Day 4 - ...but don't take my word for it...
20.2.03 by Angry Drunk

A.D.'s Comment:
Many of us who have played a video game carry fond memories of the SHMUPS...

Delphinius Monk
The Time: Summer 1989-Matinee Shift
The Place: Lobby-Lancaster Cinemas

It's entrance was unannounced but we knew that change was in the air. A simple replacement for the Road Blasters machine that was unrepairable. Of course I played the Road Blasters machine, although my performance was unremarkable. I've never been a fan of race type games and so never mastered the skills neccesary to show a noteworthy score. I was looking forward to its relacement.

Then that man in the lift back truck came. He removed the unit with the grim manner of a mortician, leaving only an impression in the carpet. I took the opportunity to sweep up the halo of popcorn and skittles that had accumulated over the years, the landlord making presentable the residence for a new tenant.

The Game: 1943

For those unfamiliar with game, allow me some exposition. You: a fighter pilot circa 1943. Your Opponent: The combined navy and airforce of the entire Japanese Fleet. Yes the game was an unsubtle sequal to 1942. The objectives were the same, destroy wave after wave of Zero's and battle a boss bomber/battleship/carrier at the end of each level. The difference was a subtle but profund. You see you only had one life. One chance for the redemption of your nation and way of life for the unwarrented attack on Pearl Harbor. This time you were battling over Midway and the only way to continue on your mission was to collect energy pods along the way to replace the fuel that was ticking away or shoot away buy your adversaries. Those same energy pods could also represent Special Weapons, timed power-ups that were essential for battling the horde ahead of you. You chose what type of Special Weapon or energy pod you would pick up by firing at it to cycle through the choices. Precision and timing were paramount. Not enough weapon time, and no chance at the boss, not enough life, and you sink unsung into the Pacific.

I soon became the master of this machine. No other employee could touch my scores. Some became so discouraged as to stop playing the game altogether. As a young rising star in the heirarchy of theatre politics, it became a point of pride, but I'd reached the ceiling. The game seemed to cycle endlessly from Bomber boss to Battleship boss to Carrier boss over and over. I started to doubt that there was an actual end to the game at all.

It happened the night of a screening. I don't remember the name of the movie, but it was one of the summer blockbusters, maybe The Abyss. All of the crew was assembled to watch the movie as we always did the night before it opened. Everyone was excited to watch the movie, but I had other business on my mind. I'd taken a break from the machine for about a week. We'd recently gotten a Bubble Bobble machine in and competition was fierce, so as standing champion on 1943, I was required to throw my hat in the ring with the new machine. But that night, 1943 like a siren, compelled me.

I slid my quarter into the machine and gripped the joystick like shaking hands with an old friend. everyone was moving into the auditorium and called to me that the movie was starting, but I was entranced. I fell into the familiar patterns that I'd fallen into hundreds of times before. But this time was different. Gracefully, I threaded my fighter through the orange death that was sprayed across the screen. Precisely, I manuvered the power pods to ensure full health and Special Waepon time. Deftly, I jockeyed into position to deliver the coup de grace on fleet after fleet of yellow menace. I slipped into the zone that only the pacman fevered and pinball wizards are familiar with. And finally after seeming hours of play, I conquered that machine.

I don't have the words to describe the feeling of exultation that comes with reaching the end of a game, but as anyone who has mastered a game can tell you, it is a powerful and private experience. In your mind, you are grand marshall of a ticker-tape parade, riding atop a convertable cadalac as the U.S.O. girls blow kisses to you from the sidewalks. Hero of a nation, you have demolished and demoralized half of the axis powers, the land of the rising sun is broken assunder by your skill and determination.

And then your mind unclouds and as you look at the screen, a list of japanese programmers is your only reward.

Master N
It is funny that you are talking about shumps today...

Over the weekend I was sitting on the couch playing DOA XBV and screaming at Tina for not accepting my $17,000 leopard skin boot offering. Soon after, the Xbox was shut down and the quest for the new 'game of the day' began. While searching through my collection, one of the cogs in my brain turned and locked down on a game I played on my Colecovision Adam years ago. The game was Frenzy, and I had to play it NOW!

