Ever since the Atari Lynx, engineers have been cramming videogames into handheld hardware. Your phone is one. The Nintendo Switch is another. But what if you want to play “core” PC games in the palm of your hands? Sure, there are a dozen weird options, including the discontinued NVIDIA Shield Portable, but what if you want an option that’s a little more “supported” than something you buy off an AliExpress vendor?
Dell has a portable gaming PC in the works. The Concept UFO is an Alienware device with an 8-inch screen that will play everyone’s “favorite AAA PC titles” at 1900 x 1200 resolution. It even has detachable controllers, so you can play hunched over a screen or waggling two teeny slabs. It’s a concept (it’s right there in the name) so who knows if this is anything more than a CES2020 marketing stunt, but Dell and Alienware have been saying they’re ready to “take back” PC gaming through innovation. Shoehorning Nintendo controllers onto a PC is one way to do it.
The Watoga Underground is one of the new areas coming to Fallout 76. As part of the free Wastelanders update planned for the game, the city of Watoga features a giant underground parking garage. According to Bethesda, the automated garage is where the citizens of the city stored their vehicles to keep the streets free of curbside clutter. Watoga was something of a pedestrian paradise before the war, it seems.
“Watoga, The City of the Future, envisions a bustling, walkable metropolis where the streets are clear of illegally parked automobiles, traffic and hit-and-run accidents.”
This being Fallout, I can imagine all sorts of ways that Utopian vision went hilariously wrong. Like plastic bags that ship to customers instead of canvas ones, nothing is ever that easy.
Let’s kick off the new year with a hearty dose of disappointment. F-Stop, the secret Portal prequel game from Valve, is getting a multi-part video series via LunchHouse Software. F-Stop, or Aperture Camera, was a Valve internal project that generated a lot of buzz right after the original Orange Box was released, but never made it out of the studio. What happened and why is a mystery, but sharp-eyed fans noticed similarities in Superliminal, the puzzler from Pillow Castle that is ironically not on Steam at this time.
The team at LunchHouse has permission from Valve and is using the game’s source code to produce the documentary series, so this won’t get hit with a legal battle. Maybe we’ll see things from a new perspective.
Rick Brewster is probably best known for creating Paint.NET, the popular free alternative to Microsoft Paint, but in 1994 he was a 12-year-old kid taking his first steps into coding. Like many budding programmers of the era, Brewster learned his trade by dabbling in videogame creation via instructions in a book. One such creation was The Golden Flute IV: The Flute of Immortality. Thinking it good enough for a relative to enjoy, young master Brewster put his DOS adventure game on a disc and mailed it off to a cousin, never to be seen again.
Imagine Rick Brewster’s surprise when Macaw, a retro streamer, fired up The Golden Flute IV just before Christmas. Here was Brewster’s long-lost game, a game he only ever sent to one person, being played live on Twitch! All its primitive preteen glorious CGA graphics and simple audio back from the past like a “lost, drunken cat” finding its way home.
How did this happen? According to Brewster’s Twitter thread, his cousin cannot remember the details, but he was likely trying to do his cuz a solid and submitted the game to to a BBS where it was later collected by a publisher in the 1994 Cream of the Crop 5 compilation disc. From there, it wound up on FidoNet, and into the Internet Archive, where you can play it too.
There were at least three major animated versions of Christmas Carol made during the sixties and seventies, from the Mister Magoo adaptation to the half-hour production that won an Emmy for animation. Those versions were all made for television, though, and generally have that cheap, TV veneer about them; you can even tell where the breaks are for commercials. But in 2009, movie blockbuster impresario Robert Zemeckis brought a new, state-of-the-art 3D animated version of Scrooge and company to the big screen. With a $200 million budget, Zemeckis would have a truly special opportunity to make a Christmas Carol adaptation completely unfettered by production budget constraints.
In the mid-1990s, Sir Patrick Stewart (taking a break from his Captain Picard duties on film) embarked on a successful run on Broadway performing a one-man stage version of “A Christmas Carol”. The rave reviews for these shows apparently attracted the interest of Turner Broadcasting executives, who came to the actor with what must’ve been an alluring pitch. Would Stewart be interested in playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a new film adaptation for the company’s TNT network? A large production budget was promised, along with the participation of writer/adapter Peter Barnes and director David Jones, names that Stewart knew from the London theater community.
And a promise was made: this version would be the one that was “The most faithful film to Dickens’ original book ever created.”
