Friday, September 30, 2022

Meet the Characters: Swearin' Sammy Reed

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the third entry in my Meet the Characters Series

Sega CD Summer's version of Williamsburg, Indiana, has its share of characters--and some of those characters are absolutely certifiable.

Let's start with Swearin' Sammy Reed, Tommy Guggenbiller's explosive baseball coach.

Swearin' Sammy isn't afraid of anyone--and he's not afraid to yell at everyone. He's coached youth league for years and has become somewhat of a legend in local youth baseball circles. While coaching together, he and Tommy's dad have won championships on every level.

Brash and opinionated with a tripwire temper, Swearin' Sammy is the bane of volunteer umpires everywhere. He has little tolerance for losing or poor Marty Hoover, an above-average player who raises his ire no matter what. If it were up to Swearin' Sammy, Jimmy Effin' Jefferson would never play another game of baseball.

In his eyes, every player is capable of screwing up except for his son, Donny, his best pitcher, hitter, and player. Umpires get an earful when Donny misses the corner or gets called out on strikes. He's more CEO than coach, as he defers most baseball decisions to Terry Guggenbiller. He's almost always ready to have a cigarette, although he warns his players never to start smoking.

He doles out important baseball advice like, "You're ten times bigger than that ball! That ball can't hurt you!" When the team is in trouble, he reassures everyone by saying, "Ain't nobody hurt. Ain't nobody hurt!" 

But Swearin' Sammy gets his nickname from his proclivity for colorful language. He's fond of saying GAAAAAAHD-dammit and its cousin, GAAAAAAHD-damn, phrases he utters more than a dozen times throughout the book (that's according to Microsoft Word). 

It's important to remember, though, that for all his shortcomings and explosive anger issues (not to mention his ever-present pack of Winstons), Swearin' Sammy has a heart of gold.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana dropped Sports Talk from the title, even though it retains the signature play-by-play commentary

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the second entry in the Sega Tote Series

My brother and I were major sports fans as kids (and to some extent, we are both still kids and sports fans--he'll be the first to admit that).

We were the type of kids to get Baseball Stars 2 on the original Nintendo, set up a league, and watch, in real time, the CPU vs. CPU games that didn't involve our team so we could do commentary.

I distinctly remember my brother and I creating a list of features we'd want in sports games. While the wide-ruled notebook in which we jotted down ideas is without a doubt gone, we came up with some doozies for the 8- and 16-bit eras:

  • Play-by-play commentary
  • Instant replays
  • Highlight packages
  • Home and away broadcast teams
  • Featured "Game of the Week" graphics packages
  • In-season situational stat tracking
  • Alternate jersey options
  • Signature stadium music and atmosphere (including crowd chants)
  • Multiple seasons as the same franchise with free agency and drafts
  • Career mode that takes you from high school through college and the pros
  • Printable box scores and game writeups
So, um, yeah. These weren't exactly achievable for Nintendo and Sega consoles of the time. Some games, like Micro League Football on the PC, had several of these features. Many of them would become part of sports games as systems became more powerful over the years. Series like NBA 2K and MLB The Show do many of these things right.

It's probably why NFL Football '94 starring Joe Montana stuck with me over the years. While the game doesn't have a franchise mode, you can play an entire season with stat tracking and league leaders. The graphics were incredible for the time and still hold up well, thanks to rotoscoped animation and a bevy of selectable camera angles. You can choose to "zoom" in on run plays to really show off the graphics.

But the signature feature is the commentary featuring Lon Simmons. It keeps up fairly well with the action, although it will fall behind sometimes. I was always impressed with the amount of variety in the play calls. And while the voice is clearly digitized, I think it sounds pretty darn good when considering the era.

While the game is NFLPA and NFL licensed, the announcer doesn't call any players by name other than Montana. It is pretty cool to play with the Chiefs and hear "Montana lines up in the shotgun." Otherwise, players are referred to as "the running back" or "the tight end" or "the receiver," etc.

Simmons manages to inject some actual emotion into the game with lines like, "Oh, my!" and "I can't believe it!" A reactive crowd adds to the atmosphere.

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana features "all" 28 NFL teams of its era, You won't find the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, or Jacksonville Jaguars on this one. The NFL hadn't expanded to include the Panthers and Jags just yet while the Oilers remained in Houston and the Browns hadn't bolted for Baltimore.

The rosters on the game are incredible, featuring some of the NFL's all-time greatest players. Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Derrick Thomas, and Reggie White all appear. Montana's there, of course, although it's the Kansas City version. 

As for my beloved Indianapolis Colts, the game wasn't very kind. They were saddled with Jeff George on a team that would go 4-12. Clarence Verdin was a good returner, so there's that.

