Geek History Part 3- Sega

Seeegaaaa! If you lived in the 90s, this name was synonymous with words like “Cool!” and “Sega does what Nintendon’t!” It entered the home video game console market the same year (1983) Nintendo’s Famicom would with The SG-1000, which I’ve never even heard of before writing this, it sold over 180,000 units blowing away Sega’s projections. But it would be curb-stomped by the Famicom which came out strong with a game Nintendo had already had massive success with two years prior in Donkey Kong, which was THE home version of the game to beat as it was very close to the much-beloved arcade version. Sega didn’t have that established mascot character to lean on; they were the new kid on the block. The SG-1000’s games looked better than most things on offer from Nintendo, but the inadequate response of the joystick and other problems doomed it. Not a good start at all, and it could have quickly condemned them Sega picked themselves off the mat and a few years later released the Master System in 1985. An 8-bit console itself, but like the SG-1000, the games on offer were more detailed than the NES; Sega planned to like Nintendo with the NES market the MS as a toy they teamed up with toymaker Tonka for this reason. However, ineffectual marketing on Tonka’s part would hamper the MS’ sales. It wasn’t a complete flop as it sold over 2 million units in North America. Still, in a market dominated by Nintendo and Atari, these numbers aren’t so good for perspective the Famicom ended up selling over 61M units, which no other Nintendo console had come close to beating until The Nintendo Switch which as of writing is sitting at 55.77M units sold.
All is not gloom for the Master System, it outsold the NES in the PAL market (Europe, Australia, etc.), and from talking to people from there, it was a much-beloved console. I sure as heck didn’t know it existed till later in life when its versions of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic Chaos, among others, were packed into the GameCube game Sonic Gems Collection.
Sega helped arcades catch something of a 2nd renaissance around the world, but mainly in the US and Japan, games like Super Hang-On and Outrun created new genres and were massively popular with graphics that blew people away back then. Eventually, with the 80s coming to a close and the 90s looming both Nintendo and Sega would have to keep up with the times Sega actually beat Nintendo to the 16-bit era with the Mega Drive (or the Genesis to us murricans), but Nintendo just dropped Super Mario Bros 3 which I believe to this day is still the best selling Mario game of all time. The Mega Drive would find something of a foothold thanks to positive coverage by THE Japanese Gaming Magazine, Famitsu and other sources, Sega needed a strategy to really set itself apart from Nintendo and with the 90s being the era of being “too cool for school,” they made a mascot who could for a time anyway stand up to Mario. What started as “Project Needlemouse” became Sonic The Hedgehog released in 1991, and one of the best Christmas presents I ever got for sure, Sonic was cool he was faster than Mario too fast actually as sometimes you could run right into the void and die. But back then nah we didn’t care this was Sonic he was sarcastic, witty, fast, he rescued cute animals from the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik, we ate up all the Sonic stuff the merchandise the cartoon show where he was voiced by Jaleel White (Steve Urkel!) it was awesome but kinda cringy and verrry corny when ya look back on it. But that’s just how the 90s were it was EXTREME, and in yo face, Bart Simpson, Ren, and Stimpy, Beavis and Butt-Head on the TV were warping our poor little minds. Sega ran with this they often had the uncensored versions of certain games on the Genesis, the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat had the blood the SNES version did not, and we wanted THAT version, where Nintendo of America was censoring the blood and (statue) nudity in Super Castlevania IV Sega was like “nah make it as bloody as you can without that M rating yo!” when it came time for the Genesis to get its own Castlevania game in Castlevania: Bloodlines. The Genesis had Splatterhouse 2 and 3 (not the original), which were some of the goriest games I ever played at the time other than maybe Doom, but Splatterhouse took it to another level with some of the imagery.
However, Sega’s main man was still that little blue Hedgehog; Sonic would see almost an endless run (heh) of successful games, the most noteworthy being Sonic 3; however, it wasn’t to last. The rise of 3D gaming in the late 90s/2000s was unkind to the blue blur, Mario landed on his feet with Super Mario 64, but Sonic would stumble out of the gate with Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast. A decent enough game but with a lot of problems like weird physics and a frustrating camera, which was fixed in Sonic Adventure 2 and was received quite well. The Dreamcast was released a few years after the Playstation, and it was in every way the more powerful console and almost arcade-perfect ports of games like Marvel vs Capcom 2, ports of games like Dino Crisis and Resident Evil 2 would look much better with cleaner textures on the Dreamcast and its library of unique and quirky games like Samba De Amigo, Crazy Taxi, and Jet Set Radio gave it a cult following, but it would quickly die due to a variety of problems.

