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Help Us Raise Money for Sick Kids! Extra Life 2016

extralife_origFriends and Family,

When my nephew Corbin was just a couple weeks old, he got very sick and had to be taken to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. It was a very scary time for our family, but due to the efforts of the doctors, nurses, and staff at Children’s, Corbin had successful open-heart surgery and he has been in great health ever since.

For several years now, in honor of Corbin, I have participated in a gaming marathon called Extra Life. Extra Life is a fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Millions of dollars have been raised by Extra Life since 2008.

This year, I am doing something a bit different for Extra Life: my Pioneers students will be joining me for 12 hours of gaming! On Thursday, November 3, starting at 9:00 AM, we will begin our gaming session. Our goal is to play board games, card games, and of course video games all throughout the day, even after school! The gaming will wrap up at 9:00 PM. We are planning to webcast the gaming session live, and my students will be doing commentary and that sort of thing. Our webstream will be posted at the Pioneers website located here.

I’ve set a fundraising goal of $1000 for us. You can donate by clicking the blue Extra Life logo above. All of the money goes straight to meeting the needs of sick kids, so any little bit helps! I’m looking forward to playing some games, but the best part is doing some good for others while we play!

Thank you!

New Co-Optimus Review: Stardust Galaxy Warriors Stellar Climax

sgwsc_coopreview_screen3I love me some old school shoot’em ups! Gradius, R-Type, the 19XX series, all of these series are favorites of mine. There’s just something wonderful about the simplicity of flying right (or up) and shooting stuff. And it’s even better when you can share the experience with a friend.

I just had the chance to review an indie video game release that tickles my shmup fancy and allows for no less than four couch co-op players. It’s called Stardust Galaxy Warriors Stellar Climax, and it’s pretty great.

I really enjoyed playing Stardust Galaxy Warriors. It looks good, plays great, and is definite throwback to a simpler, sweeter time when filling a living room with friends and playing a video game together was the norm. The soundtrack is particularly great, as well, and makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable. Any fan of shoot’em ups, whether casual or hardcore, will find something to like here. I’d even recommend it to shmup newbies, purely on the strength of the four player couch co-op. It’s definitely worth a look!

Check out the entire review over at Co-Optimus!

First Quarter: My Earliest Video Game Memory

PopCultureLeague-Logo-BigIt’s time for another Pop Culture League challenge. This week, the question is: what is your earliest arcade or video game related memory? This is a tough one. Early memories are the most unclear. I’m often able to date a memory based on a comic book I was reading, or a TV show episode I was watching. But for my earliest memories, these little signposts for dating are missing. Still, I’m pretty sure what my earliest video game experience was.

I had a buddy who lived pretty close to me, close enough that I could walk to his house even when I was 6 or 7 years old. (Times sure have changed, I probably wouldn’t have let my sons walk that far when they were that age!) My buddy had some cool toys, your requisite Star Wars stuff, mainly, and a lot of it, since his father worked at Sears. Gotta love that employee discount! One of the neatest entertainment options at my friend’s house was his Sears Telegames Video Arcade. This was almost exactly identical to the more well-known Atari system, but my pal’s dad was a company man through and through and so the Sears branded version was what he got.

CombatatarigamepackThe two of us spent hours and hours playing two games in particular. The first was my favorite: Combat. Most all Atari cartridges claimed to contain lots of games inside, but they were really just variations on a theme in most cases. Not so with Combat! You had tanks, AND Red Baron-style biplanes, AND jets, too! It was the best thing ever.

The second game was Air-Sea Battle, and there was lots of variety in that cartridge as well. You shot airplanes, boats, even clowns and ducks in a shooting gallery style variant. My buddy always liked to play outside, but I would have skipped the great outdoors and all of its adventures for a bit more time playing invisible tank wars.

Eventually I convinced my parents that we needed an Atari ourselves. Having Combat available in my own home was incredible, but you needed two players it, which was less than ideal. My little brother was… little, and my parents would play from time to time, but not for hours-long marathons, which is what I was looking for. Eventually, we got other carts that allowed me to rely only on my own availability: Centipede, Phoenix, and Pac-Man, among many more. I was dazzled by Centipede; it looked and played almost exactly like the arcade version. (At least, I thought so at the time.) I wasn’t familiar with Phoenix in the arcades, but I read and reread the manual detailing the story and looking at the awesome art for hours, in addition to zapping bird invaders. Pac-Man isn’t a good port, but it didn’t matter to me, nor to my dad, who took a liking to the game as well. I remember him coming home after work, taking off his dress shirt and shoes, flopping down on the couch, and taking turns playing Pac-Man with me in his undershirt and socks. It almost sounds like a scene from The Goldberg’s except my father kept his pants on!