Listen, NFL '94 may not be everyone's cup of tea. That's fine. But in an era where multiple companies made multiple football games, it was really great to have something out there to keep the Madden series honest and innovative. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Meet the Characters: Terry, Cynthia, and Craig "The Baseball Prodigy" Guggenbiller

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the second entry in my Meet the Characters Series

Obviously, Tommy isn't the only member of the Guggenbiller family featured in the book.

His parents are supporting characters, as is his older brother.

Terry Guggenbiller is the family's baseball-adoring patriarch. Tommy describes him as a "serious" man although he later concedes that, in retrospect, his father wasn't nearly as self-serious as he thought. Terry has an almost mystical connection to the sport of baseball.

He'll never hesitate to buy baseball equipment for his kids, no matter the cost.

A talented baseball player during his high school days, Terry probably had the tools to make it as a pro. A knee injury during his senior year ended his baseball career. Many in the town believe he could've made it to the big leagues.

As a baseball coach, Terry is observant and nurturing, although he can push his kids hard with a no-nonsense approach during batting practice. He has a tendency to buy all manner of strange baseball training items, most of them culled from the pages of Baseball Digest, and doesn't mind taking a training approach that's a little off the beaten path.

Outside of baseball, Terry spends much of his free time detailing his family's cars, including his beloved blue 1992 Buick Century. He loves going to the movies.

He's detail-oriented and soft-spoken. Those who don't know him well may even describe him as shy. He can't really keep up with technology and doesn't understand the appeal of video games, which he often refers to as "those videos."

A firm believer in the old axiom that "practice makes perfect," he reminds his kids that the best hitters in baseball failed 70% of the time (as a .300 batting average is exceptional in Major League Baseball).

Cynthia Guggenbiller keeps the household (and youth league) running. A school teacher by trade, she has perfected both the "mom voice" and the "teacher voice."

She and Terry were childhood sweethearts who grew up in the same small town and stayed there to raise their family. Cynthia, described by Tommy as the "more boisterous" of his parents, went to college relatively late in life to get her education degree and teaching license.

Shrewd and intelligent with a sly sense of humor, she does not suffer fools. She has volunteered with the Williamsburg youth league for many years, often working the concession stand and keeping track of the league's finances. She's spent a lot of time over the years helping arrange league schedules and inventorying equipment.

Cynthia tries to keep up with the interests of her offspring, which means she has reluctantly acquired encyclopedic knowledge of things like video games, G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Star Trek. She places a high value on reading but doesn't particularly care if her sons read Star Wars novels or nonfiction books about sports.

She does her level best to advocate for her sons, whether that means taking Tommy to some Star Trek-themed exhibit or making sure Craig gets a CD player for his "new" car.

A huge sports fan, Cynthia could probably host her own sports talk radio show. In family conversations, she often voices her disapproval of Tommy's youth league coach, Swearin' Sammy Reed. Privately, however, she understands Coach Reed and appreciates the amount of time he dedicates to his community.

Craig the Baseball Prodigy is the best pure baseball player Wayne County has seen since Terry Guggenbiller swung the lumber.

Four years older than Tommy, Craig is obsessed with sports, baseball in particular. A powerful hitter with a wickedly strong arm, the only knock on his game is his pedestrian footspeed. His bat tantalizes baseball scouts at all levels.

Now in high school and the recent recipient of a drivers license, Craig spends less time with his little brother and more time doing "cool" stuff with his newfound sense of four-wheel freedom. He will still, however, share a pizza with his little brother at their favorite spot, Clara's Pizza King in Richmond.

Craig has pretty much outgrown video games featuring spaceships or cartoon mascots, but he has a soft spot for sports video games. He clings to Sports Talk Baseball because the roster features several players from the 1990 World Champion Cincinnati Reds team. Highly competitive, he's no longer allowed to play against Tommy in sports video games because they will undoubtedly get into an argument.

He does enjoy playing cooperatively with Tommy in NHL '94 and Captain America and the Avengers.

Craig knows he's one of the area's best baseball players. He realizes his little brother looks up to him and sometimes finds it within himself to encourage Tommy's growth as a player. 

Somewhat sarcastic and often skeptical of his brother's various schemes, he'll still go to war with Tommy when circumstances call for it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2

Note the "Not for Resale" stickers

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the first entry in the Sega Tote Series

The Sega Tote Series kicks things off with Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 because, honestly, that's where my Sega Genesis journey started.

When Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the company offered a great deal: you could get the game free by mail if you bought a new Sega Genesis. As I'm always on the lookout for a good deal, I decided that was the time to get a new system.

