Classic Game Room (Inecom Entertainment, 2007)
Subtitled "the rise and fall of the Internet's greatest video game review show" this tongue-in-cheek DVD chronicles a short-lived on-line show's rollercoaster ride during the days of the Internet boom and subsequent bust. "Classic Game Room" ran from October 1999 to November 2000, and featured two irreverent hosts (Mark Bussler and David Crosson) who spiced up their down-to-earth game reviews with wisecracks, profanity, alcohol references, and goofy game parodies. In recent years the cable channel G4 has used a similar formula, but Classic Game Room has a charming low-budget (read: no budget) quality, and these guys deserve props for reviewing classic games at a time when those games weren’t getting much respect. The Video Game Critic (videogamecritic.com) was just coming up to speed in 1999, so I can forgive these guys for claiming they were the first to review the Atari 2600 Frogger on-line. Actually, very few people could watch Classic Game Room back in 1999 because most Internet access was limited to slow dial-up modems. This DVD features a 110-minute retrospective that seamlessly incorporates about a dozen of the original ten-minute episodes. The shows are mildly entertaining, but you really need to have a passion for classic games to stick with it until the end. The reviews themselves are fair and objective, covering old favorites like X-Men (Genesis), Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600), Seaman (Dreamcast), and Joust (Playstation). Unlike the original pixelated broadcasts, the shows look sharp on DVD, and even the game screens look surprisingly clear (although their Atari 2600 suffers from RF interference). Mark and Dave are knowledgeable of all video game systems from the Atari 2600 to the Dreamcast, treating them with equal respect. Unfortunately, these guys aren't very articulate, lack screen presence, and their acting is horrible. Much of their humor is predictable and obvious, and they tend to go off on boring tangents, but there are flashes of brilliance. When they run around a playground exhibiting their unique "X-Men mutant powers", or torment Seaman on the Dreamcast, you really have to laugh (or at least smile). And while you might expect these profanity-spewing, beer-guzzling white boys to be irritating, they're actually quite likeable and exhibit a self-deprecating sense of humor. The shows are edited to great comedic effect, making good use of inappropriate music and goofy graphics. You'll see many squirrel heads superimposed over the bodies of people, and for me, that in of itself is worth the price of admission. The 2007 documentary that ties the shows together is actually more entertaining that the shows themselves, employing a hodgepodge of disjointed stock footage and bizarre music to give the show a "larger than life" feel. Some might dismiss Classic Game Room as two guys just goofing off in front of the camera, but to those who appreciate classic games, beer, and lowbrow humor, it's a celebration of the best things in life.
Find out more at The Classic Game Room Web Site.
Once Upon Atari (2003, originally taped in 2001)
This interesting documentary recollects the life of an Atari programmer in the early 1980's. At that time, the video game market was exploding and the work environment for the small cadre of Atari 2600 programmers was unconventional to say the least. This four-part DVD was directed by former employee Scott Warshaw, who brought us classic games like Yars' Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark (not to mention E.T.). In a montage of interviews, he and his former coworkers reminisce about the typical workday for a programmer. Strict deadlines were a way of life (six months per game), but the employees flourished creatively. This was mainly due to their dedication and sheer love of the games. The odd mix of personalities resulted in some bizarre predicaments, rampant drug use, and wild parties thrown every Friday at the office. I found all of the people presented in this video to be interesting and personable. Scott Warshaw's deadpan manner and offbeat sense of humor adds a nice bit of irreverence to the program. Carla Meninsky beams as she recalls the good times, and Rob Zdybel's comments are remarkably candid and enlightening. Todd Frye, author of the critically maligned Atari 2600 Pac-Man, practically comes off as a sympathetic figure. When he recalls his bittersweet memories of his time at Atari, he actually becomes emotional at one point. The fascinating interviews shed light on the difficulty involved in programming the machine, friction with marketing personnel, and the general mismanagement of the company. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of old video clips - only a few old photographs are shown. Still, this is a riveting documentary I enjoyed from beginning to end.
Find out more at The Official Site of Once Upon Atari.
Starcade First Edition (2004)
I had not previously heard of this corny game show from the early 80's, although some of my friends seem to remember it. This "first edition" DVD inexplicably includes episodes 19, 59, 60, 62, and 63. I enjoyed watching these with my friends, if only because they're so easy to make fun of. The tacky game show format, obsolete consolation prizes, out-of-touch hosts, and early 80's fashion provide plenty of comedic material. The premise is that two contestants (invariably male teenagers) answer video game trivia questions before competing for score on actual arcade machines. Some of the arcade games featured include Journey Escape, Super Zaxxon, Bump 'N Jump, Donkey Kong Junior, Tac-Scan, Burgertime, and Pole Position. The host for episode 19 is the absolute worst, constantly bombarding the bewildered contestants with the hackneyed "How do you feel?" line. It's no shock that the contestants tend to be extremely geeky, but what did surprise me is how some didn't seem to know how to play the games. My favorite part of this DVD is the outdated consolation prizes, which include a portable, walk-man style record player - yes, record player. This thing must be seen to be believed. My friends and I were literally rolling on the floor at the sight of that monstrosity. Starcade First Edition is cheesy as all hell, but classic video game enthusiasts will find it amusing to look back on. And if you have some beer on hand and a good sense of humor, it's even better.
Buy this DVD at Good Deal Games.
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