TBT# 6 – Folklore: King Lycaon of Arcadia and the Lykaia

Originally posted to my Facebook page on November 18, 2009.

Since Halloween is literally a couple of days away, I felt it appropriate to take a break from the Examiner articles for a week and post something I wrote concerning the mythical origins of werewolves. 

Now, obviously, the Greek origin isn’t the only one that exists.  Like vampires, werewolf and shape-shifter myths exist in cultures from virtually all over the world.  However, being of Greek (and, specifically, Arcadian) descent myself, and having a first name that means “wolf with a shield,” and having been born in the year of the dog under the Chinese zodiac and under Sagittarius the Hunter under the Western zodiac, and being a dog person…well, I felt it more than a bit neat to communicate this particular myth to my Facebook friends.  And now, I’d like to share this myth with you.

Maybe this will become a series.  I don’t yet know.  We’ll see what the response is like.

The photo below is the cover of a book from the White Wolf Publishing RPG called “Werewolf: The Forsaken”, entitled Night Terrors: Wolfsbane.  I felt it apt.

May everyone reading (and those who are not) have a safe and happy Halloween.

– Randall Malus, 10/29/2015

werewolfAww, look at the puppy!

When it comes to werewolves in folklore, the vast majority of the horror-loving population doesn’t know much.  Hollywood artistic license has polluted the well of good ol’ myth and legend, and so a lot of what people think they know is less tradition and more someone pounding out a script at a typewriter during a drunken afternoon back in the 1940s.

The best place to begin one‘s schooling on true werewolf folklore is at the beginning, so here are two werewolf entries (under one heading, because I cheated) coming at you from ancient Greece.

King Lycaon (also referred to as Lycaeus) was the mythical first king of the Greek city-state Arcadia. A tyrant and sociopath, King Lycaon ruled his people with sadistic cruelty. One day, Lycaon thought it might be fun to piss off Zeus, the king of the gods, by playing a little joke on the divine monarch.

So, Lycaon called Zeus down from Mount Olympus and invited him to a feast at the Arcadian palace. Zeus naturally accepted. If you know anything about Greek myth, Zeus usually just invited himself over whenever he felt like it, so it must have surprised him when he actually received an honest-to-God invitation.

Anyway, the time of the feast arrived and everything was ready. Zeus was pleased with what he saw and everything was going great for Lycaon until dinner itself was served. During the meal, Lycaon served Zeus a heaping helping of dead child–and if that wasn’t bad enough, the dead child was none other than the youngest of Lycaon’s fifty sons (yes, ladies, you read correctly: I said fifty). Outraged at Lycaon‘s barbarism and disrespect, Zeus slaughtered Lycaon’s remaining forty-nine sons with lightning bolts, resurrected Lycaon’s dead youngest son, and transformed Lycaon himself into a wolf, damning Lycaon to eat the flesh of animals and humans alike for the rest of his days.

This ancient Greek myth as well as the name Lycaon is, as you may have guessed, the origin of the word “lycanthropy”. The myth also gave rise to a festival observed by the ancient Arcadians and referred to as the Lykaia.

The festival called the Lykaia took place on the side of Mount Lykaion (the tallest peak in Arcadia at the time) and occurred annually, probably sometime in the month of May. This, like many festivals, was actually one giant ritual meant to keep the gods happy (in this particular case, it was Zeus). Plato claims in his work The Republic that every nine years, a different Arcadian clan would sacrifice an animal on the altar of Zeus during the festival. After the sacrifice, the clan would then prepare what remained of the animal and everyone would eat. There was just one catch: part of the meal preparation involved a required human sacrifice.

From that human sacrifice, one small piece of human entrails would be placed in the animal meat and served randomly to the patrons. The lucky patron who ate the human entrails was believed to become a wolf, which supposedly kept Zeus from turning any and all Arcadian adolescents into wolves like Lycaon (though why the Arcadians thought that Zeus would turn the youths in the city to wolves is beyond me–but the expected heavy-handed punishment speaks to the perceived relationship between the divine and mankind back in those days). Now, if the afflicted patron could keep himself from eating human flesh for nine years, the patron would be returned to human form by the time of the next sacrifice at the end of that nine year cycle.

TBT #5 – Classic Gaming 101: Where can I buy classic games in Cleveland?

Originally published to the Examiner.com on August 16, 2009.

This article came about after I received an email (a form email sent to all writers, not a personalized email indicating that anyone on staff had any actual notion or knowledge of my work) mentioning that I might get more readers if I did something with a bit of a local flavor.  It was to be sort of a beginner’s guide to the city in which I live as it relates to my area of “expertise” (i.e. the title of “Classic Games Examiner”). Taking the form email to heart, I decided to put my own spin on the idea.

I like how the article turned out, but it’s a litter bittersweet for me looking back.  Borders Books (mentioned briefly in the article) is now closed, as are a number of BuyBack$ locations.  Thankfully, Examiner.com (for whatever reason) kept the BuyBack$ picture–but the others are replicas.

