all the rage, Koei made war games that were history simulators. I call them this because while you may or may not notice, you were getting a minor history lesson. Their games were all based on real people from ancient China and when you played. Koei always stressed historical accuracy and even gave you options to play out a historically accurate version of the game or a version that you set up.

The games were a mixture of war games and economic simulations. You had to maintain an economy while also building an army and both protecting your land and trying to take over other land. So the games were complicated and not everyone's cup of tea. But if you were willing to invest the time into learning the games, you were treated with some of the deepest and most engrossing games for the Nintendo and later the Super Nintendo and Genesis.

(Image from Romance of 3 Kingdoms IV)

While games based on Chinese history were their main lines, with the Romance of Three Kingdom Series, Genghis Khan and Nobunaga's Ambition being the most prominent, they also tried their hands at other games. Liberty or Death was a war simulator for the American Revolution and an extremely fun game. There was also PTO (Pacific Theatre of Operation) which dealt with the war in the Pacific during WWII. But they also did some non history simulators like the RPG, Gemfire and the business simulator, Aerobiz. So you can see that Koei did do a fair amount of games and everyone offered you tons of gameplay!

So if you are looking for some serious gameplay and have the time and patience to devote to a game, give a Koei game a try. Unlike most games that will entertain you for a week and then collect dust, these games will keep you going for a long time! My personal favorite is Genghis Khan!

(If you want to know more about Koei and their games, you can check out the official website at http://www.koeigames.com).

What Systems Are Covered?
A question I will be asked many times will be what systems are covered in this newsletter? To put it simply, pretty much any game system starting with the Nintendo 8-Bit that is out of production (or very close) If you want a list, here it is: Nintendo 8-Bit, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Gameboy (I will be dead before this systems gives up the ghost), Sega Master System, Sega Genesis (including 32X and CD), Sega Saturn, Sega Game Gear, Turbo Graphx, Atari Jaguar, Atari Lynx, 3DO, CDI, NEO GEO and any I may have overlooked. Also, we will deal with the second generation of computers like the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and the IBM PC. So that adds allot more to enjoy! So as you can see there will be a plethora of systems and games to choose from! So if you want to write for this newsletter, pick a system or game and have fun!

Site of the Month
Each month I will spotlight one Bit Age site. The site may be a site devoted to one system or game genre or even an emulation site. So if you want to suggest a site to be covered here, please send the URL and why you think it should be covered and I will do my best to promote it for you! Here is the site of the month!  Mainge's Castle

If you are into roleplaying games, then this site is for you! First off, it is setup like a roleplaying game with lots of description on every page! Plus, every page has different music on it! But the best is that there is allot of information on role playing games from the Nintendo 8-Bit up. The site is very nicely organized and really has a ton of information. It is one of those sites that you can get lost at.

Besides information on RPGs, there is also a message board, his own webring and a section for people to submit RPG stories. But even more amazing than all this is the webmaster is only 16 years old! This site would a great job for an adult, let alone a teenager.

So if you like roleplaying games and want more information on them or maybe some tips on how to beat them, then check out Mainge's Castle at the following address: http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Castle/5038/

The first issue is now in the bag. While it is a small issue (but bigger than the first few issues of RT), it will grow. I want to start small and let it grow. So if you enjoy the issue, let me know and I will continue to do it. Look for it to return next month as part of Retrogaming Times as I gauge the interest in it. If there is enough, I will spin it off as its own newsletter. Thanks for coming and let the Bit Age begin!

Tom Zjaba