Monday, November 30, 2009

Game Show Board Games: Blockbusters

Transformers aren't the only thing I collect.  I'm also proud to have a collection of quite a few game show board games.  This is, in part, an outgrowth of my love for game shows in general, but I also started collecting these in part due to a series of Thanksgivings and other family gatherings where we played these games together.  A number of them came from my grandmother, herself a game show fan for obvious reasons.

The Blockbusters game comes from Milton Bradley, and has a copyright date of 1982 on the box.  Although I was first familiar with the board game through a copy my grandmother owned, the one I have didn't come from her, but rather is something I located a number of years ago on eBay.  The show itself ran on NBC from 1980 to 1982 and starred game show legend Bill Cullen.  The show was revived in 1987 with Bill Rafferty, but to this day I've never seen an episode of that version.  Blockbusters sought (in some way) to answer the question "are two heads really better than one?" and featured a solo player competing against a team of two players in a game that combined trivia knowledge and strategy.

The board game more or less faithfully duplicates the mechanics of the actual show.  Players compete on a game board of connected hexagons, each one containing a different letter.  Players capture hexagons by answering trivia questions with answers that begin with the letter for space.  For example, if the letter "R" was chosen, a question might be "What 'R' is the first name of Supreme Court Justice Bader Ginsburg?" (answer: Ruth)  A correct answer changes that hexagon to the player's color.  The "solo player" is assigned red, and seeks to create a path of connected red hexagons from top to bottom, a task that can be completed in as few as four moves.  The team of two players tries to complete a path of white hexagons from left to right on the board, which requires at least five moves (the extra space needed in an effort to balance out the existence of two players on the team).  The first player/team to win two games would win the match.  The 1987 version of Blockbusters eliminated the "two heads are better than one" bit, and alternated top-bottom and left-right so that no player (both players being "solo players") was disadvantaged by needing an extra hexagon to win (with a tiebreaker match played on a 4-by-4 board), but I never really felt that this worked especially well with hexagons.  (Of course, I've never seen that version, so what do I know?)

One significant difference between the board game and actual show regards the bonus round, called the "Gold Run" (originally "Gold Rush."  Don't ask me why they changed it.  Anyway, the board game calls it "Gold Run.").  After winning a match, the player (or one member of the team, in the case of a team of two players) would try to connect a path from left to right (using gold hexagons for correct answers) within 60 seconds.  In the show, most of the hexagons in "Gold Run" would have multiple letters, denoting multiple-word responses (such as, for "WUD," "What Bugs Bunny often says."  Answer: "What's up, doc?").  However, the board game only gives you three reversible boards, all containing single letters, so you have to use the same questions as you would for the regular game (using the handy question book provided).

It really must be emphasized that these "differences" are really very minor, and this is a very enjoyable game to bring out to play with friends.  I've also used this game with students when tutoring, since the trivia format lends itself well to whatever subject is at hand.  Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people I run into these days have ever heard of the game, which obviously diminishes the nostalgic fun felt by those of us who remember Blockbusters from the 1980's.  Still, I think that the game play itself is quite solid, and easy to learn and enjoy for anyone willing to give it a shot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Optimus Prime Target Gift Card

It's Black Friday!  On this day where folks are either madly beating down the doors of their favorite stores... or steadfastly avoiding them because of the crowds, it seems appropriate to do something rather different for the weekly Transformers feature.  And so, I present to you the Optimus Prime gift card!

In 2007, when the live-action Transformers movie was coming to theaters, Hasbro and Paramount were doing promotions pretty much everywhere.  Target joined in on the game by having a transformable gift card created.  Lovingly crafted by one of Hasbro's own designers to look (more or less) like the movie's version of Optimus Prime, this action-packed gift card actually stands on its own in robot mode!  Now Optimus Prime not only helps save the universe from evil, but he can help you purchase that Christmas present for Tommy!  (Well, maybe not that Tommy.)

But this is a gift card, right?  You don't want to carry this robot around in your pocket, do you?  (OK, perhaps you do, but bear with me)  With just a few easy flips, this robot can turn into... a rectangle!  (Oooooh!   Aaaaah!  I can tell you are all in awe of the card's majesty.)

Now, the truly astute among you must be thinking by now "Hey!  If this is a gift card, how is Target supposed to know how much money is on it?"  Naturally, the ingenious designers behind this unprecedented device have come up with a solution.  Merely turn the card over, and you can see where a bar code and a series of numbers have been located.  Using this information, any Target computer anywhere can instantly determine how much money has been made available for future purchases.  And if that's not enough, you can even add more, either by telling your friendly neighborhood Target cashier to do so, or by doing it yourself at (as the card itself helpfully informs you in the fine print on the right).  Armed with this information, you may now venture forth into the Christmas shopping season!  Good luck!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Are Superman!

