Caution on Craigslist

As a child, my mother and grandmother warned me about the dangers of deals that looked too good to be true. Initially, the inexperience of youth prevented from understanding their wise words, but as I aged, that advice never left me.

During my junior year of high school, I began building a computer as a replacement for the Acer desktop (our family’s first personal computer) my mother purchased several years earlier. As I neared the end of my PC building project, I searched for the final remaining piece of the electronic puzzle: a video card. I desired a 3dfx video graphic card for years, but ironically, 3dfx went out of business the same year of my computer build, making it difficult to find one of its cards in brick-and-mortar stores.

With few affordable options left in the brick-and-mortar retail market, I tried something new: eBay. Mind you, this was back in the early days of the eBay and eCommerce in general, so there were plenty of folks green like me. The words of mom and grandmother echoed in my head as I searched the website for deals, and sure enough, I caught wind of a scam. Someone who seemingly sold 3dfx cards for a dollar was only selling information on how to buy said cards. Thankfully, I avoided that seller’s nonsense and eventually found a good deal on a Voodoo card. However,that experience soured me on eBay, and it took almost a decade before I purchased something again on the site.

Since returning to eBay, most of my transactions go smoothly but problems do occasionally occur, mostly the result of poor descriptions or bad packaging. Fortunately, eBay does feature policies that make it easier for refunds in such cases. Sometimes these policies do get abused by unscrupulous people, but I’m glad eBay keeps these policies in place. Last year, however, I broadened my eCommerce horizon by searching Craigslist for some potential deals. Outside of one decent yard sale, the pickings often remain slim by my (cheap) standards, but one type of ad constantly caught my eye:

Beware.

Rarely do I browse Craigslist without seeing these types of ads. All of them promise video game products for incredibly cheap prices, and many of them say the seller is located in downtown Chicago. Initially, I almost fell victim to these ads, but on the advice of my parents (yes, I still consult them) I backed off and am glad I did. After doing some research, I found a 2016 Reddit post on the matter, in which user “illegalsandwiches” discovered how these ad scams work by using a decoy email address when contacting the poster of one these listings. What follows is illegalsandwiches’ account of the experience:

Ignore the “cash only” portion of the sale, the verbage is usually taken from another ad (as well as the picture). When you reply to the email address, they will tell you that they are too far away from you and they can ship the item next day if you Paypal them. You pay them, and just never get the item. I had replied to one a long time ago that said that they only take MoneyPak cards for payment. One of them replied with some type of form that I needed to fill out with my name, age, birthday, SSN, “as he was selling this for his business” and needed this information for his records.

Sound shady enough? Upon reading Craigslist’s tips on avoiding scams, the first thing appears on the list in bold letters is “Deal locally, face-to-face.” Immediately following that tip (also in bold type) is “Don’t extend payment to anyone you haven’t met in person.” Obviously, the requests of both posters violate Craigslist tips, so common sense is key here. No matter how good a deal looks, if it seemingly asks too much of you, pass.

Upon seeing these ads, do yourself and others a favor by flagging these listings and admonishing anyone you know who comes across them. Hopefully, we can dissuade people from posting these dubious listings and avoid future scams. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women and their accomplishments across the globe. I was going to write an article about exemplary female characters in video games in observance of the occasion, but ultimately decided against it (for now). Instead, I’ll discuss the two most important women of my real life: my mother and grandmother.

Although I don’t have one of my own, I imagine raising a child is an exercise in expenditure. Not only is it taxing monetarily, the mental cost of making sure a child has just the basic needs can be a giant task in itself. As a youth, I often didn’t appreciate the price things, and when I look back I realize how blessed I was to have two people who were willing to buy me the things that I desired, even when money wasn’t ready available. No matter how hard times became, I never wanted for anything. A picture of me next to the word “privilege” in a dictionary honestly describes my good fortune.

My video game fandom began in my youth, most likely after I played the original Nintendo Entertainment System at a cousins’ place. I instantly fell in love, and all I wanted for Christmas that year was the gift of Mario. My mother and grandmother knew this, and with some help from family and friends, that wish came true.

Over the years, I received more video games as gifts. Birthdays, Christmas, even one Children’s Day on which I received a Game Boy. Video games are expensive; even when you factor in “Greatest Hits” discounts for later releases of games, buying these things are often not cheap. The one thing I regret now in my later years is the amount of trading I did with the games they bought me. I gave up so much of those gifts, all because I refused to realize the value of them as gifts.