Sega experienced a change in leadership that believed they should move out of the home console market, this combined with the astronomical hype for the PlayStation 2 which was being ridiculously hyped at the time as being capable of launching missiles and were basically supercomputers and a bunch of other nonsense doomed the Dreamcast. The Playstation 2 had some great games, but it was in no way that powerful even the original Xbox games looked better Marketing people am I, right folks!? Well, it worked. The PS2 sold several cruise ships worth over its lifespan.

Today, Sega is still around and doing pretty well for itself, they show a lot of love to their fanbase, and the best example of this is bringing in the developers of a well known Sonic 1 based fan game called Sonic Megamix to make Sonic Mania a very good return to the glory days of the Hedgehog, Sega itself still doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with Sonic as the next game they released Sonic Forces made by their own people, not the fans they brought in for Mania was…. garbage. Despite that, Sega has other franchises such as Yakuza that have gained quite a bit of popularity worldwide and positive sales, and in 2013 they would acquire a bankrupt Index Corporation which owns the game developer Atlus. Sega brought Atlus’ IPs under their umbrella, which has provided them another source of decent sales with games like Persona 5. Sega may not be what they once were, but it is undeniable the impact they had on the industry, from the SG-1000 to the Dreamcast they always tried to push the envelope but for whatever reason just lagged behind the competition funny considering their mascot is Sonic the Hedgehog eh?

With Retro revivals being the hot thing with the return of franchises long gone dormant such as ToeJam and Earl, Streets of Rage (which apparently Sega doesn’t own anymore… cuz the new ones weren’t released under their name…) and Wonder Boy what long sleeping Sega franchise would you like to see come back? My vote would go to Shinobi; Joe Musashi must return!

Geek History Part 2- The Birth of Castlevania

Simon Belmont image belongs to Nintendo and other intetites

Castlevania 1: Not your father’s Dracula

Okay, let’s get this out of the way, I McFreakin love Castlevania the sounds, the music the eye burningly red color pallet (SO MUCH FREAKIN’ RED!) in the 2nd level’s aptly named “Red Brick Cathedral” the choice by the devs at Konami to equip our no pants wearing hero (or just like very short shorts…?) Simon Belmont with a whip that transforms into a flail with a morningstar tip! The sub-weapons; you had your sucky little throwing knife, the ax for aerial enemies, the Holy Water that spread fire on the ground (called the Fire Bomb in the US release cuz Nintendo of America was like “nope you’ll tick somebody off if you call this Holy Water.”) The Cross (again, censored and called Boomerang) and finally the Stopwatch that lets you FREEZE TIME for like 5 seconds everything except Simon and bosses grinds to a standstill. Castlevania is near to my heart, and future releases would expand the lore and even take a fair bit from Bram Stoker’s famous novel “Dracula” with some exceptions like Dracula cant be killed with a wooden stake, and he’s not affected by garlic Nah this aint ya daddy’s Dracula kiddo! But we’re focusing on the one that started it all, Castlevania on the Famicom (Family Computer) or the Nintendo Entertainment System as it’s known in the West. You are Simon Belmont, heir to a holy whip the Vampire Killer the most potent weapon humanity has against the immortal Count Vlad Dracula Tepes and his army of darkness. Equipped with the whip and the sub-weapons your goal is to destroy the newly risen Dark Lord brought back to the land of the living by a dark cult of humans who desire chaos and all that fun stuff, a bit of virgin blood on Dracula’s coffin and ol bat brain rises again to cause mayhem. With the return of Dracula comes the return of his castle, Castlevania or just Dracula’s Castle as its called in most games the castle itself is a living thing able to change its form to confuse and disorient would-be heroes making one’s memories of the previous Castle’s layout quite irrelevant. Castlevania does this by housing a being responsible for Dracula’s unending cycle of death and rebirth, a being named Chaos, but we’ll get into that some other time it’s a whole thing. Also, yeah, there’s a built-in lore reason why each Castle’s layout is totally different in subsequent releases, but none of THIS even came to light until Symphony of the Night on the Playstation, several years after this game’s debut. Anyway, to get back on track, Simon has to take his tree trunk sized legs that could level a building if he kicked it too hard through several levels of Castlevania to defeat Dracula and save the world. But along the way, you’ll meet the Giant Bat, Medusa, Frankenstein’s Monster and his friend Igor, Mummies, and The Grim Reaper. Yeah, nobody said a Belmont’s life was easy kiddos worst of all even when you do defeat Dracula it’s revealed in Castlevania II that with his dying words Dracula laid a curse upon Simon that slowly ate away at him and if he did not cure it he would die and by slowly yall I mean he didn’t even notice till he had like a week to live, devious. Castlevania was a difficult but fair game it was the usual you get limited lives and when they’re gone you game over but unlike most games, you had unlimited Continues but no password system at least not on the NES version, continuing started you back at the beginning of a level with nothing but your whip but you did not need to play the entire game over again unless you powered off the console. Future releases would thankfully include a password and eventually, a full-on Save system, when the US version of Castlevania came out there were already two major games out with the ability to save or at least use a password, Metroid and The Legend of Zelda it’s likely the developers intentionally left these out of CV1 to artificially enhance the difficulty and force people to buy a cartridge rather than just rent the game at Blockbuster or something and smash it in one sitting. Heh, if the devs could see the times Speedrunners have on this game though they’d feel absolutely silly is this was indeed the reason why there are no passwords/save system in the game. Seriously Speedrunners are insane; the World Record held by Italian Twitch Streamer SBDWolf (ahuhuhu, SBD) is 11m 24s! Absolutely crazy!