I should note that, although this parody bears more than a passing resemblance to "Ode to a Superhero" by Weird Al Yankovic, I actually wrote this nearly a decade before that song was released (and I think that the 1995 edition of Logos, Montreat-Anderson College's literary magazine, would prove it, but even though I was the editor of that issue, I no longer have a copy of my own for that particular year, so I can't check to see whether this was one of my pieces that we printed, or if I just think we did....  Ah, well.)

“You Are Superman”
to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”
by Mark Baker-Wright

Well, it’s nine o’clock in Metropolis
The newspaper crowd shuffles in
There’s a bald man standing next to me
With his eyes filled with hatred and sin.
He says “I think that all of you know of me!”
as he pushes a gun to my face.
“For Lex Luthor’s the one who’s destiny
is to put Superman in his place!”

Oh, la lala lele lah
Lala lele lah lalah

Right us a wrong, you are Superman.
Right us a wrong tonight.
For we’re all in the mood for a victory
And justice will make us feel right.

I see a man wearing glasses run away from me
As the crowd panics and turns to stone.
And as Luthor prepares a calamity,
I then realize that we’re not alone.
For a hero has entered the vicinity,
and so Luthor prepares for a fight.
And as Superman begins to rescue me,
Luthor pulls out some green kryptonite.

Oh, la lala lele lah
Lala lele lah lalah

Right us a wrong, you are Superman.
Right us a wrong tonight.
For we’re all in the mood for a victory
And justice will make us feel right.

But before the rock can hurt Superman,
I turn Luthor’s intentions to ash.
For I kick Luthor’s hand with the kryptonite,
And then throw it into the trash.
So Superman’s powers come back to him.
And the criminal knows that he's failed.
For Superman then takes a hold of him,
And flies Luthor screaming to jail.

It’s a beautiful day in Metropolis.
A newspaper boy passes by.
I call him to purchase a copy.
For the headline, it catches my eye.
It says “Town throws a party for Superman,”
And the boy takes my money in awe
For he sees that it's me in the picture there
Helping Superman uphold the law.

Right us a wrong, you are Superman.
Right us a wrong tonight.
For we’re all in the mood for a victory
And justice will make us feel right.
Right us a wrong, you are Superman.
Right us a wrong tonight.
For we’re all in the mood for a victory
And justice will make us feel right.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Mickey Mouse Trailer Monochrome

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?
M-I-C!  K-E-Y!  R-O-B-O-T!

OK, so I'm being more than a little silly.  But who could have imagined that there would someday be an official fully-Disney-licensed Transformer toy?  Sure, we might have expected that Disney might have gotten into the transformable robots craze, but an actual Transformer?  I'm still amazed that this thing exists!

This toy, released earlier this year, is only available from Japan.  Apparently, Disney made a licensing agreement with TakaraTomy, but not Hasbro, which still insists that a release of this toy in the states isn't going to happen.  Too bad.  It would be a perfect companion to the Disney-character Star Wars figures and Mickey Mouse as Indiana Jones figures that you can currently get at Disneyland and other Disney theme parks.

Like the Star Wars Transformers, this toy isn't actually supposed to be Mickey Mouse, but rather represents a mecha that resembles Mickey, which is piloted by the "real" character, who is depicted on top of the robot's head.  The transformation features a gimmick whereby this figure is hidden in vehicle mode, while completing the final step in changing the toy into vehicle mode causes a Mickey figure (hidden in mecha mode) to be revealed behind the steering wheel of the vehicle (drivers are on the opposite side of vehicles in Japan vs. the United States).

I got the monochrome version.  I'm not sure that I can explain why.  The full color version is clearly more popular.  I just felt that the monochrome version was more of a conversation piece, somehow.  It's one of a small handful of toys I keep in my office at work, rather than at home where no one but me will ever see it.

Apparently the Mickey Mouse Transformer sold pretty well.  At least, it did well enough that plans have already been announced for a Donald Duck Transformer to be released next year.  I'm looking forward to getting that one, too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Machine Wars Megaplex and Megatron

When I first thought to do this entry, it was going to just be about Megaplex, a character that has only ever appeared (in America, at least) in the Machine Wars line.  But I quickly realized that I couldn't do a discussion of Megaplex properly without also talking about the Machine Wars version of Megatron.  So, even though each of these toys was available separately back in 1997, it's another "2-for-1" week here at Transforming Seminarian!

Throughout this entry, Megaplex will be depicted on the left, and Megatron will be depicted on the right.  This bears emphasizing, because it would be easy enough to assume that I've made a mistake if one just goes by coloration.  Note how in the box art above, the gray robot is on the right, while the blue robot is on the left.  Yet, in this picture, the gray plane is on the left, while the blue plane is on the right.  Yet I continue to insist that Megaplex is the one on the left in both images.  Obviously, an explanation is in order.

