This week Mr Jim Moon wonders why in the name of Santa's beard did he think it was a good idea to do a commentary track for notorious Christmas schlock horror Jack Frost... However he has a cunning plan to get through it... DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 78 - Jack Frost Commentary
Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -
Well December is here once again, and as is traditional here at the Great Library of Dreams we are hosting a series of readings of ghost stories for Christmas. We begin this year's selection of festive chillers with a tale written by EG Swain, a good friend of the great MR James who was inspired to try his own hand at crafting ghostly tales. The result was a remarkable collection called the Stoneground Ghost Tales, which blended Jamesian frights with a touch of Wodehousian humour. In this story, the long suffering vicar of Stoneground, Mr Batchell, discovers something strange about one of the parish church's windows...
In the first of our festive offerings, Mr Jim Moon goes in search of that merry wintry rogue, Jack Frost! Who is he and where did he come from? Is he just a winter's fairy tale? Do his origins lie in Norse mythology? And does he have any relation to Father Christmas? Wrap up warm, and come with me to find out! DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 77- In Search of Jack Frost
Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -
Hello dear fiends, and welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well then, we are in the toy cupboard once again and continuing our explorations into the strange twilight world of what were known as "electronic games". Now last time we saw how the ancestors of modern handheld video game platforms were a couple of gizmos produced at the end of the '70s. Mattel Auto Race and Mattel Electronic Football were the first of what would become a huge wave of toys in the '80s, little plastic consoles that delivered a single video game. Yes, they were primitive but they had brought the games arcade into the home, and indeed, into the pockets of kids.
Now we will look at a few more examples of this early form of video gaming in future trips to the 'Orrible Old 'Ouse, but this week I want to look at another particular branch of this toy family. Now the Mattel duo and their descendants sought to recreate an arcade video game experience with chips and some LEDS instead of a real screen. However, around the same time, the first of a new breed of electronic game appeared that wasn't aiming to create a video game in a home or handheld format. Instead these were toys that boasted about microchip brains, games that could play themselves with you!
Our story begins at the Music Operators of America trade show in 1976, where two chaps, Ralph H Baer and Howard J Morrison saw an Atari arcade machine called Touch Me. Now this machine had already been around for a few years, first appearing in 1974, but unlike the games we normally associate with Atari, there were no spaceships, fast cars, things to gobble up or shoot. Instead Touch Me had four big black buttons and a small screen. Basically the machine flashed a sequence of lights at you while making primitive electronic rasping noises, and the player had to press the buttons to replicate the sequence. Baer and Morrison were rather unimpressed - the machine was ugly, the interface dull (all black buttons?!), and the electro-fart sound effects were less than appealing.
And these two chaps weren't just any old passing punters either. Morrison was - even by the mid '70s - a leading light in the toy industry, working for the legendary Marvin Glass and Associates (click the link to find out why they were so legendary), while Baer had invented a primitive electronic tennis game on a computer which was the forefather of Pong. What's more, Baer had also created the world's first video game console in the shape of the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, and hence not for nothing he is now known as the father of video games. Now while these learned gents agreed that Touch Me was rather bad, both also thought that the actual game concept - essentially an electronic variant of old playground and kids party perennial Simon Says - definitely had potential.
Hence our two heroes returned to their secret volcano base... (That's not right - Ed) Ok, returned to their workshop at the North Pole (Neither is that, try again - Ed) ... Oh right, returned to wherever it is that toy-makers do their magic, and emerged blinking in the sunlight, to the cheers of elves (Stop that! - Ed) with a round black disc, with brightly coloured panels. And thus Simon was born! Well, at least as soon as they found some batteries to go in it. They thought they had some in drawer but in accordance with one of the fundamental laws of the universe, any toy you buy will require exactly one extra battery of a type that currently you don't have... Even though you'd swear blind you bought a packet of those just the other week. And you put them in that drawer! Who's been in that drawer. eh? C'mon, own up!
Anyhow, once the necessary batteries had been fitted, they were ready to demonstrate this new electronic game. Now much like Touch Me, new boy Simon would light up his coloured panels in a sequence , while making merry beeps, and the player had to replicate them. Now you may say that perhaps this was just stealing Atari's idea, but in fairness as Atari had taken Baer's tennis game and created Pong, and then later copied his Magnovox to create their own best-selling console, I think it's fair to say that they owed him one. However Baer and Morrison had made some significant advances of their own...
To begin with, the looks and feel of Simon was light years ahead of Touch Me. The round disc design, and brightly coloured lights looked both futuristic and pleasing echoed disco lights and illuminated jukeboxes. Hence it was both space-age and classically retro at the same time. Come to think of it, the curves, beeps and lights also chimed rather well with a certain droid who hit the big screen in 1977 too. However real innovation was perhaps more subtle - for Touch Me was an arcade machine, whereas Simon was designed for the home, and to be played in a group rather than a lone player with an excess of loose change to get rid of. That round disc design was not only visually appealing but perfect for a table or bedroom floor.
