Monday, June 23, 2014

Make Your Own Fake Video Game Covers with the Atari 2600 Game Label Generator

It's no secret that many products rely on flashy packaging to boost their appeal to consumers, although some rely on it much more than others--such as a video game console with primitive graphics, a console like the Atari 2600.

Anyone who was around during the Atari 2600's arrival on store shelves a few decades ago will remember the artwork that went with its early games. Like the box art that was used to promote obscure, low-budget movies in VHS rental shops, the cover art samples on the boxes of Atari 2600 games were much more imaginative and colorful than the games themselves. Naturally, that was by design. According to Susan Jaekel, one of the artists hired by Atari to produce cover art for its games, "I never played the games, I was totally clueless about that. ... As I recall, I don’t know that they really gave me much direction. They just would tell me what the game was about, sort of loosely, and it was up to me to come up with a concept." (Go to the "How Atari box art turned 8-bit games into virtual wonderlands" article on for more details about Atari's approach to video game cover art.)

With that in mind, I decided to take a trip down memory lane to Atari 2600 games that never were. Thanks to Label Maker 2600, the online Atari 2600 game cartridge label generator, I followed Atari's style of putting together pictures and artwork with suggestive sounding titles to stoke the fires of imagination (before they are inevitably extinguished by blocky graphics, clunky sound effects and rudimentary game play). Click below to see my personal inventory of Atari 2600 games that don't exist--and probably never should. What game labels can you come up with?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Legends of Cthulhu Action Figures, Brought to You by Warpo!

When it comes to toy collecting, never underestimate the power of nostalgia. Even though companies such as Sideshow Collectibles can produce multi-jointed, highly-detailed action figures of popular characters from comic books, movies and TV shows, there remains a subset of collectors who prefer the simpler approach that toy companies used in the late '70s and early '80s. Back then, the dominant paradigm for action figures followed the approach used by Kenner for its Star Wars toy line: 3 and 3/4th inch figures with simple sculpts and five points of articulation (neck, shoulders and hips). Such a style has been resurrected by companies like Super7 and Zica Toys as a way of appealing to toy collectors who grew up during the '70s and '80s; many of these retro action figures are even sold on blister cards, exactly the way they were packaged back in those days.

Whereas most companies are using pre-established licenses from the '70s, '80s and '90s to help sell their retro figures (e.g., Alien, Nightmare Before Christmas, Six Million Dollar Man, etc.), a new Chicago-based company called Warpo is using a Kickstarter campaign to launch a set of four action figures based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft under the "Legends of Cthulhu" brand name. However, Warpo isn't just making retro action figures based on Lovecraft's work; they hope to create a toy line that meticulously fits the look and feel of what it would have been like had a toy company in the '70s or '80s decided to make a toy line based on Lovecraft's work. In other words, Warpo doesn't want to just produce figures based on the approach used by toy companies three decades ago; it also wants to recreate the experience that went with collecting such toys during that era.

Warpo was founded by three self-proclaimed "die-hard" toy collectors--Bryan Katzel, Tommy Baldwin and Eric Lefeber--and their official Warpo site shows just how committed they are to recreating the retro feel in their products. Warpo's tagline is "Making Yesterday's Toys", and the opening paragraph on the company's site says this: "In 1981 an unknown toy company consisting of a rag-tag crew of rogue creatives embarked on developing what would come to be known as the most ‘bitchingest’ toys of forever. Unfortunately that never happened ... but we wished it did. So we’re making it happen now."

The Warpo Kickstarter page goes into much more detail about the Legends of Cthulhu toy line, including profiles of toy industry veterans that Warpo recruited to aid in getting the look and feel of the line accurate for the kinds of toys that were released during the '70s and '80s. Even Warpo's pitch video opens with what a Legends of Cthulhu toy commercial would have looked like if one were made back in 1981. So far, Warpo has over 900 backers, and bonus exclusives such as "army builder packs" and limited production figures like "Conjured Cthulhu" have been added as investor incentives. There's even the possibility of a Legends of Cthulhu coloring book!

Personally, I think that this is an awesome idea and I wish Warpo lots of luck in seeing this project through. If I were a much more avid toy collector, I'd be stocking up Remco's Universal Monsters action figures and the Lovecraftian giant monster figures from Hasbro's Inhumanoids line in order to go with the Legends of Cthulhu action figure set.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Horrors of Malformed Toys: A Gallery of Sofubi Grotesqueries

I recently came across an advertisement for a toy figure produced by Karz Works that is based on the killer plants from the 1963 sci-fi thriller, The Day of the Triffids. Triffid replicas are impossible to find outside of resin model kits, so I'm glad to see that this classic movie monster is getting the toy figure treatment that has already been given many times over to the likes of Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster. However, one word in the ad stuck out because I had no idea what it meant: "sofubi". In the context of the ad, the Triffid figure is described as a "sofubi vinyl figure", but what that said about the figure itself was a complete mystery to me.

I looked far and wide on the Internet for clarification on the term and the most succinct description I could find is this (which I found on Wiki Answers): "Sofubi is a Japanese style of making toys and sculptures using soft vinyl. It is becoming popular among toy designers in America and Europe." Upon further research, I found that the term "sofubi" refers to both the material (the soft vinyl) and the aesthetic to which the material is applied (a particular kind of toy/sculpture design). From what I can tell based on what I've seen so far, the sofubi style emphasizes a bold usage of color and distorted, imperfect details (e.g., a huge head with a tiny body and stubby limbs). The sofubi style appears to complement the Japanese caricature style known as "chibi" (a.k.a. "super-deformed").

Sofubi can be applied to a variety of subject matter, and I've even seen sofubi figures based on characters from DC comics and the Star Wars movies. The most bizarre and gaudy examples of sofubi I've found are those that depict monsters. In honor of these engagingly eerie eyesores, I've assembled a gallery of sofubi monster figure pictures (courtesy of pictures I found on the site, a great source of news about modern sofubi merchandise). Click below to get a glimpse of sofubi at its strangest.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Seeing a Classic Creature Feature on 3D Blu-ray

Last weekend, I finally got to see the 3D Blu-ray release of the 1954 horror classic, Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was originally released as part of the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray set back in late 2012, but this is the first time I got to see it on my 3D TV.

Seeing Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D has been my personal holy grail of sorts. I was born after the 3D film boom between 1952-54, so all I had to go on about these films was what was written about them in books and magazines. Some stills from the films were printed on paper in anaglyph 3D, but that was it. Since the arrival of DVDs, the 3D version of Creature was only available as anaglyph or field sequential bootlegs from a Japanese 3D laserdisc that was released back in the '80s. Naturally, the Creature 3D Blu-ray blows the bootlegs way, way out of the Black Lagoon’s waters.

Watching a 3D creature feature from the '50s in the way it was meant to be seen might not sound like a big deal, but it certainly felt like it. I had to keep reminding myself throughout the movie that none of the 3D effects were done through CGI; the 3D photography was amazing, and director Jack Arnold and his crew did it without the aid of any computers (the later film restoration and digital conversion process aside). Furthermore, because the filmmaking aesthetic of the '50s didn't involve flashy cuts, my eyes didn't have to adjust to sudden and rapid shifts in perspective over and over again. True, the monster suits in Creature are amazing to see simply because of how well made they were made, but you'll only see half of what this film accomplished if you see it in 2D.

Unfortunately, only four of the '50s 3D films have been released so far on 3D Blu-ray: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dial M for Murder, House of Wax, and Man in the Dark. Not all of the 3D films from this era are classics, but at their best they represent a kind of cinematic ingenuity that's rarely seen anymore. For these titles not to be released on high-definition 3D Blu-ray--the home video format that brings out their best features--is an absolute shame.

Film noir in the third dimension, currently unavailable on 3D Blu-ray.

Friday, June 6, 2014

NECA Teams Up with Dark Horse Comics for SDCC 2014 Predator Action Figure

As part of Dark Horse’s reboot of its Predator comic book series, NECA will be releasing a limited edition figure based on the series’ first story arc “Fire and Stone” during the upcoming San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). The figure is based on a character that has been nicknamed “Ahab”. According to the description on the NECA site, "In his prime, Ahab took deadly trophies from countless worlds, his scars a proud record of glorious battle. Now an elder of his tribe, he leaves small game to the next generation as he looks to his final hunt. Following a lifelong obsession, Ahab searches for a creature more formidable than any Predator has ever faced before."

Like other figures in NECA's Predator line, the figure will be 7 inches tall with over 25 points of articulation and accessories that include a removable mask and backpack. Only 5,000 of these figures will be produced, so avid Predator fans will have to stay on their toes if they want to add this impressive item to their collections. Click here for more details about NECA's new Ahab figure.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting Lost in Nintendo Land

Even the most frugal video game geeks can't hold out forever.

As of last weekend, I am an official Wii U owner. I got a refurbished deluxe Wii U set with the Nintendo Land game included. Yes, I am aware of some of the setbacks that Nintendo has been experiencing with its latest console but from what I've personally experienced so far, the Wii U faithfully follows Nintendo's overall ethos of keeping video games approachable, creative and--most importantly--fun.

What has changed for the Wii U (other than the large gamepad, of course) is the conspicuous shift towards online interaction with other Wii U owners. Sure, there were options for online interaction in the previous Wii console, but the Wii U eagerly reminds you that you are part of an expansive, international social network every time you active the console. Read on for more thoughts about Wii U's approach to social networking and why it may appeal the most to those who normally wouldn’t like online gaming.