Armagideon Time


September 14th, 2020

A few years back this site was hit by a vandalism hack which injected spam links into every published post up until that point. While I managed to clean out the malicious scripts, my inelegant brute force solution did not undo the damage to the site’s archives. That left a decade’s worth of posts — covering a span when I still published daily — to be dealt with.

I did try to make a fair go at it, scrubbing twenty or so entries a day for a few months, but it was mind-numbing work made even more thankless by the growing realization that 90% of what I was fixing didn’t deserve to be saved. Posting every day (or even every other day) is going to result in a lot of shitposts which existed solely so I could feel like I met some internal quota. Stretch that out over three thousand posts across ten years, and what you’re looking at is a small handful of gems engulfed in a continent-spanning morass of dead links, forgotten in-jokes, and outdated topical commentary.

Maybe some grad student of the future might find value by drilling down into that shit for a thesis project, but otherwise it’s just a lot of pointless clutter. The world has changed since a lot of that crap went up. I have changed in a number of subtle and no so subtle ways.

AT 1.0 lasted two and a half years before I jumped to AT 2.0. AT 2.0 has been chugging along for over a decade now. There was no reason why I shouldn’t make another fresh start of things, apart from laziness and an obligation to somehow preserve the parts of the site which were worth saving.

So that’s what I’m doing. It won’t be AT 3.0 as much as AT 2.5. The template is staying because I like it, despite it being a relic of pre-mobile browsing. The archives have been, well, archived while I clean and proof them for republishing. The Ultimate Powers Jam stuff is a lock for restoration, as is the K-Tel series and Role Playing With the Changes. Nobody’s Favorites and the console-specific videogame features might follow, though I can’t shake the feeling I could do a better job rebooting those from scratch.

And then there will be the new content, which I’ve been putting off because I knew this soft relaunch was coming. A big reason I didn’t want to get too fancy with it was because I wanted shit up and running in time for the Halloween Countdown.

For the first time in a long time, I actually feel excited about this place again.

One of the more baffling aspects of fan behavior is the tendency to suspend qualitative judgement when it comes to fan’s objects of affection. Past experience, empirical evidence, and ominous portents get shoved to the margins when certain Pavlovian buttons are pushed. There will be plenty of post-situ moaning and whining about getting burned, but there is little hesitation about leaping into the fire in the first place.

So it was with Teen Andrew and TransBot. As I mentioned a few days ago, I used to be a pretty fervent fan of anime, especially the giant/real robo stuff. The popularity of the Transformers and Robotech franchises meant the toy and hobby stores of the mid-1980’s were well-stocked with all manner of shady (and shoddy) bootleg mecha-merchandise intended to siphon off a sweet slice of the market share.

The phenomenon wasn’t limited to just toys and models. Videogames also cashed in on the trend, though this was wasn’t so much cynical marketing as the simple realities of the gaming industry at the time. American game developers were either still struggling from the industry-wide crash of a few years prior or had moved into the realm of computer gaming. Arcade and console fare was dominated by Japanese imports reflecting Japanese popcult trends. That robo-jockey stuff was big in America at the time didn’t hurt, either.

That’s not to say that cynical manipulation didn’t factor into the equation, as the name “TransBot” suggests a deliberate attempt to piggy-back on the name recognition of a couple of hot properties:

In practice, the formula comes closer to this:

While the official screenshots and gameplay footage suggested epic battles against faux-Zentraedi battle pods…

I'll get you yet, Rick Hunter!

…the game is actually a very dumbed-down rip-off of Konami’s Gradius. The player must blast through waves of uninspired enemies — spiked balls, tumbling cube ships, and hamburgesian flying saucers — across a horizontally-scrolling generically “sci-fi” landscape. Shooting the transport trucks that occasionally roll across the bottom of the screen gives the player access to power ups, which improve weapon strength or transform the player’s ship into an unmissable target a rather goofy-looking robot.

I am a robot and ashamed.

In order to compensate for the utter shallowness of the gameplay, the developers decided to spice things up a little by tossing in the much loved gimmick of arbitrary and artificial difficulty. Unlike Gradius (or even Action Fighter), where sequenced power ups add a strategic element to play, TransBot uses a roulette-based system of determining upgrades. Nabbing a power up sphere causes an icon to rapidly cycle through an alphabetical sequence of potential rewards, leaving it up to the player’s reflexes and blind chance to determine the end result.

If this wasn’t irritating in itself, the fact that the power ups have only a limited number of uses and the boss level can only be reached by use of a specific upgrade in a specific location makes the game a nigh-unbearable exercise in frustration.

That didn’t stop me from wasting a few score hours of my life playing and attempting to beat the game.

Why? Because it had giant robots in it!


Like many 70s idols, Gaiking briefly flirted with National Socialism.

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