HoldSquare Nation Video Game Podcast

Hello fellow retro enthusiasts – gaming author Brett Weiss here.

I write books and articles about video games and other aspects of popular culture (brettweisswords.com), but in this day and age of angry video game nerds, NES punks and the proliferation of smart phones, that is no longer enough.

As such, my friend Outlaw Curtis and I have started a YouTube show called HoldSquare Nation Video Game Podcast (named after Curtis’s website, holdsquare.com), where we discuss everything from Atari to PlayStation 4, along with various aspects of film, television, and the like.

Curtis grew up on the Atari 2600 and Nintendo NES, and today he runs a global PS4 gaming group called The Reapers. I’ve been gaming since the mid-1970s, and I have a massive collection of video game consoles, cartridges, discs, and peripherals that I use as research materials for my articles and books. And, of course, that I use for fun.

Speaking of fun, Curtis and I have been thoroughly enjoying recording the podcast, and we hope that enthusiasm and love of the gaming hobby and geek culture shines through. In addition to educating and informing our viewers (hopefully in entertaining fashion), we have some laughs along the way.

In this recent episode, we talk about William Shatner, Star Wars, Tron, Dark Souls 3, Ratchet & Clank, and more, including my epic video game-related find at a recent Star Trek convention:

To make sure you don’t miss an episode of HoldSquare Nation Video Game Podcast, and to watch my other videos, check out my YouTube channel, which is simply called “Brett Weiss.”

Please consider subscribing-it’s free!

Thanks for watching!

Have you played Atari’s “Demons to Diamonds” Today?

Released in 1982, “Demons to Diamonds” is an Atari title I acquired during the console’s original release. When I spotted it in a catalog I quickly put it on my Christmas list because I loved the idea of an Atari-style shooter that used the paddle controller instead of the joystick. It should have allowed me to move on the screen a lot faster (which it does) and I thought that would mean that “D to D” would be a much more quicker paced games than say “Space Invaders”. Unfortunately it was not and my constantly recurring issues with my gaming paddles added and compounded my frustration with this sub-par title very quickly.

What stunk about this was that this was a game my Grandmother gave me as a gift and she would often sit on the couch and smoke a cigarette and watch me play games, especially ones she had purchased for me. It was a sweet thing. She wanted to see me enjoy what she could give me and normally I loved it. In my home it was nearly impossible to get anyone to watch me play a game for more than two minutes, but with my Nana, it was easy. She would sit, for sometimes and hour at a time, listening to me ramble about things she cared nothing about as I was deeply immersed in the gaming experience.

This was tough with this title, but I was sensitive enough at the time to realize that if I didn’t at lease muster some enthusiasm, it might hurt her feelings. Which could mean no future audience or maybe even no more Atari games at Christmas. So I played “Demon to Diamonds”. I played whenever she was around and I sung its praises to the heavens. This seemed satisfy my Grandmother, but each time I faked my way through an “enjoyable” session, I died a little inside.

Gameplay for the game is pretty cool (in concept). Demons move across the screen and you need to shoot them. The longer you hold down the fire button, the further your shot goes. Now you need to be careful with what you shoot. If you shoot a demon that is the same color as your ship, it turns into a diamond. You can then shoot that diamond for extra points. If you shoot a demon that is a different color it turns into a canon that can shoot at you. All this sounds cool right? Unfortunately it just doesn’t gel and the result is a game that is pretty easy to understand, but that just doesn’t deliver on the goods.

I recently picked up some new paddles for my Atari and gave Demons to Diamonds another whirl after all these years. Unfortunately the intervening years were not kind to the game and without my Grandmother watching over me, I quickly turned the game off (after confirming my new controllers worked).

Last night I started browsing online and stumbled across the “How to beat Video Games” series entry for “Demons to Diamonds” and while it did not alter my opinion of the game, seeing the strategy for how to succeed spelled out, has made me want to give it another shot. Just to see how well I can do if I focused.

“Demons to Diamonds” was an interesting addition to the Atari lineup that just doesn’t pan out, but if you are a fan of the console or just the history of video games it is worth checking out. So grab you paddles or just fire up the above video and check out the perfect example of a game that sounds great on paper, but just doesn’t deliver in the end.

Was The Last V8 the hardest 8-bit game to finish?

The Last V8

In 1986 I was the proud owner of an Atari 8-bit computer. My 65XE was essentially an 800XL disguised as a miniature Atari ST and it was my first real experience of home computers. Amongst the many games that I collected was The Last V8 from Mastertronic and, in my opinion, it was the hardest game ever created.