My Sega Genesis Model 1 came from Target back when Richmond, Indiana, actually had one (my mother still mourns the store's departure to this day). Sonic the Hedgehog was the pack-in game. A few weeks after I bought the system, Sonic 2 arrived in the mail.

Williamsburg, Indiana, is a small town. For a long time, my house didn't even have a street address and all mail went to the local post office. No one delivered our mail; we had to pick it up every day ourselves. Even the street number assigned to our house wasn't our legal address; it was there simply so first responders could find us in case of an emergency. Our legal address is our P.O. box, which has caused all kinds of problems over the years, wreaking havoc on my mother's ability to order things online.

But one day, a package arrived for me in the mail. There are few things more exciting as a kid than anticipating the arrival of something in "four to six" or "six to eight" weeks. As an avid G.I. Joe collector in my youth, I'd gotten plenty of action figures after mailing in Flag Points. And when Sonic 2 arrived in a cardboard box, it was pretty darn cool.

A confession: I've never finished a Sonic game. I've almost finished one a few times, but many levels exist that I've never seen. If the game had a password or save function when I was a kid, this probably wouldn't be the case. I played both games a lot and probably preferred Sonic 2 because of the spin dash and the Casino Night Zone, which I thought was a blast.

I made it as far as the Star Light Zone in Sonic 1 and the Metropolis Zone in Sonic 2. I definitely have an affection for the Sonic games, although I never bought Sonic 3 or any of the spinoffs until Sonic Mania came out a few years ago. I also had Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 for the Game Gear, although those were entirely different games from their 16-bit counterparts.

To the great shock of many Sega CD fans, I never owned Sonic CD and only played the mobile version once. While I liked platformers and enjoyed playing as Sonic, sports and action games were more my style, and I played them with such great enthusiasm that the Sonic series got left behind.

That said, sometimes the theme from the Chemical Zone pops into my head. On another day, it may be the Star Light Zone theme. Maybe it's time to go back and give it another try...

Monday, September 26, 2022

Meet the Characters: Tommy Guggenbiller

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the first entry in my Meet the Characters Series

Tommy is the main character in Sega CD Summer and the book is told in first-person from his perspective.

Let's just get this out of the way: yes, Tommy shares a lot of similarities with the author. He lives in the same small town of Williamsburg, Indiana, plays baseball during the summers, loves video games and Star Wars, and has a paper route. He also enjoys hanging out with his friends.

Tommy is a little younger than the author would have been in 1994. He's 12 years old during the events of the summer and his birthday month is left nebulous. My birthday falls in July; I felt a birthday celebration would've unnecessarily derailed the narrative, so let's just say he had his birthday earlier in the year.

Tommy doesn't mind working hard, although he doesn't enjoy baseball as much as the author (or as much as his father). That's one of the most significant differences between the author and the character. I loved playing baseball during the summer and while practices sometimes wore me down, I generally enjoyed taking batting and fielding practice.

I'd say Tommy has above-average intelligence for his age. He's a decent kid at his core, although he's susceptible to the same human foibles as the rest of us. He tends to trust people, which can backfire with anything that comes out of Mr. James Glad's mouth. The poor kid also has an overactive imagination, which is why he's gullible enough to believe some of the things Mr. Glad says, especially those pertaining to a particular outbuilding on this property.

Tommy would appreciate it if everyone got along. He adores his older brother and is constantly seeking the approval of Craig aka Craig the Baseball Prodigy. He doesn't believe he'll ever match his brother's prowess on the baseball field. 

While Tommy loves video games, he isn't a highly skilled player when it comes to action games and fighters. His friends routinely dust him in head-to-head competition, although he can hold his own in any sports-related video game, much to the chagrin of his friends.

Unflinchingly polite, Tommy plays it straight with people and is one of those "sir" and "ma'am" types. He assumes most people are more competent than him when it comes to things he doesn't understand. Loyal to his friends, he's reluctant to make enemies and struggles to let go of his friendship with Ryan Davis, a former best friend with whom he had an inexplicable falling out.

A voracious reader and consumer of pop culture, Tommy lives to discuss TV shows, books, and movies with his friends and family. His brother doesn't share many of these interests, however, and is only interested in sports video games. And while his father loves going to the movies, a disconnect often exists between father and son when it comes to the details of such movies.

You get the sense that Tommy is a good kid who wants to keep his family happy and will do just about anything to convince his parents to get him a Sega CD. He works hard and has a fierce competitive streak that really only comes out during baseball games (or when he's playing video games against his brother). 

Really, he's just a small-town kid trying his best to understand his place in the world.