By the fall of 1984, the CBS television network’s golden years were starting to fade. Norman Lear was out, and Falcon Crest, Knot’s Landing, Airwolf and Dukes of Hazzard were in. Oscar-winning actor George C. Scott’s career was on the wane, too; the glory days of Patton and Dr. Strangelove a distant memory. As for English director Clive Donner, about the best that can be said was that he was simply doing hack work. When he wasn’t helping to crank out TV movies, he was churning out feature film nonsense like “The Nude Bomb” or “Old Dracula”.
That’s an inauspicious creative foundation on which to build the best filmed version of A Christmas Carol. Yet somehow, that’s exactly what happened.
There are two ways to look at Scrooge, the 1970 Christmas Carol adaptation that recast the Dickens classic as a musical. One view is to wonder why in the world this classic story needs choreographed musical numbers and what is sometimes only barely on-key singing by the lead character. The opposing view is a more direct appeal: when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, what fits the mood of that sequence any better than Ebenezer singing and dancing through the streets of London?
After the jump, they’re going to sing again, aren’t they?
Charles Dickens is something of a national treasure in the UK, an artist with words whose prose manages who manages the neat trick of being respected academically while remaining popular with the public; “A Christmas Carol” is one of his most admired and beloved works. So in post-war Britain, it was a bit galling that the 1938 movie adaptation of the novella was a hit and accepted as somewhat definitive. That Reginald Owen version was a distinctly Hollywood thing, a blazingly professional production of the treasured story, but one that captured little of the heart and grit and soul that Dickens had poured into his original writing. 16 years after the first UK attempt at A Christmas Carol and slightly more than a decade after the MGM version, British studio Renown Pictures was ready to reclaim Scrooge back to his merrie olde roots.
The Age of Empires developers have a holiday surprise for everyone. It’s an official Yuletide graphics asset Winter Celebration mod for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. It’s a free in-game download that will turn the ground snowy, change spears into candy canes, and snowballs become weapons of mass destruction. You have until sometime in January to download it, at which point the team will remove the mod from the listing. Once you have it, you can enable it from within the game and play in winter whenever you want.
My own natural inclination in film appreciation is an almost knee-jerk mistrust of mainstream Hollywood. I associate the movie business – particularly when the studio system reigned supreme – with making films as product. Box office profits were priority one in in the rising industry of the 1930s and 1940s; artistic merit often seemed an accidental occasional by-product. With all that being said, however, sometimes the sheer, brutal competency of a major Hollywood studio has its advantages, too.
Star Wars: TIE Fighter is the best dog-fighting action space sim ever made. Fight me for it. But there was a time before 1994 when TIE Fighter wasn’t a sure thing. Larry Holland and LucasArts had an earlier hit with Star Wars: X-Wing, but this was a game from the bad guys’ point of view! The disposable Imperial pilot, no less. Would it actually sell? We laugh about that question now, but imagine trying to market that game.
PC Gamer dug into the history of how the game was made, and one of the often forgotten bits of TIE Fighter’s success was that its demo was pressed and marketed thanks to Dodge Neon. Yes, that pokey little car that hit the streets in wacky colors like “Nitro yellow-green” and “Lapis Blue” along with other questionable choices.
“I wasn’t in much of a bargaining position; I didn’t have a whole lot to give in return, other than they get to use Star Wars in their advertising. For the Dodge Neon, which was nothing like a sci-fi or futuristic car. It was from Michigan. There was nothing sexy about it; it looked like a family car. But it was a big win, because we couldn’t afford to distribute 400,000 demos on our own, or do a TV commercial.”
Imagine Grand Admiral Thrawn’s personal Neon. It would likely be the pimped-out one with the headlight hoods and chrome accents.
If “A Christmas Carol” movies have become part of a worldwide seasonal ritual these days, the first “talkie” version of the Dickens book is an inauspicious beginning. Watching it today, it’s hard to imagine that movie versions of the story would ever become much of a big deal. The 1935 adaptation – setting a bit of a precedent by being called simply “Scrooge” – is hands-down the funniest of all the various versions of the movie we’ll review here. Unfortunately, all of that comedy is unintentional.
After the Jump, the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Christmas Carols
Since I was a wee tot, I’ve been enthralled by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his 1843 five-chapter novella, and particularly its filmed adaptations. I’ve seen them all. “Canonical” versions true to the short story, loose adaptations, short cartoon versions, versions with Mickey Mouse, versions with Muppets, versions with Mr. Magoo, and even alternate settings that kind of work. An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler is almost good. 1989’s Scrooged, on the other hand, is a noisy, soulless mess. But over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing up the seven major filmed/animated versions that try to hew closely to the original story.
But first, let’s discuss the points that should be in any version of A Christmas Carol, as well as some important bits that are usually left out.