Armchair Arcade TV: Episode 2 - Mancopter

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Hello again, everyone, I'm back with Episode 2 of "Armchair Arcade TV", this time on Datasoft's 1984 closet classic, Mancopter for the Commodore 64 (C-64). The majority of technical issues from last episode - which were mostly related to a dying hard drive - have been resolved, plus I've gained another episode's worth of experience on Adobe Premiere Elements. I have a proper HD camera coming soon, so that may make it for Episode 3 or 4, improving video quality of the host segments, and after that I'll address the audio issues. In any case, I'm much happier with this episode and look forward to future productions. The full episode transcript is below the video.

Begin Transcript
(Host intro)

For this episode, I'll be taking a look at closet classic and one of my personal favorites, Mancopter, for the Commodore 64. Mancopter was published in 1984 by Datasoft, which was founded in 1980, and released games primarily on the Radio Shack Color Computer, Atari 8-bit, Apple II and Commodore 64, though the company survived until around 1988, releasing titles for a variety of other computer platforms along the way, including the 16-bit Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. While Datasoft was most famous for being one of the first publishers of licensed computer games, be it arcade classics like Sega's Zaxxon and Konami's Pooyan, or notable entertainment IPs like Bruce Lee, Conan, and The Goonies - and even a text and graphics adventure, The Dallas Quest, loosely based on the famous prime time soap opera - the company also had a small, but notable selection of wholly original releases, Mancopter among them. While many of their games were multi-platform, Mancopter only saw release on the Commodore 64, making it all the more special.

Mancopter, programmed by Scott Spanburg, with graphics by Kelly Day and music by John A. Fitzpatrick, is best described as a mix of a racing game and the 1982 arcade classic from Williams Electronics, Joust. Joust, which we discuss briefly in Chapter 19 of our book, Vintage Games, features a simple, but compelling, oft-copied gameplay mechanic of needing to be higher than your opponent in order to knock them down, very much like its medieval namesake.

As for Mancopter, let's refer to the ad copy on the back of the box for the set up for the game: (quote)

Staring ahead, the only thing visible is an endless sea of blue. Suddenly, the cannon thunders and you're off! Pedaling as fast as possible, you soon realize there's more than endurance involved as you thread your way through the other skillful manpowered craft. Far above the deep ocean you will meet mischievous pelicans that can supply you with the precious fish you'll need later in your journey. Pressing on through giant clouds, menacing lightning storms and mysterious mangroves, you'll see sights of unbelievable beauty and equal danger!
Along the journey you'll befriend a gentle whale who will help you when in distress, and seek the favors of friendly mermaids.

But danger lurks just below the ocean's surface where giant squid and vicious sharks roam- never take your eyes off the world below for too long!

As the skies begin to crowd with other villainous mancopters, it will be a test of your strategic flying skills to maneuver your craft into the winning position. Mancopter was co-developed by Nichibutsu, the arcade people that brought you Moon Shuttle and other fine titles. Climb aboard for a wave of surprises!

Features:

Superb Scrolling Animation
Increasing Levels of Difficulty
New and Surprising Characters at Every Turn
(end quote)

Much like Joust, your pressing finger will really get a workout as each press causes the mancopter's rotors to spin and lift your character higher. Pushing your joystick left will cause your copter to accelerate and move forward, while pushing right will cause it to decelerate and move backwards, though you can only move as far back as 3/4's of the current screen. The obstacles are plenty, including lightning and other racers, and it's important to collect fish along the way to give to the whale for when you fall into the sea. You can also snatch fish, which are really the game's equivalent of lives, from the beaks of passing pelicans that already have a fish, or pick one up from a friendly Mermaid. If you're out of fish - due to falling too many times or having them all captured by sneaky pelicans - when you fall into the water you'll be eaten by a shark and it's race and game over. Not only do you need to keep a supply of fish, but you're also trying to keep one step ahead of the clock. If time runs out, it's also game over.

Some of the other racers will attempt to bump your mancopter which will also cause you to fall if they do it when they're higher than you are. Naturally, you can do the same to them, but you get more points for passing them rather than knocking them out of the race. The exception are the gray mancopters, which are worth lots of points for downing them, and are very difficult to stay ahead of anyway.

Though for some reason it was mentioned for quite some time on Wikipedia that there was no finish to the race, there is, with a nice animated sequence similar to the one at the start of the race. Unfortunately, with my lack of recent playtime and likely diminished skills from my childhood, I can't show it to you. In fact, even with using two different joysticks, my hand got really, really tired, as not only is there the button pressing motion, but maneuvering the joystick is fatiguing as well. On a positive note and somewhat unique, there is an option to play with left- or right-hand controls, which is generally meant for rotating a standard Atari-style joystick's layout.