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Here are a few other entries in this week’s Pop Culture League challenge that I found cool and/or interesting.

The Last Hometown shares his memories of one of the greatest ealry arcade hits, a “monolith of beauty”, Space Invaders.

The Nerd Nook went the photo route, recalling a Pac-Man cocktail cabinet at a Pizza Hut. Makes me wish I had a slice of ham in one hand, and a cherry red joystick in the other.

20 Years Before 2000 went with the Simpsons arcade game. I played plenty of arcade games before that one, but very few that were as fun with a group of friends as the Simpsons!

The rest of the entries can be found over at Cool and Collected. I’m looking forward to next week’s challenge!

The Day I Met Mr. Penguin

13483068_10154310221373928_4834849933596836400_oOn March 11, 2008, I sent an email that would make a huge difference in my life. An “editors wanted” post had gone up on a video game forum I frequented. A guy named BAPenguin was looking for help as he started a site dedicated to cooperative video games. As the father of two boys aged 13 and almost 7 at the time, most of my video gaming was done teaming up with my kids. I considered the request for a moment, then figured why not? I emailed Mr. Penguin (literally, that was the greeting I used) and expressed my interest, attaching an essay I’d written for a Transformers contest as a writing sample. I wasn’t sure whether I would hear back from him or not, but figured it was worth a shot.

Later that day, I did indeed hear back from Mr. Penguin, whose real name was Nick Puleo. Nick asked me to write a news article as a final test which I apparently passed. I have been writing for Co-Optimus ever since. It has been a great creative outlet for me, and I am quite proud of my work there. Besides news and reviews, I’ve done a few regular columns: Co-Op Classics, Co-Op Casual Fridays (featuring more kid/family oriented fare), and Tabletop Co-Op, based on board and card games. Nick graciously allows Tabletop Co-Op even though Co-Optimus is primarily a video game site.

As you might expect, Nick and I have come to know each other well through these eight years. Countless Google Chats about administering the site inevitably led to more personal discussions. We teamed up to play co-op games online, followed one another on Twitter, and shot the breeze and/or cracked jokes during Co-Optimus staff Google Hangouts. I am notoriously bad at meeting deadlines, and though Nick has to be frustrated when I need another day/week/month, he never treats me badly. Even when I broke the website entirely, more than once, he was totally cool about it.

0000_co-op_classicsEight years is a long time, and both Nick and I have gone through many changes in our personal lives over this time. Nick and his wife had a baby what seems like yesterday, and now she’s going to be a second grader. My thirteen year old is now a married college student, and my seven year old starts high school in the fall. Nick got a promotion at work, and I took a position in another school district. All these changes make it feel like I have known Nick for a very long time.

This past week, Nick and I finally got to meet face to face. A business trip brought him to St. Louis, just four hours away from us. The timing was perfect, right in the middle of my summer break. Deana and I picked Nick up from the airport, and in the sweltering heat, I finally got to shake the hand of a man I consider to be a great friend for the first time. It was a wonderful moment. We toured the Botanical Gardens, ate lunch at an interesting placed called The Shaved Duck, and went way, way up in the Arch. The day was hot, sweaty, and tiring, but it seemed very comfortable and relaxing at the same time.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the internet is an amazing thing. I’ve met many people online, whether by playing MMOs or through Co-Optimus or by listening to podcasts and reading blogs. I consider them to be my friends, some of them even my best friends. And yet, for all but a very few, I’ve never even been in the same city as them. The physical distance between us has not weakened our relationships at all. And it’s all because of the internet.

So thanks, Al Gore, for inventing this wonderful thing that allows people to become close to one another, even when they’ve never met “in real life”. And thank you, Nick, for the opportunity to get to know you, and to finally have that bro hug, eight years later.

Co-Optimus Review: TMNT Mutants in Manhattan

20160613221937_1I don’t get to play as many video games as I used to, but every once in a while, a Co-Optimus review code gets sent my way. I was tasked with writing a review for the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. It’s called Mutants in Manhattan, and while it isn’t a direct movie tie-in, the timing is all about the marketing.

Some of the older TMNT video games are among my favorites of all time. The screenshots looked great, and it was a beat ’em up, so I was rather excited to play. Turns out my anticipation was unjustified. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Unfortunately, there are many problems that pop up as you make your way throughMutants in Manhattan. In a nutshell (turtle shell?), the game is uneven and unpolished. The difficulty spikes dramatically, then levels off, leaving you angry and confused. Some levels are brief and simple, while others feel artificially long and frustrating. There’s the core of a decent brawler here, but too many bugs and bad design choices to make it fun for most people, and particularly for the younger audience for which it was presumably intended.

