Haphazard: Episode 22: Sonic the Hedgehog

Haphazard: Episode 22: Sonic the Hedgehog


SEGA

SEGA






(You know this is one of the first things you hear when you think about this game, so I had to include it!)

  Who could forget this nostalgic game? I’m guessing no one, but here are six things I bet you never knew about Sonic the Hedgehog.


 6.  Sonic wasn’t one person’s brilliant idea.


  The artist Naoto Ōshima, programmer Yuji Nakaand designer Hirokazu Yasuhara are the most notably credited.


  SEGA requested the creation of a new character in April of 1990. They wanted… no… needed… a new character and game capable of selling more than 1,000,000 copies; for a character who could compete against Nintendo‘s Super Mario… and a character to replace Alex Kidd as the company’s mascot.


Which wasn’t a bad idea, because this was Alex Kidd.


  With his pointed ears, red jumpsuit, and atrociously long sideburns, I’d say SEGA made the right move in looking for a replacement mascot.


5. Sonic wasn’t always a hedgehog.


  Several character designs were submitted before a hedgehog was settled on. Some of the other suggestions were an armadillo, a dog, a Theodore Roosevelt look-alike in pajamas – no joke – and a rabbit.


  Sonic was nearly a rabbit, as SEGA envisioned that a rabbit could grasp things and fight with prehensile ears. However, it was decided that a character that had to pick up and throw things would slow down the face-paced game. Instead, SEGA focused on a rolling character, and chose a hedgehog over an armadillo, despite concerns that Americans would have no idea what a hedgehog even was.


  The idea to grasp and throw was later adapted into a game called Ristar (Ristar the Shooting Star in Japan).


  The “Theodore Roosevelt in pajama’s” character was used later as well, taking the form of Dr. Eggman, otherwise known as Dr. Ivo Robotnik, the main antagonist of the Sonic franchise.



4.  Sonic‘s trademark speed is based on Super Mario Bros. World 1-1, sort of.


  Sonic creator Yuji Naka stated in issue 260 of Nintendo Power that “I always tried to get through the level [Super Mario Bros. World 1-1] as fast as I could,” which inspired the initial concept for Sonic the Hedgehog. 


Yuji Naka was one of the original Mario speed-runners, I suppose. Who would have guessed!




3.  Sonic couldn’t swim because of a mistake.


  The reason you and I died so many times in those ridiculously hard underwater levels was because Sonic couldn’t swim. The reason he couldn’t swim was simply because of a mistaken assumption by Yuji Naka, who believed hedgehogs could not do so.



  I wasted so many lives drowning, all because someone forgot to fact check. (Nostalgically shaking my head.)



2. A big-name Japanese band composed The Sonic soundtrack.


  The game’s soundtrack was composed by Masato Nakamura of the band Dreams Come True. Sega sponsored the band’s “Wonder 3” tour, and painted Sonic on the side of their tour bus. Sega also distributed pamphlets advertising the game, and had footage of the game broadcast above stage before its release.


  Above is a Dreams Come True 1990 tour poster. The text on the flyer reads: “Kawaii yatsu ni wa, toge ga aru,”. The literal translation is sort of a pun: “for a cute guy, he has spines,” but the Japanese word for spine, toge, can also mean “harsh words.” Source


1.  The original concepts put Sonic in a band.


  Yup, that’s right. Sonic the Hedgehog was conceptualized as the lead singer for the Sonic the Hedgehog Band, which consisted of Max the Monkey on bass guitar, Mach the Rabbit on drums, Sharps the Chicken on lead guitar, and Vector the Crocodile on keyboard. All members of the band wore Sonic’s iconic power sneakers, and – according to Yuji Naka – the early idea of the “Sound Test” would involve Sonic break-dancing while his band played the music. 


  Like many other early ideas, all the characters were scrapped before the final release, but several sketches featured in SEGA Megadrive/Genesis Collected Works art book reveal all the band members had roles in the game.

  •  Mach the Rabbit is shown to be imprisoned along with other animals in a capsule, as each of the band members were to be saved in each of the game’s zones. (This would have been a great touch.)