As you can see, beyond just the opening and ending sequence, the animated touches throughout the game really help seal the deal. As you can see and hear, while not necessarily stunning, the audio-visuals are particularly impressive for 1984 when most developers were still learning the ropes of the platform, with nice variety to the scenery and obstacles and lots of simultaneous animated objects. Music and sound effects play at the same time, and the rather powerful musical score can be turned off so you just have sound effects, like I did for most of this video. There's even a pause feature. All this, and amazingly, after an admittedly long load common to the platform, the game resides completely in the Commodore 64's memory, which probably explains how the game was available on cassette and disk. Again, this shows programming mastery few were able to achieve, let alone on a system that was still a year or two from its prime. This game was lavished with obvious TLC that too few others bothered with.

Why this game was never ported to any other platform or the idea taken and run with by other developers is beyond me. Luckily, it's well emulated by most Commodore 64 emulators on a wide range of platforms, so it shouldn't be too hard to play the original.

Even if you never reach the finish line, you're sure to have fun, so hop on the nearest mancopter and see what you think!

(Host outro)
End Transcript

If you guys have any ideas for future episodes, let me know!

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Matt Barton
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Simply amazing! You really

Simply amazing! You really did have a surprise in store for us, Bill! I'd love to hear in detail how you pulled off that awesome mancopter intro and outro!

MC is also one of my favorite C64 games; severely underrated and stupidly obscure. I had a great time with this game and also remember an end sequence. You might want to try using the emulator's save /save state features to get to the end, so you can take breaks and reload if you get too far behind. I've used this technique to see the end of some of my other favorites such as Green Beret.

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Bill Loguidice
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Just me on our gym's

Just me on our gym's exercise bike in front of a green screen (though my olive pants messed things up a bit--note for the future). ;-)

I'm capturing straight from the SX-64 in this case. I still don't have a C-64 emulator set up on a computer. I'm sure with some practice I could reach the end again, but man, were my hands getting tired!

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Mark Vergeer
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Nice episode Bill - neat intro!
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Just me on our gym's exercise bike in front of a green screen (though my olive pants messed things up a bit--note for the future). ;-)

I'm capturing straight from the SX-64 in this case. I still don't have a C-64 emulator set up on a computer. I'm sure with some practice I could reach the end again, but man, were my hands getting tired!

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Bill I don't believe your technological explenation. You MUST have a real mancopter :)
So on the sx-64 are the colors right?

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Bill Loguidice
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SX-64
Mark Vergeer wrote:

So on the sx-64 are the colors right?

It's interesting you mention that. On the SX-64's video out (monitor out), it outputs a nice, pure composite video and audio signal, which is what I captured in the episode via my Archos device. So to me, those are the reference video levels. On the actually SX-64's internal monitor, no matter how I tweaked all the dials, I could not get a great match, and in fact the text is not particularly sharp (particularly evident on the BASIC screen). So probably a combination of a relatively cheap internal monitor and its small size does not make it a reference level display. With that said, I used a 13" TV for ages on my C-64, so I'm sure that wasn't 100% either back in the day, just like any system using RF output. It's only in the modern era that we're spoiled by seeing what the system actually outputs rather than any limitations or quirks of the display. It's actually quite nice seeing a pure signal, as you can make out additional details in the graphics.

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Rowdy Rob
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Fun...

Cool videos, Bill. I recently saw a gameplay video of Mancopter, but it had no commentary. As such, I didn't get the big deal about the game. With your commentary, it all made sense to me.

The "special FX" were cool and fun, and the "whoa" at the end made me laugh.

The actual commentary was very intelligent and informative. And very serious.

If you're open to some ideas, I would like to see you add more of your humor to your commentary. While your posts and videos on AA are generally very serious, when you do, on rare occasion, go for humor, you are a laugh riot and a rapier wit! You're the funniest guy on AA, easily! I can't remember what recent post it was, but it had me rolling, and even Matt was raving about the humor! You also demonstrated this in your "Atari 2600 reviews" video, with the endless parade of 2600 clones and peripherals.

If you wanted to create truly "serious" videos, you wouldn't have added the fun "special FX" intro and ending to your video. You should go with this instinct, in my opinion. I'm not saying you should make "comedy" videos or make a fool of yourself, but a slight dash of "Bill's wit" here and there would add to the entertainment, and we don't see enough of this side of you. You're holding back on us, dude!