You can check out the whole review at Co-Optimus. Cowabunga!

New Co-Optimus Review: Starcraft II Legacy of the Void

SC2_Legacy_of_the_Void_The_Purifiers_tga_jpgcopyIt’s been a while since I reviewed a video game at Co-Optimus. Typically, my writing there is dedicated to tabletop games, but every once in a blue moon I cover a video game. This time, it’s Starcraft 2, which recently got a second expansion, Legacy of the Void. The original Starcraft was my favorite video game of all time for many years, and the sequel is almost (but not quite!) as great as its predecessor. Two dedicated co-op modes were added. One is great, the other is just okay. I’ve enjoyed playing both with Connor. Here’s an excerpt from the review.

Co-Op Missions are a wonderful addition, full of long term replay value, but the two player limit is disappointing. Archon Mode is a nice distraction, but isn’t compelling enough to keep you coming back over and over. Clearly, the focus of Starcraft II is competitive multiplayer, and that remains as strong as ever. The single player campaigns are fantastic, too. It’s great to see some dedicated co-op elements in the game, but what we ended up with doesn’t have the same level of polish as the rest of the game.

You can read the whole thing over at Co-Optimus!

New House = New Gameroom


Much has happened since the last update. We’ve moved, which means I now have a bit more space to create the perfect game room. Right now, the games are kept in the garage, using up about half of the space. The #M@ME?! cab is up running strong. We’ve also put up a dartboard and several small posters of 80s movies, including Top Gun and Blade Runner. Over the summer, we purchased an air hockey table for $50, and it’s in the garage as well. A table hockey joins it, found at Target for a mere $25 on clearance. I’ve been checking Craig’s List daily looking for a pinball machine, cocktail cabinet, or any other interesting arcade game.

This past week, I hit the jackpot.

The ad was for a nonworking Roadblasters cabinet. It was the sit-down version, enclosed and everything. It looked like it was in decent condition, and I figured it was worth the $50 asking price for the coin door and frame alone. I arranged for my brother to pick it up in his truck (come to think of it, Ryan brought me the Q*Bert cab too). Saturday, we unloaded it.

It was HUGE. A full 7′ long. One side of the art was missing, and the black contact paper or whatever on the seat area was gone. When we unloaded it, several quarters fell out! The switch for the power was loose, flopping all around, and I figured that might be the problem. We decided to plug it in anyway.

A few hums and buzzes, then the musical beeps and boops began. The monitor was working and everything! The only issue was the credits. The coin door had been wired with a credit button, and the coin mechs were missing. The button didn’t work. However, a wire was hanging loose off the back of the microswitch, and that wire, when touched to metal, gave credits! A few flicks of the wire and the game was playing just fine!


It needs a thorough cleaning. There are some cosmetic details that need repaired. The red on the screen is quite dim. But it’s still a fully functional, aesthetically pleasing cockpit-style driving game… IN MY GARAGE. I guess you could even call it a gameroom now.

Another Big Move!

The big move is over. Boxes are almost all unpacked. Garage is cleaned out. The work on the gameroom/man-cave section of the garage, plus the new Transformers collection shelves, is in full swing.

First, the gameroom. I managed to convince Deana to keep half the two-car garage as a gameroom of sorts. It’s coming together nicely. The centerpiece, of course, is the arcade cabinet. Last night, I fired it up for the first time while “working” in the garage. Bad idea! I ended up playing Marvel Super Heroes for a half hour. Of course, once Connor saw it up and running, he played for an hour or so himself, while I worked. I’m not sure which one of us had more fun, him playing, or me watching him.

We have a table hockey game, too. It’s like foosball but hockey instead of soccer. One of the players is broken, but it’s still playable, and it’s probably the best $30 I ever spent at Target. On the wall behind the table hockey, I framed and hung my Star Wars posters. If they aren’t the best looking movie posters ever, I don’t know what would be.

A dartboard is on the wall, near the entrance inside. It’s at regulation height, even, and I taped down a line at the standard 8 feet away. So far, the hole in the wall count is at 4, 3 Connor’s and 1 mine. (Don’t tell Chad Tate.)

The air hockey table is no longer a place to throw stuff on. It’s all cleared off and ready to go. Seems there’s not much air pressure, the puck doesn’t slide very well. Going to have to look into that. Now if I can get a pinball machine, and eventually, a cocktail arcade cabinet, I’m set for big stuff. The rest will be fun stuff: rope lights, a disco ball, and maybe even a jukebox or some sort. I can’t wait!