I get it now though. Throughout my life, my mom and grandmother always supported me. If I needed anything, be it a hug, an extra dollar, or a much needed reality check, I could count on them. No debt I could ever amass would be greater than the good will I owe them for everything they have done for me. You think I’m a bit spoiled? I won’t disagree with that idea. In their opinion, my mom and grandmother will usually say, “I’m well loved.” Queens, they are.

Superheroes are perhaps at their most popular in mainstream media now. You can scarcely look on television or the internet without seeing something related to comic book hero. Fortunately for me, the superheroines in my life aren’t fictional. Thank you mom and grandmother, for always being there to save the day.

Until next time. I hope you had a happy one.

Peace & Pixels

Been a Long Time…

My goodness, it’s been a while. The last time I posted on here was back in September of last year, when I covered the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. This year, I’m going to make an attempt to blog more, either about video games or photography (perhaps both, which would be best).

I’ll see you all out there on the blogosphere soon. Hopefully, very soon. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Super Mario Bros. at 30

Oh we have a good one for you today, folks. Honestly, I think we have the best one of all time.

Legendary.

Legendary. Photo comes from Wikipedia

Thirty years ago to the day, Nintendo released its seminal action side-scroller Super Mario Bros. in Japan for its Famicom video game system. A critical and commercial success (the game would go on to sell over 40 million copies), Super Mario Bros. made the character of Mario a household name and helped cement Nintendo as one of the enduring titans of the gaming industry.

Developed by Nintendo’s R&D 4 studio, young designer Shigeru Miyamoto directed, produced, and (along with Takashi Tezuka) co-designed SMB. Koji Kondo composed the game’s catchy soundtrack, which has been covered by rock guitarists and marching bands.

The game’s premise presents a simple case of search and rescue. As titular hero Mario (or his younger brother Luigi in the two-player mode), you fight to save Princess Toadstool from the clutches of the dragon-like creature Bowser (also called King Koopa). The game takes players on a fantastical adventure through several different levels (known in-game as “Worlds”) which range from the sunny, greenery filled stages to the bowels of dungeons. Along the way, you pick up a number of power-ups to help Mario and Luigi in their quest, such as the Magic Mushroom (which doubles their size and durability) and the Fire Flower (which enables them to shoot fireballs). Trippy? Absolutely. Fun? Definitely.

Super Mario Bros. is the game that made a lifelong gamer out of me. It was the first video game I ever owned (thanks, family!) and the first one I beat. Without question, my interest in video gaming persisted largely because of this side-scrolling classic.

Thanks for the memories, Nintendo! You’ve given us thirty good years of Mario, and here’s hoping for thirty more. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Treasures: The King of Fighters ’94 Turns 20

We’ve got a good one for you today, folks. As some of you may know, yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of SNK’s classic arcade fighting game, The King of Fighters ’94!

2080504-kof94_logo

Happy Birthday! Pic comes from giantbomb.com.

Released in Japanese arcades for SNK’s Neo-Geo MVS hardware on August 25, 1994, The King of Fighters ’94 is the first game in SNK’s long running King of Fighters series. Unique for its time, KOF ’94 features eight teams consisting of three fighters from around the globe. Matches consist of battles between two teams of three fighters, instead of the more common two rounds between two fighters matchup. Matches are over when one team has all of its fighters knocked out first.

The game’s plot centers on Rugal Bernstein, a notorious criminal who holds the “King of Fighters” tournament in order to seek out the world’s best warriors. Of course, he does this to have a good ‘ol evil time, but is opposed by heroes such as Kyo Kusanagi and the Japan team, as well as brothers Terry and Andy Bogard (of Fatal Fury fame) from the Italy team.

KOF ’94 features characters from a number of SNK’s franchises such as Psycho SoldierArt of Fighting, and Metal Slug. This was an innovative practice at the time, and Sega and Nintendo both would later follow suit with Fighters Megamix and Super Smash Bros. respectively. However, some characters, specifically series hero Kusanagi and villain Bernstein, were created especially the game. If you’re interested, you can see some of these characters in the intro to KOF ’94 (respect to Ferdaus Ahmad Zaki for the upload), which is embedded below.

KOF ’94 was a hit upon its release, leading to the start of an enduring franchise of video games that had a new title released each year for several years. The series has been successful in merchandise (including comic books and action figures), and has even been adapted into to an animated series and live action movie.