  • An early idea for the game’s ending involved Sharps the Chicken saving Sonic from falling back to Green Hill Zone after destroying Dr. Eggman‘s escape plane.


  All members of the band were scrapped due the time constraints of programming. Yuji Naka stated that they were also removed in favor of the iconic “SEGA” chant used in Japanese TV commercials.

Extra Fact: Remember that single iconic SEGA intro I showed you at the beginning of this read? Well it took up 1/8 of the game cartridge’s 4-megabit ROM. An eighth of the stored memory on that old game cartridge is just the intro. Damn.



  Years after the game’s release, one of the original members of the Sonic the Hedgehog Band made a comeback. Vector the Crocodile is the only member of the band so far whose made it into a game, when he was officially introduced in Knuckles’ Chaotix.



 With Father’s Day just passed, I thought of this game for two reasons: I remember playing this game with my Dad, and I play it with my son today. It’s funny how much you can still learn about something you thought you already knew. So, if you enjoyed this read make sure to stop back and find out what else you could learn – or reminisce – about in Nothing Normal Here’s Haphazard!

Happy belated Father’s Day!


N.

N.


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Haphazard: Episode 21: Wishbone

Haphazard: Episode 21: Wishbone

What’s the story Wishbone?

What’s the story Wishbone?


  If you never watched Wishbone after school in the 90’s, you missed out on a classic. I loved this show, and it became a staple in my education.



   Wishbone was a half-hour live-action children’s television show that was produced from 1995 to 1998, and broadcast on PBS Kids. The title character was a Jack Russell Terrier living with his owner Joe Talbot in the fictional town of Oakdale, Texas. This imaginative pup spent his days daydreaming about being the lead character of stories from classic literature, and was known as “the little dog with a big imagination”.



  In the show, there was a real-world life of Wishbone and his owner Joe, along with some other characters. In this aspect, Wishbone was a regular dog, but – in his fantasy world – Wishbone took on the job of main character and hero in many classic tales. Only the viewers and the characters in his daydreams could hear Wishbone speak, while portraying whichever famous character he was playing at the time; in the doggiest way possible.





  A standard episode of Wishbone consisted of an opening scene, introducing Wishbone’s and his family’s current situation. These situations ranged from a variety of topics, and when one of the main characters got involved in a real-world situation, Wishbone would be reminded of a classic tale.


  He would usually play the main role, in costume, but sometimes he would portray a support character if the role was too difficult for him to play (he played Sancho Panza in Don Quixote) or is female (in the show’s “Joan of Arc” episode, he plays Louis de Conte). By the end of the stories, the real-life situation of Wishbone’s family usually followed the work of literature closely, and came to a similar end.


  One of my favorite of Wishbone’s adventures was a play on Homer‘s “The Odyssey “. In this story, Wishbone plays the part of Odysseus, and follows through the grueling journey originally portrayed.


  I’m not going to spell out everything in the episode, but my favorite part was when Wishbone shoots his bow and arrow through all 12 ax heads to reclaim his place as King. It was ridiculously shot with a tiny bow, which the other suitors could not use; similar to Odysseus’ bow in the original Homer version, which only he knew how to use.



  Wishbone’s character was actually played by several different dogs – including Soccer, Slugger, Shiner, Phoebe, and Bear – and was voiced by Larry Brantley, a former stand-up comedian and radio spokesman. 


The show itself won four Daytime Emmys, a Peabody Award, and honors from the Television Critics Association. It also inspired several book series, and there are more than fifty books featuring Wishbone, which were published even after the TV series ended production.


  In 2006, when a PBS Kids Go! digital channel was announced, PBS planned to air Wishbone on the channel, but the digital channel was canceled. The show returned as reruns on the PBS national program service, but it lasted a short time. However, some PBS affiliates continued to air this classic until their license to do so ran out, which let the reruns continue to air until August 31, 2001.


  Although Wishbone is no longer airing, it will forever hold a special place in my childhood. But, if you can find a VHS player, there are still copies of episodes out there to add to your own video collections!


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Haphazard: Episode 20: SkiFree

Haphazard: Episode 20: SkiFree

Do you remember this game?

Do you remember this game?


