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Retro Game Night: Putty Squad and Gameboy Mortal Kombat

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This week we finally got our hands on Mortal Kombat for the Gameboy to complete the circle and supplement the original Mortal Kombat Versions Video.  Additionally the PS4 title Putty Squad is apparently pretty terrible, however the game was originally released on the SNES and we’ve got a copy to try out.  Clicking on the box art above will take you to the video where you can see our impressions.

Written by Fred Rojas

August 9, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Tetris Aid

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How Tetris Has Been Used in Research To Help Health Problems


Tetris that famous game released in 1984. Beloved for its simplicity and addictive nature; but did you know that Tetris has actually been used in a variety of medical studies?  There is plenty of research reporting the benefits of gaming despite the media having us believe playing video games turn us into serial killers and dysfunctional members of society. Today’s article focuses on the research studies performed using Tetris.

Tetris good for the eyes.

le_tetOne interesting study carried out in America and even in the UK is using Tetris to treat Amblyopia. You may know this condition more as a “lazy eye”, where one eye is not seeing as well as the other eye and can be accompanied by an eye turn.  It usually occurs at a very young age and current treatment involves patching the good eye to force the bad eye to work. Spectacles are also given to aid this treatment. Unfortunately not all treatments are successful and the lazy eye can remain into adulthood; treatment for a lazy eye in adults is usually ineffective.

A study in in Canada at the McGil Univesity found playing the game Tetris with both eyes open was more effective than patching the good eye¹. In the study participants wore special goggles.  Some of the patients had their good eye totally occluded during Tetris play whilst the other participants had both eyes open and the goggles showed different images of the Tetris game.

The study found vision and depth perception improved dramatically and studies are now under way to see if the treatment can help children with a lazy eye.

Tetris curbs your addictions

.Ever had a addiction?  Smoking? Coffee? Buying too many video games? Well this study from Plymouth University in the UK may be for you².

The UK study on 119 people has found playing Tetris can reduce cravings for people with addictions. Published in Appetite, the study was designed to test Elaborated Intrusion Theory which suggests cravings are not just desire-based, but visual as well. The research hypothesized that performing a visual intensive task can reduce cravings.  In this test participants had to describe their cravings before playing Tetris and once the game was complete they were asked to describe their cravings afterward.

Students who participated in the test found their cravings reduce more than 24 percent compared to people who did not play Tetris.


Tetris helps with Trauma

At Oxford University in the UK, Tetris was found to reduce the effects of traumatic stress³.

ptsd_tetIn this study 40 participants were exposed to distressing images and half were then given Tetris to play after a period of time. The experiment then looked into the number of flashbacks experienced by the participants.  The half that played Tetris were found to have fewer flashbacks than the participants who did not.

It was believed playing Tetris helped disrupt the laying down of memories, therefore those who played the game had less flashbacks of the distressing images.  Since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relies on flashbacks like distressing sights, sounds, or smells of a traumatic event, the experiment worked on the principle that it may be possible to modify the way the brain forms memories in the hours after an event.


Of course it is important to point out all of these studies require more information and study to prove the theories. It does go to show that there really is proof that video games can actually be beneficial in helping several medical conditions. Of course that probably won’t change the bad press surrounding the media but who knows maybe in the future Tetris will be prescribed on the NHS and Doctors will be handing us Gameboys instead of pills.


1: lazy eye

2: addiction

3: trauma

Written by jamalais

April 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

Posted in Features, Gameboy, NES, PC/Mac

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How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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The term “arcade game” these days conjures up images of cutting-edge graphics and sound, combined with innovative and interactive technology that can bring any concept to life.  However, good graphics and interactivity have not always been a necessity for a game that is both enjoyable and addictive. I dread to mention the recent phenomenon of the Flappy Bird app but it is an example of an outrageously faulty and basic game becoming extremely popular. This has been seen in the past with games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, Tetris and Asteroids following very basic concepts and graphics, but still being addictive and rewarding when completed.