I remember the first time I saw KOF ’94. It was in an Aladdin’s Castle arcade room at Harlem & Irving Plaza here in Illinois. Upon first glance, I wasn’t exactly sure what the game was. Although it was a 2D fighting game, it didn’t look like Street Fighter (KOF’s sprites were much bigger) and it didn’t look like any of the Mortal Kombat games either. However, from the moment I saw Kyo’s hand burn his invitation to the KOF tournament in the game’s intro, I became intrigued. It may not have been clear exactly what I was witnessing, but it was something serious. After some hesitation, I finally decided to give the game a try.

I hated it.

Perhaps it was my familiarity with Street Fighter that prevented me from initially enjoying KOF ’94 , but most likely it was due to my lack of fighting game skill. Still, Street Fighter provided the foundation for what I knew about fighting games, mostly because I had not played SNK’s previous fighting games often (I may have played an Art of Fighting game once at the most).

Some of the things I learned from Street Fighter– namely the quarter-circle forward punch command for that game’s “Hadoken” special move– actually worked in KOF ’94, but only with certain characters. Since I was unfamiliar with the game’s mechanics, I spent much of the match just jumping up and down while kicking. If you hadn’t guessed, the game’s A.I. whooped me.

Despite the rough beginning, there were things about the game that I did appreciate, first of which were its graphics. Like many SNK games, KOF ’94 had colorful, large, detailed 2D character sprites, really some of the best of its time. Furthermore, the game had great sound effects, especially evident in the hits characters delivered. Every blow sounded like it came out of a martial-arts film, providing a great sensation of damage.

It wasn’t until my adult years that I learned to really appreciate KOF for what is, though ironically enough, that appreciation came through a Capcom fighting game, 2001’s Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Cvs2

Pic comes from snk.wikia.com

This game was a collaborative effort between Capcom and SNK, and included characters from both companies’ games. CVS2 features a tutorial I used to take time and actually learn many of SNK’s characters, an effort that served me well in playing the later games in the KOF series.

That about does it for this segment. For a nice tribute to the KOF series, do check out Game Art HQ’s site for a number of great illustrations by fans of the series. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Mad Dog and Big Hurt

The Chomp’s been neglected due to my inactivity, but in light of some recent events I had to at least get this post up. As I typed much of this between last night and this morning, the Cubs were en route to a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies in a 16-inning matchup, the longest game played in the history of both franchises. It was a bright spot in season of rough edges, as both the Cubs and their South Side rivals, the White Sox, have struggled with losing records this year.

However, there was some big news this past Sunday which likely made fans of both teams proud. On that day, former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas both entered the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Mad Dog” and “Big Hurt” spent their early years in the majors with the Cubs and Sox respectively, and as a kid it was a pleasure to watch them both turn into the legends they’ve now become. Congrats to Maddux, Thomas, and the rest of the 2014 HOF inductees!

From L to R: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, and Joe Torre. Photo comes from CBSMiami.com. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

The Cubs have been my favorite baseball team for all of my life, and Greg Maddux was a big reason for that. A player of slight build, many colleges passed on Maddux initially and once he declared for the Major League Baseball draft, some teams questioned his potential. Fortunately, Cubs scout Doug Mapson saw potential in the young pitcher, and the team would draft Maddux in June of 1984 (the year I came into this wacky world). Maddux would make his Cubs debut two years later in September.

Despite winning only eight games in 36 appearances throughout his first two seasons, Maddux got it together his third season in the league, winning 18 games. This began a streak of 17 straight seasons in which Maddux won at least 15 games. A pitcher with impeccable command, Maddux used his superior baseball IQ and pitching mechanics to overwhelm batters despite not possessing consistently powerful stuff. Over his 23 years in the league–which included stints with the Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres– Maddux would tally 355 wins (8th all-time) 18 Gold Gloves (the most of any position player), 4 Cy Young Awards, a World Series Championship (with the Braves), and a career 3.16 earned run average.

Despite all of the pleasantries about sports, this indeed is a video game blog. Over the course of their prolific careers, Maddux and Thomas appeared in several baseball video games, and Thomas even had his own title (more on that later). As a child, I spent much of my attention towards baseball on Cubs fandom, and despite having some good players– among them Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson, the latter two are also in the Hall– the Cubs were just not championship bound. The team did make it to the National League Champion Series once during Maddux’s initial years with the team (in 1989) but lost 4-1. So what’s a boy to do when his team doesn’t win yet he wants them to? No, he doesn’t switch teams, he plays as his favorite team in a video game!

