I truly cannot express in words the joy I get at seeing a preserved newsreel, such as this 1958 British Pathe offering, introducing Gygan the Robot. Naturally thanks to 1977’s Star Wars as well as other sci-fi entertainment of my youth, a personal robot is something I have always dreamed of. Having said that however I do think a Droid or a Robot rock band is more my speed compared to the gargantuan beauty of Gygan!
Gygan is know by a few different monikers it would seem. Including Gentle Giant as well as Mister Moto and Cygan, depending on where you were introduced to him. Thanks to a smashing site called the Cybernetic Zoo, we know the robot’s creator is Piero Fiorito. While hailing from Turn, it is said he began building three different stages of robotic companions on a bet. Oh, I should also add that in addition he did all of this from not a laboratory but his garage.
What Makes Gygan Tick?
While it is certainly true that Piero’s creation is an impressive bit of robotics. It turns out the construction involved mostly Mecanno parts. Which is model construction kit system that was started in 1898 by Frank Hornby from Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Gygan was brought to life with the aid of a 28-volt battery, 13 electric motors, 170 valves, and over 300,000 parts. I must assume of course this is referring to the bolts and wheels from the Meccano kits. The Robot itself could walk, talk, and additionally accept verbal commands and acknowledge certain light rays.
If what the Cybernetic Zoo says is correct and it does have quite a few magazine articles and photographs to back up the claims. Gygan itself towered over other early robotic creations at over eight feet tall, not to mention it weighed over a 1,000 pounds.
Which might explain how it was in fact able to lift humans up and support them on his arms!
What Did The Future Hold For Gygan?
Well, not to get all dour but while Piero saw a future where his creation might be used to handle radioactive materials. Rather than fulfilling the noble dreams of it’s creator it appears that the robot instead found more use in advertising. From being used at a Ford motor company in Leeds to eventually finding itself rusting at an old aircraft museum.
In spite of this downward turn of events there is indeed a silver lining for the robot. About five years ago he turned up at an auction, where he sold for a total of 17 thousand pounds. Perhaps his new owner will help restore him to his past glory?
Now Take A Few Minutes And Marvel At Gygan In His Prime!
Friends, a couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to watch John Monkus repair Sega’s Out Run. If you are familiar with the Diary podcast or have visited the Facebook page. You already know John is one of two techs that keep the almost 137 vintage arcade cabinets in working order. Adam Jenkins as I’ve shared on the Facebook and Instagram posts is our newest technician. The arcade is thankfully popular enough to require the necessity of two such talented individuals. After all it’s not like 32 years ago when Sega released Out Run to the arcades that they thought it would still be used on a daily basis, right?
Out Run is a favorite at the arcade to say the least. It is in almost constant use from our younger Players. One of the reasons of course is that Sega designed this particular model to basically make you feel you were in an actual vehicle. While not quite like the Ferrari Testarossa Spider you drive in the game itself, it’s a nice design. Furthermore there were four different versions of the arcade game produced. Two of them were upright models with two others being sit-down cabinets.
Nothing quite as sad as seeing an out of order sheet stuck to any of the games. Like I mentioned though, with Out Run being so popular, the techs work fast. Now the truth of the matter is that John and Adam have lives outside the arcade. So for John it’s easier for him to drop in after the arcade closes. Did I mention that he just so happens to be the guy keeping the pinball tables operational at Pinpoint?
Yeah, not only is NW Arkansas lucky enough to have Arkadia but we also have an amazing pinball bar. It happens to be owned and operated by a former tech of the arcade, the esteemed Bo Counts.
Back to Out Run. We have the simpler version of the Sit-Down cabinet. Meaning while the game has the benefits of hydraulics to move the ‘car’ around. We do not have the molded plastic race car model. In addition as the arcade is Family friendly the hydraulics are disabled…no one wants a younger Player getting hurt.
Power To The Players…And John!
John had to pull out the beast of a machine a bit to get to the insides of the cabinet. Which prompted a couple of photos. One being what I believe is certainly a “Why are you just taking photos instead of helping?” look.
Rightfully so I might add. It also allowed us to see within the ‘cabinet’ itself. The game as you might imagine puts off a bit of heat which is why a fan is necessary to cool things off.
Or a behind the scenes look at the CRT monitor…that I am deadly afraid of. If you’ve not heard of my experiences with them in the past. You might want to check out the Space Invaders podcast.