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Bill Loguidice
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Humor

Humor is a subjective thing, and I certainly prefer more subtle than overt in that regard, though perhaps too subtle at times for my own good. For instance, in AA TV Episode 1 (the technical disaster one thanks to the hard drive), I inserted the comment about the Route 16 developers showing restraint by not ripping off the hyphens for its name from Rally-X and Pac-Man. The "humor" for me for Episode 2 was mostly the absurd green screen opening trying to mimic mancopter. I did the outro with my "flying" in space to further highlight the absurdity. Again, subtle stuff, though I get what you're saying about the narration. These are by no means meant to be intellectual treatments, other than the AA level of general professionalism (i.e., not working "blue", trying to be informative, trying to be respectful of the subject matter, etc.).

I can certainly try to spice the nararation up a bit and think Episode 3 will be a good, though risky opportunity to try that (no guessing what I'm doing next, as it's probably too easy!). I have a cutesy thing planned for episode 3 (in fact, I had this planned before I decided on AA TV itself - for a proto AA TV), though it's less funny than it is just trying to inject a bit more life into the intro stuff. Nevertheless, like I said, there is a potential for some humor in the narration for that, but I have to also be careful about being offensive given the subject matter.

I was pleasantly surprised by two things so far. One, that both videos were approximately the same length, and that was without anything even remotely resembling planning in regards to timing (I just wrote what I wanted and let it be as long as it needed to be), and two, was the timing of the "whoa" on the green screen in the outro of Episode 2. I obviously recorded the "whoa" with a plan to do something with it, but the planet flying close by turned out to be a pleasant coincidence. As I've said, even though I did what I did back in 2004 with the Atari 2600 reviews and was quite pleased with that, that was a very different era, very different technology (I was working off of miniDV tape and firewire!), and very much a long time ago. I've wanted to get back into this for some time, and this will now force me to do it. I've experimented with various things here and there (like "The Goodnight Gamer"), but I think this is format/formula I want to stick with and refine.

I'd also like to add that without Matt doing what he's done with Matt Chat, I probably wouldn't have been so inspired. I hope to someday be able to tie our efforts together, perhaps with other like-minded individuals (meaning those that make themselves crazy by trying to "produce" something rather than something more casual). And if you appreciate "wit" you should see what he stuck in the script for our film, Gameplay, which I'm working on some scene matching on lately. Good stuff there.

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback and the patience, as I'm being very honest in saying that I hope to improve each episode and - as is rather counter to my typical mode of operation - don't mind putting out episodes with clunky elements early on. It's the best way to learn and improve, while still providing watchable content. My new video camera came, though I'm still waiting on the power supply, and I still need to work on the audio mixing and recording in the first place. After another episode or two, I can then start to refine my "voice" more, as in the personality I wish to project.

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Matt Barton
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Thanks, Bill. I know I've

Thanks, Bill. I know I've said it many times (too many times, I'm sure), but it's such a shame we have to live so far apart. The mind boggles to think of what we could accomplish working together on this stuff!

I see no point in offering criticism at this point; to wit, look at early episodes of Matt Chat to see how far I've evolved. During those early episodes I was learning so much that really any criticism was just overflow from my own new ideas and refinements. I still have plenty of ideas for improvements, though it is getting harder to implement them. For instance, I thought it'd be cool to have different camera angles at work when I'm recording my monologues, but that turned out to be very difficult in practice. I also grew much more comfortable in front of the camera; once the self-consciousness wore off I was better able to focus on content and getting the "emotion" across. I try to think of greeting a best friend and seeing him rather than a camera. I think it has actually made a difference. My theory is that if I look pleased and excited to see the "viewer," then the viewer will feed into that and feel better about himself and the content of the show. I definitely see that with the mancopter bit; you look very pleased with your own cleverness and that is contagious--appeals to the nerd in all of us when we're able to pull something like that off. You have a way of being "smug" about things that is not offensive but rather fun and even inspiring. The viewer wants you to be smug! I remember the older video where you pulled out all the different contraptions and ended up with "Why not the real thing?" I bet I wasn't the only one thinking, "hell, yeah!"

Also, I don't feel comfortable offering criticism since I am still a rank and raw amateur myself. It'd be like asking KFed for advice on hiphop. Besides obvious things you're likely already aware of, the only area that seems to drag a bit is the narration. I get distracted a bit because you are reading from a script. Not necessarily a bad thing, but you might try working from rougher notes (bulleted lists or outlines work well) and improvise more. I tend to do this and record segments over and over again, sort of like working through drafts of an essay. I usually keep the 5th or 6th take, never the first. I guess ideally I'd make a list of things I felt I "had" to mention and improvise the rest. I use "improvise" loosely here, since as I said, I tend to do bits over and over again until it feels right (sometimes dozens and dozens of times). Of course, another approach is the "spicing" route, just inserting more humor, anecdotes, funny voices (or just more emotion) to liven it up. Obviously, a lot of this will fall into place naturally as you do more videos.