  If you had a Windows PC in the early 90’s, you might remember this little gem. I hope you felt that; the nostalgia in the air. This odd game was nothing ground breaking, but it sure could kill some time; in the pre-internet world most of us grew up in.



  SkiFree was created by Chris Pirih, a programmer for Microsoft. He created SkiFree in C on his home computer for his own entertainment, but was caught playing at work by a program manager at Microsoft. Instead of getting in trouble for playing games rather than working, this manager found the game interesting, and with Pirih’s consent, Microsoft decided to include the game in the next Entertainment Pack release in 1991.


  Everyone who had a computer with no internet knows the few games that came along with your PC – Minesweeper, Hearts, Solitaire, Pinball – but this game has mostly been forgotten to time.


  The game was very simple. A player could use the directional keys on the keyboard or a mouse to make the skier go left or right to avoid obstacles such as trees, novice skiers, dogs, and fast moving snowboarders, as well as perform tricks by launching off rainbow-colored ramps, or mounds of snow.



  At the beginning of the game, you were given a few choices of types of run. There was a Free-style course where the goal was collecting “style points” by doing flips, a Slalom course where you tried to beat an opened slalom course in the shortest time possible, and a Tree Slalom course which was similar to the Slalom course, but longer, with narrower-spaced flags, and more tree obstacles. But, you could also enter none of those options and just SkiFree. When performing tricks over certain obstacles, the obstacle would change. Dogs would poop, and trees would catch fire if you landed a trick just right. If you collided with any of the obstacles time was lost, and your score would decrease.




  The game was super-simple, and found its way from Windows to the original Macintosh, and was even one of seven games included in The Best of Entertainment Pack released for Game Boy Color in 2001. Personally, I never knew about this Game Boy Color cartridge, but I wish I would have had it, just to play this game on the go, to kill time.




  The most memorable component of the game was the Abominable Snow Monster that popped up and ate you after your run. Once you completed a run, the game did not end, and you could continue to ski down the mountain, however, eventually a monster would run out on the screen and eat you alive.




  It’s been stated on Wikipedia that the monster appears after the 2,000 m (6,600 ft) mark. If you out run the monster and continue further down the hill (20–30 m (66–98 ft)), another monster will give chase, but uphill.

  At the start of the game, you could press the F button on your keyboard to play in “fast” mode, but even so, I could never out run this hungry abominable snow monster to save my life. Apparently, an angled route while playing in “fast” mode avoids both of the monsters that eventually appear, but I call bullshit.


  If you had serious skills, you could go even further down the slope while these monsters chased you, eventually having three of them trying to feast on your flesh. There was no true end to the hill, rather the world would loop around on itself, and you would find yourself back at the beginning. If you accomplished this, the monsters went away.


  If you’re like me, you probably want to play this classic game right now. Well, there are still a few versions of it out there to download. Be warned, some of the mobile versions are adaptations, and are not the original classic game. But, if your planning on playing on a PC, then you can find the original by following the links provided.

Good luck, Godspeed, and enjoy!


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Haphazard: Episode 19: The Talkboy

Haphazard: Episode 19: The Talkboy


Tiger Electronics

Tiger Electronics


  Almost everyone remembers this iconic toy from the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, but there were more versions of this device then you may remember.


  The device was originally conceived as a non-working prop for the movie, but on November 20, 1992, the day Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was released nationwide in the United States, the Talkboy hit Toys “R” Us locations. It came in Home Alone 2 themed packaging with Kevin McAlister pictured on the front of the box, and consisted of a battery-powered handheld cassette player/recorder with an integrated monophonic speaker, grip handle, an extendable microphone, and a switch allowing the recordings to be sped up or slowed down.


  The Deluxe Talkboy differed from the one shown in the movie, adding the word “Deluxe” above the “Talkboy” logotype to differentiate the models. The placement of the headphone jack was relocated, and it came packaged with a cassette tape. One side of the tape was blank, so that the user could record their own voice, and the other side was write-protected, featuring sound effects from Home Alone 2, and quotes from Kevin, Marv, and Harry.

