Classic Game Room: The Rise and Fall of the Internet's Greatest Video Game Review Show
Those of you belonging to the l33t core of gamers, who have grown up with just about every major console ever released, would certainly have no trouble reminiscing over the pivotal moments in gaming history; from the halcyon Atari days in which space centipedes and jousting ostriches ruled the pixel-y entertainment world, through to the Sega and Nintendo wars that were being waged between a talented blue hedgehog and a fat moustachioed plumber. Nostalgia can often get the better of us though; we refuse to let go of our rose-tinted spectacles, and only when faced with the games of old (ahem, XBOX Live Arcade) we sometimes taint our fondest recollections.
But for best friends Mark Bussler and David Crosson, retro is where it’s at, or at least it was between 1999 and 2000 when they struggled to put out two to three per week internet shows, with the emphasis on reviewing their favourite classics and taking a look at several other titles post and present. Classic Game Room was a show by games lovers for games lovers, coming at a time when the internet was a bit more interesting than it is now. The intent was to review games earnestly and honestly, while simply having fun along the way. In Classic Game Room: The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show we’re taken on a journey which explores its humble beginnings through to its unfortunate demise.
After a really fun introductory sequence, mixing various stock footage with funky super sounds, director Mark Bussler, who since making Classic Game Room has been at the forefront of Inecom Entertainment Inc., takes us through a series of specially selected episodes, which are interspersed with his telling of the show’s tale. It immediately hits you how nice a chap Bussler appears to be; he’s sincere about a show he helped create on a shoestring budget of $50 a week, while still pointing out the potential that the show had when tackling a niche market. And after seven years he’s clearly sentimental when discussing it. There are moments when he’s almost visibly moved by a heavy nostalgic wave before collecting himself and carrying on, which is perfectly understandable given that it was a huge part of his life for such a short period of time. As later mentioned in the accompanying commentary track though his friend David Crosson doesn’t appear for this retrospective feature, which would have made for a good exchange of thoughts. Nevertheless Bussler is an engaging enough speaker to hold our attention in-between segments, detailing the key points of the show’s genesis and the reasons for its downfall.
Obviously the key as to why Classic Game Room works as well as it does is because of the comradery between Mark and David. They don’t play any roles other than themselves. And that’s the appeal - they get through to the everyman by presenting themselves as they are. There are no false pretensions here as we can see on screen; they’re out to have fun the best way they know how - i.e. drinking lots of beer and playing games, and as the show progressed over the months they managed to find a perfect ground for themselves to take off. Humour plays a massive part in all of this, and while occasionally it doesn’t always hit its target, or David and Mark drag a joke out for a tad longer than needs be when playing up to the camera, it usually proves to be witty, with the pair making the most of their highly observational skills. Because of the latter some of the reviews presented here are real gems. Seaman for the Sega Dreamcast is an obviously easy target for its name alone (and yes, our presenters aren’t shy of jumping on the bandwagon for a spot of seamen related quips) but David and Mark take it beyond this, realising its sheer crappy potential by mocking it over its horrendously poor voice communication software, until they simply want to destroy the human-headed fish and never touch the game again. Likewise Frogger delivers plenty of laughs, with observations such as “Why does the water current go left and right at the same time?” and “How come a frog is killed so easily when touching the water?” They even use car toys at one point to stage a ridiculous chase sequence (because they had a $100 budget for that week) for the purpose of their Sega GT coverage, which is otherwise one of the least interesting reviews in the collection. The most bizarre game of choice though is undoubtedly the movie licensed Alien for the Atari 2600; bizarre because it’s a shocking and shameless rip-off of Namco’s classic Pac Man. Sigourney Weaver is digitally realised as a Jet Set Willy clone, whose mission is to collect pills in a maze-like environment while three not-very-scary aliens chase after her. I wish I was making this up. Ah hell, here’s proof!!!
Gotta be right up there with E.T. I imagine…
The most interesting review overall though, due to its impact on the show, is their take on Rare/Nintendo’s Perfect Dark on the N64. This was their first review that had actually received sponsorship from a games publisher. As Mark Bussler mentions, it could have proved to be a great turnaround for the show that was then facing serious financial difficulties, mainly due to poor revenue at its host site USAlive.com. But what do they go and do? They carry on as themselves and tell it like it is. They could have sold out, and who knows, maybe they’d have really taken off after this, but you gotta hand it to them, they stuck to their guns. So they review the game and get the positives out of the way before pretty much damning the rest of it, including lambasting the marketing campaign which charged a fortune for the cartridge and expansion pack, in addition to goofing off by showing extended clips as they fire off rounds of arrows into victim’s various body parts and watching them lodge in place (but hey, that’s still fun to this day). Needless to say ol’ Ninty weren’t very enamoured with their exploits and Classic Game Room never enjoyed advertising since.