As I mentioned when I discussed Machine Wars Hoist, Kenner used each of the small Machine Wars molds for two toys each. Most of the time, it was enough to just slap a different name on each toy and be done with it, but since this toy was obviously intended to be the infamous Decepticon leader (as will be clear when we see the robot mode), the name-and-bio gurus decided that it would make sense to explicitly consider one of the Megatron-mold toys to be a clone of Megatron, apparently to be used as a decoy in battle.  The clone was called (in another fit of name creativity) "Megaplex."  Now, which one should be which?  This is where apparently even the folks at Kenner got confused.  The art for the blue robot was attached to the package that contained the gray toy, and vice versa.  This isn't just some packaging variation.  All Megaplexes and Megatrons were packaged in this way.  It seems reasonable to me that the designers intended for Megatron to the be gray toy (and Megaplex to therefore be the blue one), but the folks who put the toys in the packages apparently didn't get the memo. The toys pictured on the backs of the packages don't really help matters much, as the "Megaplex" toy pictured there is a black (or at least very dark) jet, and that deco wasn't ultimately used on these toys at all!

Anyway, even though Megatron had never been made available as a jet before (certain intentions — and even the Tech Specs on Machine Wars Megatron's package — notwithstanding) the head clearly signals that this is the familiar Decepticon leader (or, in the case of Megaplex, it signals that you're supposed to think this is the familiar Decepticon leader.  Confused yet?).  And if you think that Megatron should be gray, and/or that designer intentions matter more than the name actually given on the package, go ahead and consider Megatron the one on the left, instead of the one on the right.

Or is that what Megatron wants you to think?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a Devastator?

I started work on this over two years ago, not too long after completing the Family Feud photocomic.  Unfortunately, I was never able to get very far in the picture-taking (and editing!) process.  Rather than let it continue to gather dust, and while the game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? is still on the airwaves enough that people will get the joke, I'll post the script with such images as I've prepared.  Enjoy!

Alpha Trion: Welcome to Are You Smarter Than a Devastator? I'm your host, Alpha Trion! Let's meet our class!

(Introduce each Devastator in turn: Generation One, Classics, Micromaster, Action Master, and Universe Devastators are all shown.)

(Frame shows Wheelie running into the studio)
Alpha Trion:  And here's our first contestant. Wheelie!

Wheelie: Wheelie say, it's time to play!

(Categories and Grade Levels are displayed)  Alpha Trion:  All right, you're going to work your way up to our top prize of 1 million Energon cubes by answering questions from these categories.

Alpha Trion:  And, of course, you get to chose one of our Devastators to help you out! Who will it be?

Wheelie: Wheelie here to have some fun. So it's got to be G1!

Alpha Trion: All right, now choose your first category.

Wheelie: Because this is introduction, let's chose Level 1 Destruction

Alpha Trion: OK. Here's the question: What is the best way to destroy an Autobot stronghold?

(next frame) Alpha Trion: G1 Devastator has his answer locked in. What's your answer, Wheelie?

Wheelie: Though it seems unwise to state, sneaking through the access gate!

Alpha Trion: I'm sorry, but that answer is incorrect. The correct answer is “Smash it!” But G1 Devastator can still save you, if he wrote “Smash it.” Let's see Devastator's answer!

(Badly scrawled word “SMASH!” appears on screen)

Alpha Trion: Congratulations! G1 Devastator has saved you, and you now have 1,000 Energon cubes, what will you do ne--? (Alpha Trion is interrupted by Devastator smashing Wheelie, screaming “Smash! Smash!” Wheelie is flattened)

(Alpha Trion looks down at Wheelie's clearly unconscious form.) Oh, dear! I guess we'll have to bring out a substitute contestant to pick up where Wheelie left off. Let's introduce... Waspinator!

(Waspinator takes place at podium)

Alpha Trion: Waspinator, which Devastator would you like to have help you on this question?

Waspinator: Wazzzzzpinator choozzze Micromazzzter Devazzzzstator!

Alpha Trion: OK, and what category would you like to choose?

Waspinator: Wazzzzpinator choozzzzzzes Level 2 Pulverizzzation!

Alpha Trion: Here's the question. How should you make sure that an enemy target is completely destroyed?

(next frame) Alpha Trion: Devastator has locked in his answer. What do you think?

Waspinator: Wazzzpinator not like this! Wazzzpinator want to copy Greenbot's answer!

Alpha Trion: OK. You're using one of your cheats, and you'll be locked into whatever answer Devastator gives. Let's see it.

(Another badly written “SMASH!” appears on the screen!)

Alpha Trion: That's correct! “Smash it” is once again the answer! You now have 2000 Ener-- (interrupted by Devastator yelling “Smash! Smash!” and swinging at Waspinator, knocking off his head.)

(picture of Waspinator's head lying on floor) Wazzzpinator hatez this game....

(Alpha Trion looks down again) Oh, no! Not again! Well, we'll just have to bring in another substitute contestant. Let have a round of applause for Grimlock! (Grimlock appears at podium in T-Rex mode)

Alpha Trion: Welcome to the game Grimlock. Which Devastator would you like to play with?

Grimlock: Me, Grimlock, choose Universe Devastator!

Alpha Trion: And what category will you be playing with?

Grimlock: Me, Grimlock, like Level 4 Tactics

Alpha Trion: OK. Here's the question: You are badly outnumbered, but your enemies are no match for your own personal strength. How do you survive this battle?

Grimlock: Me, Grimlock, want to peek at Devastator's answer!

Alpha Trion: OK. That's your last cheat. Let's see what Devastator wrote down.

(Answer appears in calligraphy script: “I would chose a melee defense, taking hold of one of my enemies' fallen bodies, and swinging it around my own body in rapid fashion, thereby eliminating many other enemies all at once as his form connects with theirs.”)

Grimlock: Me, Grimlock, think something wrong with Devastator. Me choose own answer. Me, Grimlock say, 'smash through them.'

Alpha Trion: That's correct! You now have 5,000 Energon Cubes!

Grimlock: Me, Grimlock, not as dumb as me look!

Alpha Trion: That's all the time we have for today! We'll see you next time! (last frame shows Universe Devastator saying “Well, of course, you can smash through them if you want to be crude about it, but my way would be much more efficient at dispatching a greater number of opponents with a minimum of--” Grimlock interrupts--“Me, Grimlock, think you talk too much!”)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Transmetal Rattrap (10th Anniversary edition)

The Beast Wars line started out as a radical departure for the Transformers franchise.  Whereas all previous Transformers toys were decidedly mechanical in nature, the animal forms of the Beast Wars characters were intended to be indistinguishable from a "real" animal that might be found alongside them, in much the same way as it was intended that the original Optimus Prime would supposedly look the same as another truck parked in the same lot.

That lasted for all of about a year.

The second year of the Beast Wars line introduced the concept of "Transmetals."  Transmetal characters had beast modes that were mechanical.  Not entirely dissimilar to how the Dinobots and Predacons of Generation One were "animals," yet clearly mechanical animals that could never be confused with, say, a "real" T-Rex or a "real" lion.  Heavily reliant on chromed details, one look Rattrap in "beast mode," for example, quickly conveys the idea of a "metallic" rat.

Desiring to maintain the idea that Transformers now had organic elements, however, Transmetals went for an "inside out" concept.  Although the beast modes looked metallic, the robot modes were molded to convey the appearance of musculature, skin, fur, and other "organic" details (apparently including what looks for all the world like intestines on Rattrap, here.  The Transmetal "inside out" concept can't really be blamed for the "exposed brain," through.  For some reason, Rattrap had that from the very beginning.).  The Transmetal toys were also designed without ranged weapons (although the cartoon supplied them for all the Transmetal characters, anyway), giving them only melee weapons--usually ones that could be formed out of parts of their beast mode.  I didn't care for tail-as-weapon last week with Grimlock, and I don't think it's much more practical here, but as before, if you really want to see what that looks like, here you go.

Transmetals also went back to the idea of "vehicles" in Transformers, at least to a degree.  Transmetal toys added in vehicular features like wheels, engines, or wings, so that a "third mode" could be formed that was more or less the same as the regular beast mode, but with these vehicular features deployed.  Presumably, a rat on wheels can scurry faster than a rat on legs!  The Beast Wars cartoon popularly used this mode as a kind of "personal transport" for Dinobot (a Beast Wars character, not to be confused with the team featured last week) to ride on top of.  Back at BotCon 2006, one fan even rigged up a remote control car to fit just underneath Rattrap, so he could fit a Dinobot figure on top of it and drive it up and down while the rest of us were waiting in line.  It was definitely a fun way to pass the time!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Picture Perfect?

Besides the writing itself, if there's one discipline in which I'm constantly trying to improve on this blog, it's my ability to take good pictures.  Lighting, in particular, can be really tricky.  But while I'm still nowhere near professional-quality, I hope that I can say that I am indeed getting better.

I don't often go back and edit posts that are more than a few months old, but when looking at the entry on Metroplex from last year, I felt that I just had to replace some particularly bad images.  Just so you can see what I'm talking about, here are the images I'm replacing on the left, alongside the new replacement images on the right.  Go back to see the Metroplex entry and see how they work in the context of the full article!

Transformers Wiki