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Eighty-three MPH strike. Mad Dog did that a lot. Picture is of Super R.B.I. Baseball and comes from wn.com

Whenever I played baseball video games I almost always started out playing as the Cubs, no matter how bad they were (and they were often bad). Rarely did I find the patience to tackle a 162 game regular season in a video game, but I did manage to get the Cubs to a World Series victory in one title, 1995’s Hardball 5, released by former game studio Accolade. It took a lot of simulated games and a ton of fixed stats (the game allowed one to push every player’s stats to the max if he or she chose) but it happened! Of course, Maddux was on Atlanta’s roster in HB5, but IT HAPPENED!

You probably think me pathetic right now. You would not be alone, so it’s all good.

My feelings towards the White Sox have shifted over time, going from a fringe supporter to fanatic detractor. However, I’ve been mostly consistent in my respect for former South Side Hitman Frank Thomas.

Drafted by the White Sox in the 1989 amateur draft, Thomas made his big league debut for the team the following year in August. A massive man at 6’5″ 240 pounds, Thomas possessed biceps that seemed sculpted out of marble. One of the game’s premier power hitters, Thomas lived up to his “Big Hurt” moniker by belting 521 homers, which is 18th all-time. Thomas wasn’t all about power, though. A capable contact hitter, the two-time American League MVP finished his pro tenure with a 1997 AL Batting Title and a career .301 batting average. During his 19-year career, Thomas played with the White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Oakland Athletics.

During the 1990s, Big Frank’s popularity was great enough that he was able to get his own video game. In 1995, Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball was published by now defunct Acclaim Entertainment and developed by Iguana. A baseball simulator, BHB emphasizes recreating some of the actual mechanics of baseball and features some of the first usage of motion capture technology in a baseball video game. Initially released on Sega’s Genesis and Game Gear systems as well as Nintendo’s Super NES and Game Boy, the game was later released on DOS, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn the following year.

Yeah it’s loading… loading up some hurt! Picture comes from mobygames.com

Like many baseball games of its era, BHB carries a license from the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA), allowing it to recreate over 700 real baseball players of its time. The game features a number of gameplay modes– among them Exhibition, an All-Star game matchup, Home Run Derby and Season– and all 28 baseball teams and their home stadiums. Since BHB was not licensed by MLB itself, the game only features generic teams known by their city instead of their actual team titles.

In the DOS, Saturn, and PlayStation versions of the game, the stadiums are rendered in 3D graphics, making it one of the first baseball games ever to utilize 3D graphics technology. Some footage of the PlayStation version of the game (uploaded by YouTube user VideoGameQuickClips) is embedded below.

I actually never owned a copy of BHB, but I did have a demo of it on DOS at one time. It wasn’t a spectacular game by any means, but I don’t remember it being terrible either. For the sake of the old school, I may see if I can pick up a copy of it on eBay.

That does it for this segment. Again, congrats to all that made it to the Hall this year! Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Edit: Added some info on Thomas’ draft history.

Tuesday Treasures: Leon Scott Kennedy

After years of squandering, I recently finished Resident Evil 4 for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve actually owned the game for a few years but didn’t bother finishing it because I didn’t like it initially.  However, I decided to beat it mainly because I had never finished a Resident Evil game before and partly because I’m a fan of its protagonist, Leon Scott Kennedy, whose name bears a strong resemblance to film actor Leon Isaac Kennedy (a favorite of mine as a kid), who is apparently a minister now.

Upon doing a little research while finishing RE4, I noticed that Resident Evil 2, the game in which Leon S. Kennedy debuted, turned fifteen in January. Since I normally try to stay on top of these things on the Chomp, today I’ve decided to celebrate RE2‘s birthday by taking a look at Kennedy’s appearances in video games over the years.

But before we delve into the history of Leon, here’s a little Resident Evil 101 for the unfamiliar. Created by video game designer/producer Shinji Mikami and published by Capcom, Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in Japan) is a survival horror series that made its debut on the Playstation in 1996. The story centers on a viral outbreak which first starts in the fictional U.S. residence of Raccoon City, turning its population into zombies. The source of the outbreak is the T-virus, which was created by the mega corporation Umbrella. For a while, Umbrella (and its former acolyte, Albert Wesker) were the primary antagonists of the franchise, attempting to control the world while being opposed by series heroes such as Jill Valentine, siblings Chris and Claire Redfield, and of course, Leon S. Kennedy.