This top-down driving game, programmed by David Darling, had a very basic premise: It’s 2008 and, caught on the surface of a nuclear devastated planet, you have seconds to return underground before your radiation shield decays! In any other car you would stand no chance but in the Last V-8, survival is possible… Maybe!

The Last V8 screenshot

The game is played as an overhead driving ‘experience’ and is crushingly difficult, or at least it was for me when I last attempted it. You had a single life to navigate the terrain without running out of time, fuel or shield and on top of that, the controls were far from ideal and the viewpoint made it difficult to plan ahead.

Despite countless attempts, I was never able to proceed beyond level 2 of the game and for years, I’ve wondered just how many levels the game had yet to offer me. The answer was ONLY TWO! I made it to the last level and didn’t know it! Thankfully, there is usually someone on Youtube who can show you how… and in less than 3 minutes…

So why would anyone want to play the game, much less try and complete it? For me, the answer was simple – the fantastic music from Rob Hubbard! If you’ve watched the Atari video above, you’ll already know how good the soundtrack is but if you need further convincing, the C64 and C128 version was much much better.

Hubbard’s music can often be found as the basis for a remix or two in the wilds of the internet, and The Last V8 manages to score several interpretations. The “Airline Remix” from Dees Productions below is my favourite. Starting slow and quickly finding a more upbeat tempo, it manages to keep the underlying theme without sticking slavishly to the original.

If you managed to complete the game, or if you played an even harder 8-bit game, let me know in the comments!

The Blues Brothers: The Video Games

The Blues Brothers

The Retroist Blues Brothers podcast has sparked lots of memories for me, not least of which is of the hours that I spent playing the game of the film on my Amiga in the early 90’s. I was going to write a post about just that game, but after a quick play of the game and lots of research, I thought it would be much more fun to take a look at the various versions of the game released instead.

I’ll start with the game closest to my heart – the Amiga version, released in 1991 by Titus. I recall at the time that Amiga Format magazine loved the game and I was quick to snap it up at my local computer store. The first thing to hit me was the quality of the in-game audio. I was a huge fan of the film and thought that Titus did a wonderful job of recreating the music. Sadly, I didn’t agree with the magazines of the era about the quality of the game. Sure, it looked quite nice, but the platforming antics of Jake and Elwood left me a little cold. I did eventually beat the game but my lasting memory of the experience is of the soundtrack, not the gameplay.

Also released in the same year as the Amiga version were efforts for the Atari ST and PC. I say ‘efforts’ because both were lumbered with very mediocre versions of the game. Considering both machines had similar capabilities to their rival from Commodore, the screen flipping, poor quality sprites and inferior audio leaves me pleased that I had an Amiga!

That said, if you were yet to climb to 16-bits in 1991 and you still owned an Amstrad CPC, you were stuck with this…

Thankfully the C64 version raised the 8-bit flag high, using the SID chip to maximum effect and delivering a quality game that I’d actually like to go back and play now.

Jump into 1992 and the Nintendo Entertainment System found itself the lucky (!) recipient of its own variation. I didn’t own a NES at the time but I do recall a friend having this game and he let me have a play for a few minutes. It was horrible. I was used to the pace of my Amiga copy and the speed of this NES update was a little too quick for me. Watching the video now proves that my younger self was right to steer clear, though I do think they did a good job with the sound.

Next up is the Nintendo Gameboy version from 1994. I owned a Gameboy but this game never entered my radar and this is the first I’ve seen of it. Strangely, the first thing to hit you about this game isn’t the graphics, it’s the music! The themes and songs used in the film are so iconic that even the diminutive Gameboy is capable of recreating a fine rendition. The game looks to be based on the 1991 originals, though the levels are very different to those that I played. Whilst this is clearly not a Mario-beater, I think this version of the game looks like a great game and I might have to have a play in the near future.

During 1993 there were other Blues Brothers games released. Subtitled as “Jukebox Adventure” and released on the SNES, PC and Gameboy, they are considered to be truly terrible with many people saying they are WORSE than the Blues Brothers 2000 film! High praise indeed, and I think worthy of their own Retroist article, which I’ll write in the near future. For now, here’s a little preview of what’s to come – look out for the BB 6-pack!

Oh, and if you’re lucky, I might take a look at the Blues Brothers 2000 game next time too!