John also pointed out some special mask ROMS he created for the game. Using the arcade’s ROM burner he was able to tweak what you might think is a minor detail. Such as listening to the exceptional music options at the beginning of the game.
Out Run is pretty well known not just for it’s gameplay but the music by Hiroshi Kawaguchi. My personal favorite is Splash Wave!
In the end it turned out the issue with the game was a low power supply. Kids climbing up and over probably jostled things. It took John a couple of minutes with his multimeter to locate the issue. Increasing the power was all it needed to get the game back in working order. Although while he was under the hood so to speak it allowed him to check out the game’s wiring connection, etc.
WithOut Run Operational It Was Time For John To Take It For A Test Spin!
Hey, I don’t think it will suprise anyone that one of the best things about working at the arcade…is the arcade games, right? I think it’s safe to say that John Monkus is also incredibly great at the game. Especially considering he has the high score on it at the arcade. Which is how he was able to beat the game by following Course C – giving him the genie ending.
A couple of weeks ago I shared my delight on discovering A History of Video Games In 64 Objects. It truly is proving to be a treasure trove of retro entertainment. Case in point the Magnavox Mini-Theater. Which was produced to help better educate the public on the Magnavox Odyssey. Keep in mind that back in 1972, consumers weren’t aware of what a video game was. Which is why the Magnavox Mini-Theater was produced to help drive home what a video game system was all about.
As with all of the 64 objects in the book by Harper Collins, they have been selected by curators of the Strong National Museum of Play. On the Strong’s official site you can check out Jeremy Saucier’s article on the mini-theater. Where he points out that this was indeed the first in-store video game merchandising display unit. As well as bringing up the fact that the mini-viewer certainly laid the way for future video game display units. Moreover think back to those wonderful Atari, Intellivision, and Colecovision playable store displays. It all started with that mini-theater!
The Magnavox Mini-Theater Was Not In Most Retail Stores.
Bear in mind what the mini-theater was designed for. To demonstrate to the public what the Odyssey could accomplish if purchased. However this meant of course it was shipped to only a select few Maganvox dealers. With the purpose in this particular case to ease what might be a burden on said dealers. Who in this case might be having some issues with wrapping their heads around the Odyssey in the first place. Furthermore with the mini-theater, the 8 mm film itself could make the sales pitch. I would say that makes quite a bit of sense, right?
As an illustration to how Magnavox was attempting to prepare the public they took some novel advertising avenues. I hope you are ready to have your mind blown. In an effort to go National with the first home video game they purchased air time with What’s My Line? With Product Manager Bob Fritsche as well as host Larry Blyden playing the system. And celebrity panelists Arlene Francis, Jim Backus, Soupy Sales, and Melba Tolliver trying to understand it.
I Hope You Are Ready To See The Magnavox Mini-Theater In Action!
This vintage promotional film really is exceptional. The Strong National Museum of Play digitized the 8MM reel so that future generations can understand it’s importance. I truly think you are going to get a kick out of this!
In Addition Here Is A Home Video Of A Former Employee Of Magnavox, Discussing The Magnavox Mini-Theater.
While you will indeed see a bit of the footage you have just seen, it’s nice hearing about the machine from an old-timer who was there at the beginning.
Folks, I’ve gone and done it! I located a board game I knew existed, mentioned, but could not find proof of…until a few days ago. Prepare thyself, we’re tackling the longest chutes and highest ladders of Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!
Previously, on Retroist…
Like everything else nostalgic that I cram into the deepest recesses of my brain, I never forgot the video and its animation. So imagine my surprise when, after thirty years, I found a short clip on YouTube after mentioning this game briefly in a past Retroist article. Alas, I didn’t find the full video until recently.
Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!
Milton Bradley released the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game in 1986. It wasn’t their first VCR-adapted board game, and it wouldn’t be their last. The VCR-based games (at least, this one and its Candy Land counterpart) were unique in that no reading was necessary, children didn’t have to push buttons on the VCR, and the video gave all the instructions one needed. Plus, it had the added bonus of turning gameplay into a fun story.
Chutes and Ladders contained four games/stories (two that relied on sounds, and two more that relied on numbers), each increasing in skill level. I actually played the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game, as it was the version I owned. I believe it was a birthday present for my fourth birthday. I’m not sure how long we kept it, but like any good nostalgic toy that wasn’t deemed such, it disappeared sometime during my childhood. I’m convinced it either met the trash can or a yard sale.
Either scenario is depressing, friends.
Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game: The Details
Meet Reggie and Bobby.
Everything is a competition in their world, and they turn this allegedly healthy competition into the basis of the first of four different “story games.”
What are those games, you ask (including theirs?)
Thrills and Chills
A game of numbers. Players put the number cards on the board, number side up. When players hear the audio prompt (a whimsical chime), they are to remove a number card from the game board.
In this story, Bobby and Reggie compete at everything (scariest ride, how much junk food they can eat), as their female friends Joanie and Sally Ann watch on.
The Golden Cuckoo
A game of sounds. Players put the picture cards on the board, picture side up. Upon hearing a sound effect prompt, they are to remove the corresponding card from the game board.
Bobby and his sister, Pam (who looks suspiciously like the one girl from the previous story), are baby-sitting their brother, Baby Todd. They discover stairs beyond their front door, and explore the amazing, psychedelic world beyond that door. It’s a world chock full of strangeness – a rooster, balloons, a horse, and a train.
Ricky and Nikki vs. The Space Dragons
Another game of numbers. This one involves Bobby and Reggie’s friends, siblings Ricky and Nikki.
On a snowy day, Ricky and Nikki draw pictures with their crayons. Amidst all this, a spaceship lands in their yard (where’s the snow??), and takes them to the stars, to a planet where they will help the aliens.
The Case of the Lost Choo-Choo
Another sound game. Sherwood and Dottie (two more of Reggie and Bobby’s friends), as “Sherwood Holmes” and “Dottie Watson” (wink wink, nudge nudge) are on the case of a lost choo-choo, but encounter many other sounds along the way.
Sherwood sounds like he’s channeling his inner Inspector Gadget/Maxwell Smart voice (one in the same, since Don Adams played both characters). They explore a farm, a carnival, store, street, car, and railroad crossing in search of the train. Will they find it? How many sounds can possibly heard at one time?
Since the purpose of this game was not giving kids an opportunity to operate the VCR other than start (and obviously stop) the video, Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game gave players ample time to setup the board via transition segments.
These segments involved eating ice cream cones the fastest, a cuckoo clock that will signal the start of the next game once the bird pops out, and a spinning robot.
This was the clip that helped me rediscover the game in the first place!
So now that you know the game exists, and understand its gameplay, how about we actually watch it in action?
Let’s Play the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!
Well, not really play, but we can watch the video…can’t we?
Work with me, folks. I don’t own the game anymore!
Upload via VCR Board Games
And If You Liked Chutes and Ladders…
You’ll love Candy Land: The VCR Game!
No lie, the conclusion of this video is an advertisement. They literally pad out the thirty-minute run time with a quick ad for Milton Bradley’s other classic childhood game given the 1980s upgrade!
Oh, and did anyone else notice during the first game that Reggie’s skin color changed, like the artists couldn’t agree on his ethnicity?
Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game came onto the market in 1986 (the original version had been around since 1943), but very little information exists on this version of the game. I’d say it was available at least through the mid-late 1980s. As I said, I received it in 1986 as a birthday present. I’m not sure how much play-ability we got out of it, but with four different segments, one could easily fill forty-five minutes between setting up, actual game play/resetting the board, and cleanup. Not a bad distraction for the kids, right?
The cool aspect of this game is not needing to read instructions, and only needing to hit play. However, after watching the video, I’m not entirely convinced that kids wouldn’t need to hit pause while resetting the game board. That’s the only part of this that bothers me. I’m thirty-five years old and of reasonable intelligence. And I don’t think the transition scenes give enough time to put all the cards back on the board. Another thing about the board – the chutes and ladders side. Does that seem superfluous to you? This isn’t traditional Chutes and Ladders, you’re removing cards based on numbers and sounds. Why do you need a “Chutes and Ladders” side…unless this is two versions in one? Because based on what I’ve gathered from the video, this version of Chutes and Ladders is nothing like the original game.
Nevertheless, the video is thoroughly entertaining. If someone handed this version to me and told me to have fun (again, I’m thirty-five years old), I would enjoy it. I don’t recall having the original version, just this one. And I’m glad I only had this one, I’m betting I had a blast with it!
But Wait, There’s More!
Chutes and Ladders wasn’t the only Milton Bradley game to get the traditional board game to 1980s VCR Game treatment. Candy Land also got the distinction. And guess what? I found that video too!
Didn’t think you were getting off that easy, did you?
Until next time, farewell from the land of tallest ladders and twisting, turning slides…until our next adventure!