Created by the trinity of video game designer Hideki Kamiya, the late Resident Evil 2 writer Noboru Sugimura, and designer Isao Ohishi (who apparently based Kennedy off of his bloodhound), Leon S. Kennedy was designed in contrast to the aforementioned Chris Redfield, the battle-tested soldier from the first Resident Evil game. This was done because the Resident Evil creators decided that RE2 should have a protagonist who was inexperienced with harrowing situations. Thus, Kennedy was introduced as a rookie cop who’s first first day on the beat happened just as the viral infection within Raccoon City was reaching critical levels. How’s that for first day jitters?

Kennedy’s garb in RE2 is a SWAT-style outfit, consisting of a blue bodysuit with large black (or dark navy depending on the render) elbow pads and armor plating on the shoulders, the side of the arms, and the chest. On the chest plating and on the back of the bodysuit are the letters “R.P.D.” (for Raccoon City Police Department).

 

Kennedy has two other unlockable costumes in RE2, which can be obtained by using the Special Key to open the locker in the Dark Room at R.P.D. headquarters. The first costume consists of a baseball hat, purple tank top, dark green pants and black boots.

The second costume is a casual look with a leather jacket, blue jeans and brown shoes.

In the Nintendo 64 port of RE2, there are two exclusive alternate costumes just for this version of the game. First, is the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) costume, which is based off the uniform worn by the team that investigated the viral outbreak in the first Resident Evil game.

Second is the “casual” outfit, which consists sunglasses, a white shirt, a black vest, black pants and black shoes. A very 1990s look indeed.

Interesting of note, the marketing campaign for Resident Evil 2 included commercials directed by horror film legend George Romero, whose seminal film Night of the Living Dead has helped to keep zombies firmly entrenched in modern horror fiction and popular culture. The commercials starred the late Brad Renfro as Kennedy, and Adrienne Frants as Claire Redfield.

 

Kennedy’s cop look was carried over in the 2001 Game Boy Color exclusive Resident Evil Gaiden, a spin off of the main series. In this title, Kennedy’s R.P.D uniform sports the same classic colors, but the styling is a little different. The black armor is held together by white bands and the R.P.D. letters are much smaller.

 

Leon would make his return to consoles as a protagonist in Resident Evil 4. No longer a greenhorn cop just trying to survive, Kennedy now is a sharp-tongued, acrobatic one man army with impeccable combat skills. His look had changed as well; the SWAT-style police garb gave way to a bomber jacket and a streamlined combat outfit including cargo pants, boots, and fingerless gloves. A knife sheath (not seen in the picture below) is attached to the left front shoulder area of Kennedy’s shirt.

 

Still, traces of Kennedy’s rookie past can be found in Resident Evil 4. After beating the game once, an updated version of Kennedy’s R.P.D. uniform can be selected as an alternate costume. In contrast to his original police uniform, this version of Kennedy’s uniform is darker in tone and features the knife sheath carried over from his default outfit.

 

The third outfit available to Leon is the “Gangster,” which is unlocked after completing the mini-game “Assignment Ada”. This outfit consists of a black suit, black fedora, and black and white shoes.

 

Kennedy appears in 2009’s Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, which tells some of the story in between Resident Evil 2 and 4. Kennedy’s R.P.D. uniform again makes another appearance, and is similar in style to the version of the uniform that appears in Resident Evil 4.

Pictured below are the other costumes from Darkside Chronicles. From top to bottom they are: “Agent,” (basically his RE4 costume) “Detective,” and “Casual.”

Kennedy’s sports his R.P.D. uniform again in last year’s Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. This version of the R.P.D. uniform is nearly identical in color to the original, although its styling is similar to the uniform in RE4.

Also released last year was Resident Evil 6, the latest chapter in the series’ main storyline. In this title, Kennedy has a few different outfits. The first is a casual outfit with light grey slacks, a black shirt, black leather jacket with two white stripes on either arm and black shoes.

 

The second costume (used in the game’s China mission) is a blue shirt with a leather zip-up tactical vest, dark slacks and black shoes.

 

In the mini-game “The Mercenaries,” Leon can sport two pirate outfits. A red one:

 

And a blue one:

 Finally, there’s Leon’s 32-bit costume, which is basically his R.P.D. uniform rendered in an old school polygonal look.

That does it for this edition of Tuesday Treasures. For more information on the Resident Evil series, do visit the Resident Evil Wikia, which most of the information for this article (including many of the images) comes from. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels