Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Video Game #15: Xevious (1982)
In retrospect, this is just a really good scrolling shooter where you (again) shoot down hordes of invading aliens intent on conquering Earth. (This seemed to happen a lot in the early ’80s.)
At the time however…
Xevious came out at the very peak of the first great wave of video games — Atari even produced TV commercials announcing its arrival (unheard of at the time) — and incorporated every lesson Japanese and American companies had learned up until then about what made a successful and addictive arcade game. It was fun, challenging, rewarded successful hand/eye coordination, and its oversized cabinet came with booming speakers that bathed the player in an array of mesmerizing, cascading sound.
Xevious also introduced a number of concepts — such the idea of defeating a “big boss” to win the game — that have been thoroughly incorporated into other game designs over the last 30 years.
What I remember most though is the strange joy my brother and I felt whenever we walked into the Space Port (the arcade at the Colonial Park Mall) and didn’t see anyone playing Xevious. The game was hugely popular when it first came out, and for the longest time you had to queue up to play. It was in the prime spot at the front of the arcade entrance, and you would hover about hitting lesser games, trying not blow your precious horde of quarters on something you really didn’t want to play while waiting your turn. So if, after riding your bike all the way out to the mall, you turned the corner into Space Port and saw the machine was free, you knew it was going to be a really good day.
Speaking of free, you can apparently now play Xevious here online — no quarter, and no queueing, needed.
Monday, January 7th, 2013
Album #50: “The Sound of Sight” — Ray Martin & His Orchestra (1964)
Does anyone remember stereo? I’m not talking about an audio element now so common it’s often dropped from the list of product features — I’m talking STEREO! Stereo as THE selling point of a record, stereo as a noun, stereo as a pickup line (“Hey, wanna come back and check out my —”), stereo as actual entertainment in and of itself. As sales of home sound systems took off in the 1950s and ’60s, record companies put out dozens of albums specifically designed to show off the proud new owner’s speakers. Some tracks where as simple and silly as a recording of a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth, while others recreated the experience of listening to marching bands pass by on the street. My dad had several of these records, and when we were kids my brother and I would lay on the floor in between the speakers and marvel at the stereo.
The most ambitious of these concept albums was “The Sound of Sight” by composer Ray Martin. Martin, a producer at EMI and the British equivalent of Henry Mancini, had written songs for numerous movies and TV shows in England, and used his experience to great effect in this epic LP. Dubbed “Music For An Experiment in Imagination,” “The Sound of Sight” was the soundtrack to 9 fake movies, each a different genre, each telling a story complete with sound effects and dialog — and all in STEREO! Westerns, tearjerkers, costume epics, film noir … Martin even included a cartoon short detailing the misadventures of a cat & mouse. No mere gimmick, many of the themes Martin penned were as good if not better than many actual soundtracks.
Finally, The Sound of Sight came with what is arguably the greatest album cover ever* — a fold-out wrap-around by cartoonist extraordinaire Jack Davis, with hundreds of characters exploding into view. You could look at this thing for hours and still come back to find little details you missed. (It was this cover, along with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, that made me want to become a cartoonist.)
You can check out the album’s blazing film noir take below — with the awful pun “Hoodunit” as its title— and a large version of the cover here. See you in the pictures shows!
*I will accept votes for Herb Albert’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights,” but that’s it.