For those of you who were still candy bars on store shelves back in 1982, let me fill you in on the madness and glory of frenzy. You were one man, alone in a maze filled with robots who were all hell bent on killing you. In addition, the walls reflected lasers and were all electrified and the act of bumping against one would send your character into a multicolored, Defender-like death sequence. Your saving grace was that you were slightly faster than the mindless robots and you could avoid most of their attacks. If you were able to keep your cool you could avoid most of the lasers and other obsticles. What makes this game so great, and a leap above its predecessor Berzerk can be summed up in two words: EVIL OTTO.

Imagine the standard icon of the 70's: the smiley face. Now make it angry, make it bounce, make it indestructable, and make it faster than hell. Evil Otto would sit dormant in the middle of certain stages of the game with a complacent smile on his face. If you spent too much time in one room, or in one area of the maze, Evil Otto's starts a comin'. You could temporarily stave off the smiling bastard by blasting him until his expression changes to absolute hostility, but he always reappears faster and faster. If you were not near an exit, Otto kill you.

Frenzy's predecessor Berzerk had a very primary color palette and offered up rudimentary backgrounds and characters that felt a bit flat and static. Frenzy turned the color way up and added dynamic areas like generator rooms and Otto's Domain. These areas offered several dynamics that affected gameplay. For example, if you entered a generator room, you could shoot our the walls surrounding the generator and blow the whole thing up. This action would stop the robots in their tracks and leave them as sitting ducks for your lasers. There were also walls that you could shoot holes into and use as baracades (something I also loved about 'Out of this World' which came out almost 10 years later.

After a whole weekend of retrogaming I must say one thing. Playing this game using the Colecovision controllers has destroyed my hands. Try to find yourself a good Atari 2600 joystick or SuperAction controller joystick to play with. The nook between your thumb and pointer finger will thank you for it. If you don't, Otto kill you.

Master N, out

Okay, a couple short stories from the shmup genre...

While many have enjoyed other shmup games, the two I spent the most quarters on were Heavy Barrel and Smash TV. These two games were actually part of a sub-genre of shumps that I refer to as "Twist n' Shoot".

Released in 1987 by Data East and developed by game designer Koji Akibayashi, Heavy Barrel was a derivative of Ikari Warriors, the popular title released the year before by SNK. As in Ikari Warriors, the characters controlled by the players are viewed from above and controlled with an innovative control stick that defined the Twist n' Shoot genre. One could move the stick in any direction to move the players about; however, you could also twist the stick to make the torso of your character point in a different direction. This proved invaluable, as it allowed you to perform strafing runs that were the only way to kill the enormous amount of enemies that were thrown at you. Upon being hit, these enemies would die and dissolve into nothing, another trait of the shmup genre.

What set Heavy Barrel apart from the rest was the pursuit of building the ultimate weapon, the Heavy Barrel. As you progressed through the levels, you would gather parts for this weapon, and upon gaining the last part, the digitized voice would bark out far too loudly to everyone in the arcade "HEAVVVVY BAAAARRELLLLL!", whereupon everyone else would look up to see what the hell made that noise.

The weapon was huge, and would wipe all the enemies from the screen with ease. It was a very satisfying payoff to such a buildup, and a major reason I kept feeding quarters into it. Smash T.V. was a further refinement to the genre, being released in 1990 by Williams. It was not entirely a Twist n' Shoot game, as it separated the shoot and move functions into two different joysticks, but the effect was the same: a top-down shmup where the torso aiming moved independently of the body.

Smash T.V. was different from other shmup games not in originality (it was essentially an updated Robotron 2084), but in the way it raised the bar of violence and gore in video games. Taking it's cue from The Running Man, a 1987 Schwarzenegger flick about an ultra-violent game show, Smash T.V. raised parental ire with its loudmouthed and brash encouragement to blow everything away for cash and prizes, as well as the graphic bloodbath that occured when the boss was defeated. The kids loved it.


This is my old project, THROWDOWN.

A group of friends and I put together this little project in 2003 as an outlet of out collective rage and anger about the subjects that each of us cared about. I was the editor-and-chief and games writer back then.

It was a blast to do and it to be involved in a great collaborative effort using the strengths of my friends was simply amazing. I hope you have fun reading our work as much as we had in creating it.
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