The Really Early Days

The first arcade games kicked off at amusement parks and are still present at fairs and theme parks, but there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about them. Ring toss, throwing balls at stacked cans, shooting targets, and other simple challenges have been doing the rounds for hundreds of years and can still draw in the punters to this day. Just don’t go expecting an easy win. Perhaps this is what is indicative of a good game – making it appear simple whilst making it actually fiendishly difficult to win. Make it too hard, however ,and you are left with Zelda II.

Pinball Wizard

2The introduction of the electric element into arcade games in the 1930s completely revolutionized pinball, which had existed as a spring-loaded tabletop ball game since the 17th century, and the advent of player controlled flippers in the 1940s solidified pinball’s reputation as a classic favourite amongst arcade gamers. Pinball continues to be a popular game to this day with digitized versions adding to the range of machines available. The Japanese even have their own variant of Pinball called “Pachinko’” which features multiple smaller balls in play all at the same time.

The Beginning of the Computer Age

The 1970s was the dawn of computer-based games. Rather than mechanical amusements, which had up until this point held sway. The seminal Pong was released in 1972 and in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a swathe of arcade classics were released including Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. Game cabinets took their lead from pinball table designs but featured digital monitors and player-controlled joysticks and input buttons to control the action on screen rather than physically manipulating items, as in earlier amusement games. Anyone who was lucky enough to be alive at this great time will tell you that Pong was very addictive.

Late 80s Into the 90s – The Birth of the Games Console

SEGA MEGADRIVE – Release Date – October 29, 1988


The Sega Genesis (or Sega Mega Drive outside the US) saw the beginning of the developed console, bringing games like Sonic The Hedgehog, Pat Riley Basketball and Mortal Kombat to life. This product was unwittingly the start of a new generation of gaming. With most of the games relying on reflex and timing, they relied on the same instincts that were instilled in the general population from old arcade games.

GAME BOY – Release Date – April 21, 1989


The Game Boy saw a different kind of gaming completely. The handheld device was a revolutionary idea, and the death of every gamers social life. When I was a youngster I would literally take the bulky object everywhere I went, just for a few more goes on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Again, the product design of the Game Boy was very simple, whilst the hardware and software were complex at the time of its release, showing that product design does not necessarily have to be complicated to be popular.

SNES – Release Date – November 21, 1990


What a machine. As a proud owner of a SNES, I have to say that the hours spent in front of the console were some of the best of my childhood. If you think this is sad then you obviously haven’t played the original Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II or Donkey Kong Country. The design of the console and indeed of the games themselves worked extremely well. It never tried to be too extravagant or design based, simply slot the cartridge in the top (after blowing on it, of course) and you’re in gamer land. Nintendo skyrocketed in popularity with games being created in house and by third parties like Capcom. The product design of the console meant that they could improve the graphics and make a significant move from 2D platform games. Eventually this design would give us the hallowed Nintendo 64, which brought out games such as Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64.


Shift Towards The Physical

Fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II gathered huge followings whilst racers such as Daytona USA developed the trend of simulating an actual in-car experience. Gun games also developed so that players held an imitation weapon and fired at on-screen targets. In 1998, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) marked a shift towards physical actions and computer inputs being combined. Players “dancing” on arrow pads would try to stay in time with a selected track, simultaneously watching the rhythm and timing displayed on-screen.

7This has now led to new product designs and consoles that promote active movement. Consoles such as the Wii and the Xbox One now have the player standing up, moving around, and using themselves as the controller in many games. The future of product design in the gaming industry has never been predictable, but we can see that there is definitely a paradigm shift in the way that people are viewing gaming experiences and indeed the target audience for games.

Increased physical interaction has incorporated all manner of activities that have now been made available in arcade format. Football, guitar, drums, shooting, driving, and many more pastimes have been translated into interactive games with motion control, eye tracking, and other modern features common in today’s games. DCA’s design for the X-Putt, a golf putting game, shows how a design idea and inventive product can combine to create a novel and fun experience for gamers.