  Despite the hype it received from its appearance in the movie, the toy itself was very basic. But, it spawned quite a few variations.


The Talkgirl


  The Talkgirl was the exact same device as the Talkboy, but came in pink. The device was branded towards girls, and set the precedent for other Talkboy models to be branded in a similar way.


Talkboy FX Plus


  The Talkboy FX Plus was a variant of the Talkboy. It functioned as a pen, and had the same recording abilities as its larger counterpart, but it had six unique sound effects that the original Talkboy did not.



  I actually had one of these, and similar to the kid in the commercial, I to used it to cause chaos in the classroom. Eventually it was taken away, and disappeared into the teacher’s bottomless drawer of confiscated goodies, never to be seen again.


  Like the original Talkgirl, there was also a version branded the Talkgirl FX Plus, which was the same, but pink.


Talkboy Jr.


  I never had this mini version, but I always wanted one. The Talkboy Jr. was everything that the Talkboy FX Plus was, minus the pen. It had six sound effects, and could easily fit in any pocket. It came branded for both boys and girls, and even had a key-chain variant.


Talkboy Shock Rocker


  The Talkboy Shock Rocker was basically a pocket beat machine. I wish I would have had this thing. I never knew about its existence until recently, and not much can be discovered about it.


  Because the original Talkboy was originally conceived as a movie prop, and was only released as a toy due to popular demand, many variants were created in an attempt to milk every penny out of the lack-luster devices lifespan. It competed with similar devices like the Yak Bak in the 90’s, and soon fell out of popularity with the rise of video game systems.



  Nevertheless, this iconic device has secured its place in history as one of those things we will never forget. Just like Macaulay Culkin.


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Haphazard: Episode 18: Nintendo Game Boy

Haphazard: Episode 18: Nintendo Game Boy

Pocket-size Nostalgia

Pocket-size Nostalgia


  Since its release, the Nintendo Game Boy has become an unforgettable classic handheld, but there’s a lot about it you may have never known.




  Who doesn’t remember the Nintendo Game Boy? While the younger generation has moved to Nintendo handhelds such as the DS line, us older gamers still reminisce about this classic device. With its black and green reflective LCD screen, it wasn’t much for the eyes, but it allowed us to break away from cables and couches and bring our gaming on the go.


  The console was initially released in Japan on April 21, 1989, later in North America on July 31, 1989, and finally made it to the European market September 28, 1990.  And contrary to popular belief, it was NOT Nintendo’s first handheld creation.


  The Game & Watch series predates the Game Boy, but both lines were created by Satoru Okada and Nintendo Research & Development 1. This team, led by Gunpei Yokoi at the time, is credited with designing the system, as well as several popular games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.


  The original model, sometimes referred to as the grey brick, had an eight-way directional pad, two action buttons (A and B), Start and Select buttons, and used small game cartridges. This simple format made it easy for owners of the original NES to get used to the controls. The system could be bought as a standalone console, or packaged with the game Tetris.


  Tetris was the first game compatible with the Game Link Cable, a pack-in accessory that allowed two Game Boys to link together for multiplayer modes. It’s become synonymous with the Game Boy, and is a big part of why the system became so popular. The pair has been selected as #4 on GameSpy‘s “25 Smartest Moments in Gaming”.



  Personally, I was addicted to this game, as it was one of the very few I had. In my youth, I wasn’t aware it could be played as a multiplayer with a cable. I also never had the cable, so maybe that’s why.


  The original system was an off-white, but on March 20, 1995, Nintendo released several Game Boy models with colored cases, advertising them in the “Play It Loud!” campaign. This line had colors such as Deep Black, Gorgeous Green, Radiant Red, and Vibrant Yellow. There was also a Traditional White version exclusively released in Japan, and a Cool Blue variant released exclusively in the UK and the Nordics. The US had its own exclusive variant as well, the High Tech Transparent, which was clear, see-through plastic. There were also Special Edition variants, some of which are rare finds today.



  In 1996, Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket, which was a smaller, lighter unit that required fewer batteries. The original Game Boy required 4 AA batteries, while the Game Boy Pocket required only two AAA batteries. This version also had a true black-and-white display instead of the classic monochromatic green screen. It came in a range of 9 basic colors, had 8 limited edition variants, and 11 special edition variants.