I tried working from a script once and abandoned the idea quickly. Just didn't feel natural to me. I'd rather stumble/blunder through a few takes until the thing came together than try to plan too much ahead of time.

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Bill Loguidice
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Well, I'm going to make the

Well, I'm going to make the "script" thing my thing for the non-host segments, so I'm pretty much set on that idea (though I'll be tweaking everything around that and all suggestions are welcome and appreciated). I know I can improve my acting during the reads, but I take that as a challenge. I like having a transcript to pass out at the end of the thing, and goodness knows I'm not going to transcribe the stuff after the fact if I do it more spontaneously. Anyway, even I see the dragging a bit in the episodes, but I have some plans for Episode 3 (another experiment), so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully everyone hangs in until the formula finds itself. I'm having fun with these and hopefully that will keep up, because they sure do take a lot of thought and time to put all the elements together, regardless of result.

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Rowdy Rob
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Mancopter comments
Matt Barton wrote:

I see no point in offering criticism at this point; to wit, look at early episodes of Matt Chat to see how far I've evolved.

First of all, I meant no offense in my last comments that seemed to be interpreted as "critical" of Bill's "Armchair Arcade TV" episode, Mancopter.

On the contrary, "AATV: Mancopter" was quite interesting and well-done, and it was certainly surprising on several levels, and Bill is absolutely on to something with these videos.

Despite what Bill said, the video "didn't drag" at certain spots. I was captivated throughout. One of the surprises of the video was finding out that "Mancopter" was released in 1984. Learning that, my opinion of Mancopter raised substantially! Out of context of the time period, Mancopter looks like an ordinary, regular-joe game for the Commodore 64, although still impressive in some aspects (like multi-parallax scrolling!). But as a 1984 game, that changes the perspective drastically! With my limited experience with the C64 during that time period, I recall little to nothing during that time period that looked as impressive as this, graphically! Keep in mind that I (and my friends) were Atari 8-bit loyalists at the time, and would occasionally attend Commodore 64 users group meetings for a good laugh at their inferior games (to our Atari minds). Occasionally, there were a few impressive games, but for the most part, we were smug in our "superiority."

I never saw "Mancopter" back then. That would have definitely poked a hole in our smug Atari armors! Yes, that one fact alone made this episode fascinating. Up until then, I think the most amazing things I saw on the C-64 were "Space Taxi" and "Forbidden Forest," which were really not all that amazing in our eyes.

Bill's "Armchair Arcade TV" series has TREMENDOUS potential! Can you think of anyone else on Earth who has such a vast arsenal of retro-oriented software and hardware to showcase in an intelligent, in-depth fashion? Certainly neither Matt or Mark can compare in this area, which is no slight to either guys, of course. (I hope you guys know what I mean, and do not interpret that as criticism, because it isn't, period.)

There was already a significant production-value improvement to AATV between the first and second episodes. Bill is a guy who learns fast.

Bill strikes me as a tough-as-nails guy who has stone-hard cajones, and can take a little criticism in stride. His reaction to my apparent "criticisms" confirms this, although I don't feel I was being critical. In fact, re-reading my own post ("oh my God, was I criticizing his video???"), I don't think it was critical so much as limiting the praise of the good points and adding my two cents as to playing to his strong points. Bill seemed like he was going for a light tone with the intro, then it was very serious through the commentary, then back to lighthearted "outro." I suspect that as Bill settles into a groove, AATV will settle into an entertaining "style" that works, much like "Matt Chat" has. And the gaming world, and especially the name "Armchair Arcade," will be the better for it.

Matt Barton wrote:

I definitely see that with the mancopter bit; you look very pleased with your own cleverness and that is contagious--appeals to the nerd in all of us when we're able to pull something like that off. You have a way of being "smug" about things that is not offensive but rather fun and even inspiring. The viewer wants you to be smug! I remember the older video where you pulled out all the different contraptions and ended up with "Why not the real thing?" I bet I wasn't the only one thinking, "hell, yeah!"

I agree, and that was my point. Bill has a "dry" humor style, and that is a great asset. Use it! AATV has the potential for valuable, historical viewing, and Bill knows this. That's what I was trying to say. Not over-the-top clown-nose stuff, but Bill being Bill. How can you go wrong with Bill being himself?

Maybe I'm being too defensive, and of course, way too verbose (brevity is not my strong point!), but I was not being critical in my previous post. I just think Bill should go with his strong points, and one of his is his sense of humor.

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Bill Loguidice
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Thanks, Rob, as usual no

Thanks, Rob, as usual no offense taken. I LOVE feedback, good or bad, and I've never known yours to be bad. I think "feedback" is a much better descriptor than "criticism" for anything any of us writes to each other. I'm always honest and I know Mark and Matt are too, so it's great we have friends like you who can be the same.

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