Now the marketing of Simon really played up the electronic nature of the game - this was a game you really could play with - a game that played back as it were. And while during its development this new game had been called Follow Me, the name change to Simon was another stroke of genius. Firstly the new name tipped its hat to the game's inspiration, the daddy of all follow and copy game, Simon Says, and in making that connection, people instinctively grasped what this new toy did. Secondly though, giving the toy a "proper" name gave it a personality - something the marketing played up no end. And while the actual electronic gubbins inside Simon were fairly basic, the ads really sold on the idea that this brightly coloured disc was an electronic brain. And that was another winning concept too - where most board games fall down is the fact they you need to get some other humans to play with you. But now you had a game that would happily play with you itself! Naturally a generation who had just fallen in love with R2D2 embraced Simon with open arms.
Simon released in 1978 by Milton Bradley and became the top selling toy that Christmas. Very soon there were several rivals and outright clones on the market. Even Touch Me was resurrected as what were now referred to as a handheld too, although keeping the black and yellow design and the electro farting did little to challenge the dominance of Simon. In the kingdom of the electronic games, the four colour disc was king. And while it's easy to see Simon as relic of those heady days, an iconic of late '70s/early '80s pop culture, our little round pal has continued to sell over the years, in a variety of different formats. There's even a new VR headset version of the old classic! For that design has proved to be iconic and timeless, but more importantly, the gameplay is still there. It's still a whole lot of fun for all the family, or just to play yourself against Simon himself.
This Christmas, a certain quartet of scallywags are reforming to mark the 20th anniversary of their first broadcasts, and hence in this episode, Mr Jim Moon is heading into deepest and darkest corners of the benighted little town of Royston Vasey to uncover the true and twisted history of that now legendary comedy troupe, the League of Gentlemen!
Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well boys and ghouls, December is nearly here once again and so we are going to be sticking with the toy theme for a few weeks, revisiting some old favourites that, around now in years gone by, kids would have been pestering their parents for. However we are going to begin out investigation of former regular guests in Santa's sack, by shining a light upon a somewhat forgotten genre of toys.
Now then, these days toys and games tend to be packed with microchips and batteries - they move, flash lights and make noises seemingly designed to irritate parents pretty much as standard. Many even link to computers or phones and have their own tie-in apps. And then of course there is the whole arena of video games, the endless killing zone that is the console wars, game apps and handhelds, a cupboard full of novelty controllers and joysticks, and the cut-throat jungle that is additional downloadable content. However I'm old enough to remember the strange, dark days of a pre-digital world when "internet access" meant how a fisherman got at his catch.
Of course, toys that had required batteries had been around long before me, and no, I'm not talking about the type you buy in specialist shops found in the best grubby backstreets everywhere. Dolls that walked, cars that drove, or things that just flashed lights and made a noise had been gobbling up batteries for decades. However at the end of the '70s, two new sorts of games and toys began to emerge. One sort was a kind of bulky box that incredibly plugged into your television, dubbed at the time "TV games", and they were the ancestor of what we know call consoles. However a second breed was smaller, more affordable, and therefore much more common. These were the so-called "electronic games", which in some regards could be considered the forefathers of the modern handheld platforms, but in others were something entirely different.
The very first "electronic game" was Mattel Auto Race and this now very primitive beastemerged in 1976. Boasting of a then massive 512 bytes of RAM - that's half a kb in real money - this then futuristic game didn't even have a proper screen. Instead it had what many of the early electronic game had - the illusion of one created by LEDs. In the case of Mattel Auto Race there were three columns of red LEDs - exactly the same type that create the displays in electronic calculators and clocks. The player's car was a single vertical dash which could be "moved" across or up the screen with the buttons by basically lighting up the adjacent LED. There was no joystick or controller, just a button to go left or right and a slider switch offering four gear changes (which basically just made everything faster). The object of the game was to swerve past cars coming in the other direction and complete four "laps" - that is, get your dash to the top of the screen four times in a row.
Now admittedly that doesn't sound terrible exciting, and in fairness there was a great deal of scepticism about this new type of game. Yes, everyone wanted to develop some kind of home equivalent of the games machines that were becoming increasing popular in arcades but no one was entirely sure how to do that. Mattel at first were confident, and very quickly developed a second electronic game, Mattel's Electronic Football which hit the shelves in 1977. This was was pretty much the same machine cunningly tweaked and reskinned, with the screen was set horizontally so there were three rows instead of three columns. But the objective of the game is much the same - instead of four laps, you're looking to dodge tackles and get four downs.
However despite releasing two titles in quick succession, after less than 100,000 of both were made, production was more or less halted, with bosses getting nervous that these new-fangled electronic games wouldn't sell much after the novelty value had worn off. However sales not only continued but began to climb, with Mattel's Electronic Football shifting a whopping 500,000 units a week by February 1978. A new age had begun...