  A similar version to the Game Boy Pocket was exclusively released in Japan, named the Game Boy Light. It was slightly bigger than the pocket version, but had the one thing all past Game Boy players would envy, a built in electroluminescent backlight for low-light conditions.



  One model from the series has become one of the rarest versions of the handheld; the Famitsu Skeleton Game Boy Light. This limited edition was offered through a popular Japanese gaming magazine, Weekly Famitsu, who distributed 5,000 via mail order or special event sales. It was transparent, had white buttons, and glow in the dark properties. One of these, in box, can be found on Ebay for an asking price of $680.



  The successor to the Pocket and Light versions was the Game Boy color, released on October 21, 1998 in Japan, and in November of the same year in international markets.


  Also known as the GBC, this handheld console was slightly larger than its predecessors, but was exactly the same internally. The only difference was that it had a color display rather than monochromatic green or black-and-white screen. Sadly, it retained the major Game Boy flaw of having no backlight.  This issue wasn’t addressed until the release of the Game Boy Advance SP.


  This version came in a differing set of basic colors than its predecessors, had a few limited edition colors, as well as a long list of special edition variants, but by far the most sought after were the special Pokémon versions.


Fun Fact:
  The Pokémon franchise began as a pair of video games for the original Game Boy. They were developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo. By the way, it is the second best-selling video game franchise, behind only Nintendo’s Mario franchise, and is one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.



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  Besides the game link cable, which enabled multiplayer modes, the Game Boy also had an ongoing list of accessories.


  One of the most recognizable accessories for the system is the Game Boy Camera. It was released as Pocket Camera in Japan on September 17, 1998, and is compatible with all of the Game Boy platforms (with the exception of Game Boy Micro). The camera took black & white digital images using the 4-color palette of the system, and allowed the user to alter the picture with various funny add-ins. You could say the Game Boy Camera was the originator of the “selfie”.





 This camera interfaced with the Game Boy Printer, which utilized thermal paper to print any saved images. Both the camera and the printer were marketed toward children by Nintendo as light-hearted entertainment devices. N64 Magazine (which has since been superseded by NGamer) even dedicated a monthly section to the device in its hay day. However, production of the Game Boy Camera and Printer ceased in 2002 and 2003, respectively.


  I vividly remember how badly I wanted this combo as a kid, but I never got them. I even remember the commercial.





  Another iconic accessory for the Game Boy line was the coveted Joyplus Handy Boy. This thing had it all. It was an official “all in one accessory”, including two amplified external speakers positioned on each side of the screen. It had a square magnifying lens that held a simple light, which was desperately needed. The parts folded together for travel, which was a very cool touch. Additionally, a thumb joystick could be clipped onto the Game Boy directional pad, with or without the speakers and magnifier.


  One of the more bizarre accessories for the line was the Game Boy Pocket Sonar. It was a peripheral for the system made by Bandai that used sonar to locate fish up to 20 meters (65 feet) underwater. Made for the sport of fishing, it also contained a fishing mini-game. It was only released in Japan in 1998, and holds the record for being the first sonar-enabled gaming accessory ever.


  The last accessory I will mention is one that I actually had and used quite regularly, the Super Game Boy.



  The Super Game Boy was more of an accessory for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (known as the Super Famicom in Japan), and allowed Game Boy cartridges to be played on the SNES console on a regular television. Released in June 1994, the Super Game Boy was compatible with the original monochrome Game Boy cartridges, Game Boy Camera, and the black Game Boy Color cartridges. It even turned monochromatic or black-and-white games into color games on your T.V., which was pretty neat.


  As a big fan or retro gaming, Nintendo’s Game Boy has been one of my favorite devices since childhood. Currently having a few models myself, I still play them on long trips, or while sitting on the can at home, and look forward to collecting some of the accessories I coveted as a kid.


  If you love this classic handheld too, leave your memories in the comment section below!


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Haphazard: Episode 17: The Oregon Trail

Haphazard: Episode 17: The Oregon Trail


Elementary Throwback

Elementary Throwback


The Oregon Trail is an educational game that almost everyone remembers playing in their elementary school years.