Podcast: Heroes in a Half Shell

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You can’t have grown up in the late 80s and not been struck by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It apparently transcends geographic location as co-hosts Fred (@spydersvenom) and James (@Jamalais) both had similar experiences growing up in different parts of the world.  In this episode we dissect TMNT’s roots, marketing, and obvious integration into video game culture, covering the games that made the surfer-style pizza-eating New York crime fighters a pop culture sensation.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Podcast: Excelsior!

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This week Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) and Andy Urquhart (@damien14273) from the Agents of Shieldcast join Fred to discuss retro titles featuring Marvel Characters.  They learn that the distinction of titles early in gaming were almost nonexistent and perhaps Marvel having Disney behind it may actually be a good thing.  Listen on true believers!

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 15, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Podcast: Twas the Night Before Xmas Part 2

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This year we celebrate more releases of Christmas time with special guests Rob “Trees” (@TreesLounge00), Shawn Freeman (@Freemandaddy5), and special guest Yomar “Yogi” (@Yogizilla).  With a goal of 1991-1996, we only make it through the first half of 1994 but it’s a fun ride through the biggest titles of the 16-bit era.  Merry Christmas everyone!

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And as a bonus we have a special Christmas card from Jam:

Written by Fred Rojas

December 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Podcast: Rock Man of Doom

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This week Fred goes solo to celebrate Doom‘s 20th Anniversary and the Mega Man series.  Keji Inafune’s legacy may live on through Mighty Number 9, but when he was a young new college grad Capcom employed him to create one of the most beloved and long running franchises of the company’s history.

Also if you want more Doom coverage, feel free to check out our podcast on Doom clones.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 11, 2013 at 9:51 am

Version: Mortal Kombat

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In this new video series we dissect the home versions of the arcade classic Mortal Kombat.  Check out the roughly 10 minute video for a quick retrospective on the title and the craze that resulted in September 1993 as many kids brought this violent title home.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Podcast: Silent Evil

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This week Fred is joined by listeners Allen and Jamalais to discuss the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises. They do not get as far as planned, but the initial iterations of each series is thoroughly covered and a sequel is promised.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 30, 2013 at 10:48 am

Review: Final Fantasy

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ff1_nes_boxartConsole: NES
Released: 1990
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Difficulty: Moderate
Price: $13.49 (used, cart only), $48.50 (used, complete), $288.00 (new)
Additional Releases: MSX2 (Japan only), Wonderswan Color (Japan only), Playstation (Final Fantasy Origins, updated graphics), Gameboy Advance (Dawn of Souls, upgraded with additional dungeons, new translation), PSP (original title, includes Dawn of Souls content with updated visuals and soundtrack)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (NES version, $5), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $10), iOS/Android/Windows Phone (PSP version, $7)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II

ff1_nes_1If you ask most Americans what the first true console RPG was probably one of the most common responses would be Final Fantasy.  Not only is Square’s epic tale of four warriors taking on a timeless being that plans to destroy the world memorable, but it stood well above the competition of the time.  The Legend of Zelda may have taken around 10 hours to complete, a size and scope only possible with the ability to save that was unheard of prior, but it was nothing compared to the massive world and 30-50 hours you may spend conquering Final Fantasy.  Aside from that, the 1986 Famicom title Dragon Quest (changed to Dragon Warrior in the US for its earlier iterations) had just received a slight upgrade and released to North America in 1989, less than a year before Final Fantasy.  It was great but couldn’t compete with a game that was made three years later with the lack of classes, a party system, and various other differences.  It should be noted that in Japan Dragon Quest II had already released and Dragon Quest III came out in February 1988, a mere two months after Final Fantasy, which had slowly built up most of the game’s staples such as a party system, exploration, turn based battle system, and both games had similar class systems.  That doesn’t mean that Final Fantasy doesn’t have its own identity, it’s far superior in terms of graphics, nothing like the airship showed in the first three Dragon Quest games, and instead of sending you back to town when you die like Dragon Quest you would instead get a game over and go back to where you last saved.  Final Fantasy also shipped with a map and huge manual that got players more invested in exploring and completing the campaign, not to mention a cheap and huge Nintendo Power strategy guide that released shortly after.  For me, it was the near perfect conversion of the Dungeons & Dragons universe – some of the characters are literally stripped from the Monstrous Manual  - and converted it into a single player experience.