Anyways, I admittedly couldn’t find much on the development of Castlevania 1; it was developed in house at Konami currently located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan. It was directed by Hitoshi Akamatsu, who approached projects with a “director’s eye” and surrounded himself with people who wanted to express through the game’s visuals and music his love for Cinema; he wanted players to feel like they were playing a classic horror movie. Heh, it seems Konami had a knack for luring in film buffs in the guise of game developers as their most famous (now former) employee, Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame says in his Twitter bio that his body is made up of 70% movies. The game released in Japan in 1986 under the name Akumajou Dracula which translates to Demon Castle Dracula the name was changed for the Western release due to Vice President of Konami of America at the time Emil Heidkamp’s discomfort over the name which he believed translated to Dracula Satanic Castle, he wasn’t far off honestly. I could see they also wanted a “catchier” name that still fit the general feel of the game they probably saw that the game takes place in Transylvania Simon Belmont explores a castle, so someone’s like “let’s call it Castlevania!” and they ran with it. I could hear my Dad right now in my head picking up the box for the game if it had kept its original title and going “what the heck is an ahkumahjoe?” so Castlevania? Good move Konami of America, good move.

Castlevania 1 alone would see many re-releases and “reimaginings” or even full-on remakes. There’s a lot of -Re here so bear with me folks. Ported to many many platforms including the current generation consoles and PC with the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, some of these remakes would even change Simon’s look entirely, ditching the Conan the Barbarian style of the 80s in favor of a darker more Gothic look with red hair and black leather armor instead of the brown armor and blonde hair and drawn in the Japanese style “Bishounen” or Beautiful Youth by now-former Konami employee Ayane Kojima. I love her art by the way 10/10 would look at again, MOVING ON!

Now you’re probably wondering “man if the fanbase is so passionate it must have sold a bunch of copies like Mega Man 2 levels millions of cartridges sold right”? Well, I couldn’t find numbers, but Castlevania for all the games in the series and all the passion from the fans in the world never was a strong seller. Unfortunately, Only Symphony of the Night managed to break a million copies sold. A bitter pill to swallow, especially with the current state of affairs at Konami, which are great for them as they’re raking in money with gambling and other ventures. But not great if you’re a fan of one of their legendary franchises as they just don’t release games anymore or if they do they’re cheap little nostalgia cash-ins or turned into a gambling machine or just not good like the latest Contra and Bomberman games. Castlevania may be gone, but its spirit lives on in the form of a game developed by a company founded by a few former Konami employees, headed by Koji “IGA” Igarashi who took the captain’s seat for Castlevania starting with Symphony of the Night and left Konami a few years ago due to dissatisfaction with his role there and a falling out with the big wigs. IGA’s new team Artplay would make Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and release it in 2019 and deliver on the promises made. I will talk a bit about Bloodstained some other time it deserves its own space.

Geek History- Mario Brothers Through the Years

Mario Image Belongs to Nintendo

In the year 1889 in Kyoto, Japan a man by the name of Fusajiro Yamauchi founded a little company called The Nintendo Playing Card Company, that produced and marketed a type of playing card called Hanafuda or Flower Cards, these are the humble beginnings of what would become a giant in the video gaming industry down the road. Fast forward to the mid-seventies, Nintendo would branch out into the emerging video game market. Nintendo’s first few games were not very successful a young Shigeru Miyamoto who is still with the company today then developed Nintendo’s first smash hit; Donkey Kong lit the world ablaze with its simple but addictive gameplay. But just who was that fellow gamers controlled? A comically short mustachioed man that could only jump and sometimes wield a hammer to navigate the mazes and save the girl? The man who would eventually become the most recognizable marketable and successful video game character ever originally had no name at all in the Japanese release of Donkey Kong. The American instruction booklet named him Jumpman and sales brochures called this character Mario when Nintendo of America was doing the English release for Donkey Kong one day the landlord of the building they operated in came in demanding rent a heated argument ensued that ended with assurances the landlord, Mario Segale would get the money. Miyamoto and the people over in japan must have liked the name as the little red plumber has been named Mario ever since! Mario started out as a carpenter and a plumber, but he has had many occupations over the years. He was the referee in the World Video Game Boxing Association overseeing matches by some absolutely absurd fighters; he was the referee for every fight in the Bronx born Little Mac’s improbable rise through the ranks of the WVBA and victory over Kid Dynamite Mike Tyson himself! Mario likes to throw parties featuring wild mini-games and dastardly means to undercut the opposition he has shown to be good at driving go-karts, baseball, snowboarding, basketball, the list goes on. Mario shows no signs of slowing down, from having no name to becoming the mascot of Nintendo and helping restore people’s faith in the medium after the disastrous crash of ’83 the beat goes on for the cheery man in red to this day. Luigi is still the better brother, though!

Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered

Hello and welcome to 2020 and part two in our series of the history of state executions. To start 2020 off on a truly odd note, I thought it would be interesting to explore arguably the most grotesque public spectacle in English history, the act of hanging, drawing, and quartering. HDQ was a state-sponsored execution that was held for the only the most grievous of offenses, treason, specifically treason against the crown. Dating back to the reign of Edward Longshanks in the 13th century, the practice lasted until the Irish Rebellion of the early 19th century.

The Act

Photo Used under share and share alike

When I teach my sixth and seventh graders about public executions, I always get some awesome reactions when I describe HDQ, because it defies understanding to our modern sensibilities. In our world today, we debate about even putting people to death by the most humane ways imaginable, but for the crowned heads of England, the spectacle was the point. Capitol punishment meant nothing to these Kings if it wasn’t carried out in front of a large audience because the purpose was to fortify standing and declare dominance. The crime was almost always treason, and the King would parade the accused through the streets before the process began.

Step 1

The accused it tied to the back legs of a horse and is dragged from the holding cell to the public square where the execution is to take place.

Step 2

The accused is hanged in the public square, but not until dead; they are effectively strangled until near death. As the accused is still alive, the stomach is cut open and the intestines are spilled out in front of the accused and the entire crowd.

Step 3

As the intestines are spilling out, sometimes these guts are set afire, but always the testicles and penis are cut off, all the while the person is still alive and feels everything.

Step 4

Sweet relief, the head is cut off, the body is sliced into four quarters and the head and body sections are spread throughout England and put on public display to show everyone what a traitor gets.

There were many men who met this fate, but the two most famous were the first man, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the last independent ruler of Wales that was executed by Edward Longshanks. The second is the most famous, William Wallace, the Scot freedom fighter who was executed as a traitor by the crown.

Executions Part 1: Riding the Lightning

For Halloween this year, I thought it would be cool to do a series of articles that deal with the macabre. Thank you for checking out our first in a series of articles about the worst ways to die via government sanction execution.
Since the beginning of organized law and government, there has been capitol punishment. The first known written series of laws, the Hammurabi Code of Babylon created a few thousand years before the birth of Christ, had the eye for an eye mentality, if someone committed murder, the state would put them to death as well. This practice crossed the Atlantic and has been an American mainstay since the Colonial era. The interesting aspect of American executions is the variety of ways in which the country has attempted these executions, ranging from hanging, pressing, firing squad, to today’s lethal injection, there has long been a desire to make the act as quick and semi-painless as possible. One of the most misguided attempts at this is by far the electric chair. Thought up by a dentist before the dawn of the 20th century, it was believed that the electric chair would alleviate the issues of hanging, namely the head popping off or the people slowly strangling to death. Popularized in the early ’00s of the 20th century, the electric chair was thought to be the most humane way to kill convicted murderers. Unfortunately for those who rode the lightning, that could not be further from the truth. Multiple instances of botched electrocutions can be seen throughout the eight decades; it was the most common form of state-sponsored death sentences. The most common problem is human error, for electrocution to work perfectly, the chair must be in good working order, and the condemned person must be properly prepared. Many times, the guards would either forget or purposely leave the sponge of water off of the head of the inmate, the water in the sponge is meant to conduct electricity to the brain and quickly fry the person in the chair. When the condemned is not properly prepared, it would lead to the person to be, quite literally, cooked alive. Ruth Snyder, a husband killer from New York, was tried and convicted along with her boyfriend of killing her husband. She was quickly sentenced to death and sent to death row at Sing Sing. Electrocuting female inmates were extremely rare in the American Criminal Justice system, so this execution became the hottest ticket in town. An enterprising young reporter for the New York tabloids snuck a camera into the death chamber and took pictures of the event. Unfortunately for Snyder, her execution was botched, and she smoked and cooked from the inside out. You can see, in stark detail, the smoke and the cooking taking place in this haunting photograph.