  Back when schools had no internet, and computers still used gigantic floppy disks, The Oregon Trail was the one computer game teachers actually wanted us to play during class.


  Originally developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971, the game was designed to teach bored school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail.



 The original game debuted to Rawitsch’s class on December 3, 1971, where it became quite a hit. The game had a few bugs, but it was so popular that he made it available to others on Minneapolis Public Schools time-sharing service. But, when the next semester ended, he deleted the program. However, he printed out a copy of the source code.





  In 1974, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) hired Rawitsch, and he rebuilt the game based on actual historical probabilities, basing much of the options in the game on historical narratives of people on the trail that he had read. Then he uploaded the new version into the organization’s time-sharing network, where it became accessible by schools across Minnesota once again.


   The game we know was adapted by John Cook for the Apple II microcomputer, and found its way into elementary schools across the nation. Around fifteen versions of this game have been released between 1971 and 2012, which is probably why by 1995 The Oregon Trail comprised about one-third of MECC’s $30 million in annual revenue.




  There were several things that made the game so much fun, starting with entering your party’s names.


  As immature school children, we were free to name our players things like “turd”, “butthead”, or any number of inappropriate things, just for laughs.



  Besides naming your party ridiculously, you were also given a degree of freedom in the game. The players had to make crucial decisions for their party, which changed the situations the player would face.


  For instance, when coming to a body of water, you had several options of how to cross.




  For instance, when coming to a body of water, you had several options of how to cross.



  You were supposed to choose how to cross according to the specifics of the body of water (ex. river depth/width), and choosing the wrong method resulted in either loss of items, sickness, or even death.


  You were supposed to choose how to cross according to the specifics of the body of water (ex. river depth/width), and choosing the wrong method resulted in either loss of items, sickness, or even death.


  My favorite part of the game was hunting.


  Yup, back in the day, you were allowed – and encouraged – to play a game in school where you fired guns and killed things.



  There were no graphics in the original version, but rather players were timed on how fast they could type “BANG,” “WHAM,” or “POW”. Misspelled words resulted in a failed hunt. In the first full-graphics version, a player controlled a little man, aiming a rifle in one of eight directions to fire single shots at animals, while later versions enhanced this, allowing players to hunt with a cross-hair controlled by the mouse.



  Throughout the game, members of the party could fall ill from various causes, such as measles, snakebites, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, and even exhaustion, showing the hazards of pioneer life. Even the oxen who pulled your wagon were subject to illness and death.


  The game spawned the popular phrase “You have died of dysentery”, which has been placed on T-shirts and other promotional merchandise over the years.


  Gameloft created an updated version for cell phones in 2008, and it went live in the iTunes App Store on March 11, 2009. On January 7, 2010, the Palm webOS version was released, and an Xbox Live version was released on Windows Phone 7 November 11, 2010.  These versions differ from the original, but maintain the same basic outline.



  The game itself inspired many spin-offs, including The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail, but my favorite spin-off is actually a parody of the game called The Organ Trail


  In this parody, players must cross a post-apocalyptic United States full of zombies. Instead of a covered wagon, the player’s vehicle is an old station wagon, and they must manage their limited resources – such as food, ammunition, and fuel – in order to reach a sanctuary free of zombies.



  With spin-offs, parodies, and even t-shirts, The Oregon Trail has come a long way in its 46 years as a game. In 2012, the Willamette Heritage Center (WHC) and the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon created Oregon Trail Live as a live-action event. In 2013, a dark comedy entitled Oregon Trail: The Play! received its first professional production, and in 2014 a parody musical called The Trail to Oregon! was made by the musical theater company StarKid Productions. The game was even parodied in an episode of Teen Titans Go! in 2016 (Season 3, Episode 48).



  No matter how many updated versions are released, or how many parodies of the game are created, I will always remember using valuable class time to play this nostalgic game.


  Whether I made it to the end of the game, or died of dysentery, I will always have a special place in my memories for The Oregon Trail. How about you?


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If you want to play this game for yourself, click one of the following links!



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