Moving on then, they even add parodies to the show. Duck Hunt is mercilessly challenged by Classic Game Room’s own virtual reality “People Hunt”, in which their blonde-haired friend seeks entertainment by coaxing passers by and shooting them with a sniper rifle. Not very PC these days and it would no doubt get them into trouble, but it’s all harmless at the end of the day. Their X-Men review for the Sega Genesis also provides the means for them to not only geek out over X-Men, but also chat about their own super powers, which mainly consist of throwing beer bottles and swearing. And as an extra treat they even provided an all out self-parody in which Mark and David are shown to be consumed by fame, with their egos running rampant and threatening to destroy their relationship - as we see in mockumentary behind the scenes footage; David contemplating his life on the toilet, along with Mark’s dependency on cocaine (fake of course) are rather fun highlights.
It’s not really easy to review these kinds of productions in fear of spoiling them too much, as most of the fun is in the viewing. After all this is essentially a collection of enjoyable and undemanding reviews which passes one’s 100 minutes easily enough.
Inecom’s presentation here is about as good as you can expect. The disc loads up with brilliantly cheesy black and white stock footage of two deep sea divers, playing out to the tune of some classical piano, before suddenly bursting into funk-a-delic groovy-ness. Yea, that pretty much sets the tone alright.
For those curious the full list of games covered on the disc are as follows:
Duck Hunt - NES
X-Men - Sega Genesis
Joust - Atari 2600
Sega GT - Sega Dreamcast
Frogger - Atari 2600
Missile Command - Playstation
Seaman - Sega Dreamcast
Perfect Dark - N64
Alien - Atari 2600
Yar’s Revenge - Atari 2600
Inecom’s presentation here is about as good as it can be, barring the non-progressive transfer which results in combing and ghosting artefacts, along with slight aliasing. The docu portions of the film is recorded on digital tape and is transferred from an original 1.85:1 ratio, given that we do see black bars. But considering that the original internet episodes were all shot in 1.33:1 it was never going to be an option to provide any kind of anamorphic treatment. During the interview segments and location re-visits the image clarity is crisp, with well balanced colours, while naturally, due to the budget constraints of certain episodes, the quality goes up and down, yo-yo stylee. In saying that, however, it’s no bad thing. The episodes themselves are clear and ten times better than their crummy low-res broadcasts back in the day, while many of the game clips shown are taken from VHS sources. As a result you’ll see a bit of degrading, lines etc, but nothing at all which will affect the overall enjoyment of the piece.
As for sound we get Dolby Digital 2.0. There’s little to say other than the most important thing - the dialogue - is presented clearly, with no distortions. The fun music is equally clear and lively and that’s about all you can expect from a really low budget production put together by two guys who barely had enough time on their hands as it was.
Mark Bussler’s audio commentary, while not substantially different, offers a little more in the way of certain details than what we get in the film itself. He elaborates on his idea of wanting to make a film version of Classic Game Room, which looks at the ultimate failure of a small show, before talking about various aspects of its production. He mentions how he approached retro games and how people in general love to revisit them, which obviously gave the show a good hook to run with. While most of the discussion is about the show itself there are moments when he talks about putting together the feature: recording new footage, editing old tape masters and re-assembling bits and pieces to cut down some of the show’s original review lengths. We learn more about his love for the old Atari machines and above all the Sega Genesis, in addition to some of his thoughts on retro gaming in comparison to some of today’s high end products.
Most of the other extras contained on this disc hark back to Mark Bussler’s original video blogs which were promoting the release with clips from the show, while keeping tongue firmly in cheek Video Blog on Editing System (3.56) is an amusing look at the editing process which is carried out on the revolutionary Tektronix 4010-1. Video Blog and Berzerk Review (4.20) talks about transferring old tape masters to digital and deciding on how to edit out certain parts, while also chucking in an extra treat in the form of a game review for the Atari 2600 Berzerk – “The gift that keeps on giving”. Video Blog on Sharks (2.57) offers up an overture of stock footage, following the exploits of two deep sea divers who fight a shark and then edit a film. Playing out like a silent movie it mixes orchestral music with inter-titles, the latter of course being played for laughs. Finally Video Blog on Termination (3.45) is a sombre look at Tektronix’s suicide in the face of better editing tools.
Rounding up the disc extras are trailers for other Inecom releases: Expo: Magic of the White City, Horses of Gettysburg, World War I: American Legacy and Classic Game Room.
Classic Game Room was obviously such a huge labour of love for Mark Bussler and David Crosson and it’s that love which shines the brightest during this fun look back at a show that’s, well, perhaps not all that well known outside of a tiny cult circle. I certainly hadn’t heard of it before receiving the DVD, but then I guess that just shows what a total n00b I am.
For anyone who loves retro gaming, this is a pleasant show to pick up, and best of all you can feel as if you’re partaking with the lads in mocking or simply enjoying some of the world’s best loved and bizarre games. If I’m a little disappointed then it would have to be over a lack of further coverage, which begs the question Mr. Bussler: Will there be any more releases? I mean for heaven’s sake, you show off hilarious clips of Kasumi Ninja and Ninja Golf and don’t provide proper reviews. Come on man! An while I’m hijacking my own review - if Microsoft are reading this, which I’m pretty sure they are ‘cause Bill loves my work: Get Ninja Golf on marketplace, STAT!
This review was not brought to you by Ninja Golf.
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