ff1_nes_3Final Fantasy drops you into a vast world with multiple continents and terrain to explore with four warriors.  Each of these warriors are named and given a class from the start.  This allows a single player to control the party and do their favorite balance of brute force, tactical strategy and magic.  You could have any combination you like, including having all four characters being one class.  It really rings significant to me with heavy hitters like Borderlands and Diablo still being based on a class system.  The game is riddled with random encounters that are invisible, so the key is to be prepared for everything because at any time you can die.  Saving is possible anywhere on the overworld map but once you enter a dungeon, the true challenge of the game, you cannot save and must complete it before getting back to the surface to save.  That’s why two taxing activities are a must: grinding and losing progress.  You will die in the middle of a crazy ramped difficulty boss battle at some point and be forced to reload a save that you made (hopefully) just before entering and re-do an entire 1-2 hour dungeon only to try again to beat it.  If you want to prevent a game of chance, you can opt to grind – beating countless random enemies to get to a high enough level that you no longer have a challenge in said dungeon or against said boss – which may waste hours of mindless gameplay but is often your only hope at progressing.  This staple of Final Fantasy titles, and JRPGs as a whole, is why some players never even attempt to pick up the genre.  If you can stomach it, the reward is significant.  Not only do you progress on an epic journey that is a mixture of a decent story but also your personal achievements on the battlefield, all to feel like you truly saved the world.  It took me 40 hours to complete this title with nothing more than a map and free time, but conquering Chaos at the end is still one of my favorite and proudest moments in gaming.


Final Score: 5 out of 5  (GH101 review policy and definitions can be found here)


In the 8-bit era the game was available to Americans only on the NES, but in Japan it was on the MSX2 microcomputer with some glitches, the Wonderswan Color (Gameboy Color competitor) with mild graphical upgrades, and a re-release on the Famicom with the sequel updated with re-drawn sprites.

A Playstation port of the first two games, entitled Final Fantasy Origins, would update the graphics to high detail and some re-drawn looks, a remixed soundtrack, animated sequences, and an art gallery.  This same collection would move to the Gameboy Advance as Dawn of Souls: Final Fantasy I & II with four new dungeons, an updated bestiary, and new script.  The somewhat recognized definitive version of the game was released first on the PSP that retained the original title, contained all content of Dawn of Souls and updated the visuals again to high resolution 2D graphics as well as updated cutscenes and soundtrack.

An in-between port that was similar to a 16-bit look, but with none of the tweaks beyond the NES version, released on mobile phones in 2004 in Japan and eventually in 2010 in the United States.  Shortly after that the PSP version was ported first to iOS and eventually to Android and Windows phone.

Title Controversy

There are two stories that are traded off as the reason for the game’s title.  The first is that Square was nearing bankruptcy and most of the staff went into the project thinking it would be a swan song for the developer.  This was widely regarded as unsubstantiated rumor given the large amount of successful titles developed by Square on the Famicom/NES in addition to no one substantiating the claim.  In July 2009, Wired’s Chris Kohler – a well known gaming historian and co-host on the widely popular retro gaming podcast Retronautsinterviewed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and he claimed that this story is, in fact, true.

On the other hand, director Hironobu Sakaguchi has consistently claimed in interviews that the game title is due to the fact that he was set to return to university in the event it was a commercial failure.  Obviously the game’s initial 400,000 unit sales (huge at the time) and eventual more than 2 million units sold worldwide by 2003 prevented such events and started a long lasting franchise that still remains today.

While Uematsu stated in the interview that these claims are true, he remains firm that the title’s origins are with the potential Square bankruptcy.  Sakaguchi has never claimed the title to mean anything more than his fear of leaving the game industry if Final Fantasy was a failure.  The truth will most likely never be known for no better reason than the memories of the individuals involved have already been clouded by the passage of time.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm


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