– Randall Malus, 10/22/2015

Cleveland’s truly an awesome city.  Anyone who’s seen Mike Polk’s “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” on Youtube can attest to this.  Sure, I admit that we did have a bit of a vampire problem that once prevented those but the most courageous of us from venturing out of doors after sundown in the late 1980s, but a rise in violent gang activity during recent years has alleviated that problem and made the streets safe for our gun-toting youths.  With Cleveland’s revival as a city has come a revival in secondhand mercantilism, especially where classic video games are concerned.  Whether you want to start a collection of classic video games or you’re looking to add a few new pieces to an already existing collection, there are a number of stores in Cleveland that are suited to your needs.  I recently investigated three such stores in the surrounding area, though allow me to offer one piece of advice: do not visit any of these stores after they’ve closed.  Take it from me, the selection is nowhere near as great as when each store is open.  Also, peering into darkened store windows whilst holding a crowbar bought from Home Depot only moments before is…not advisable.  Anyway, here’s what I found!

cg01Cheap, rare movies are also a huge draw of BuyBack$.

BuyBack$ is one of those stores that has made me feel like I’ve been living under a rock for most of my life.  Within the past year or so, a number of them have popped up in the area (with little to no fanfare until after they’ve arrived), though I’m certainly not complaining.  BuyBack$ offers a fairly sizable selection of NES, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, and GameBoy games at (typically) eBay prices.  Some system peripherals are also offered, though the selection is variable.  Please note that these items are often loose, so mint-in-box collectors may be better off looking in our next store.

1021151959aIt’s not just for records anymore.  Actually, it’s not at all for records anymore, not since the invention of the 8-track.  Wait, that’s not right…

I’m sure plenty of people reading this article already know about the Exchange, but for those who don’t, it’s a lot like BuyBack$–but with a greater selection.  There are also more store locations, since the Exchange (formerly Record Exchange) as a chain has been around for awhile.  If you’re looking for games from the NES, SNES, N64, PlayStation, Atari, Genesis, Master System, GameBoy, GameBoy Color, or Game Gear, I’d advise checking out the Exchange.  Each store has an adequate selection of loose and mint-in-box items, as well as a good number of peripherals at reasonable prices.  Pay them a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

1021151959I once found a copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale for $1.00 in here.  Of course, it was after paying, like, $15.00 for a new copy at Borders.  Yes, I’m aware you don’t actually care.

Now, some of you are probably puzzled.  Why Half-Price Books?  Well, while it’s true that they mostly deal in secondhand games from the last two generations (N64, PlayStation and onward), one platform that the other two stores fail to cover almost completely is the PC.  Half-Price Books, oddly enough, picks up the slack like some sort of slack-picking-up champion.  When I checked their North Olmsted location, I found some old Star Wars CD-ROM PC games (Dark Forces, Rebel Assault) for under $10.00 each, all mint-in-box; Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987 floppy disk version) for around $30.00 mint-in-box; and various other video game adventures from PC antiquity.  PC game collectors should check their local Half-Price Books for similar gems.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.

While this is by no means a complete list of secondhand classic game stores in the Cleveland area, the three stores on this list are a good starting point for new collectors and veterans alike.  In my experience, these stores certainly offer the most reasonable prices for the most diverse product, and, since they’re chain stores, they’re accessible everyone in the Cleveland area (suburbs included).  Good luck, and happy hunting.


TBT #4 – Gobble some balls with Namco’s Pac-Man

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 22, 2009.

This is the beginning of the end in two significant ways. 

First, after posting weekly (consistently) for a month, I realized that Examiner.com did little to drive viewership for anything that wasn’t an article about reality show television stars who now have “the clap”–and so this was my last consistent post.  They would eventually start to taper off into monthly, then into less than that…

Second, I became really comfortable really quickly when I realized that no one (on staff, such as it was) cared about what I wrote.  Thus, some of my best work at the Examiner began with this post.

– Randall Malus, 10/15/2015

Namco originally wanted to call the game Puck-Man, but wisely decided against it after considering that the name may be altered by vandals to something not so kid-friendly: Fire Truck-Man.

Now, I know what you’re all saying after reading that title: “Why on earth would he review Pac-Man? It’s the single most famous video game on the face of the earth!” You’re right. Namco’s Pac-Man is the most recognizable title in the history of video games. It’s been copied, emulated, compiled, and remade, with few changes (if any) to the old formula of a character being chased in a maze. It’s been on virtually every system known to man (and probably plenty of systems that are unknown to man). What, then, could I have to say about the game that hasn’t already been said? Admittedly, not much. But I can point out a few things that some may have forgotten (or, perhaps, ignored) about the game‘s finer points. First, I shall talk about the storyline, as it’s the easiest and fastest to explain. Ahem. There is none. Next!

pacman2I’ve always wanted to eat a ghost, but I could never justify consuming the empty calories.

Wait…that can’t be right. No story? Even in Japan? Come on! When you really step back and take a look at how bizarre Pac-Man actually is, there must be some story. Any story. Well, sorry, folks, but there’s none. Pac-Man’s just a round thing with a mouth in an incandescent maze who eats yummy balls and gets chased by ghosts. When Pac-Man eats big, shiny balls, the ghosts turn blue and Pac-Man can now chase and eat them (Note: I could make several comments about that last sentence but, in the interest of maintaining at least some semblance of maturity, I won’t say a word). But, yes, there’s no deep storyline to Pac-Man. No rampaging minotaur threw Pac-Man into an endless labyrinth where the ghosts of those previously felled by the monster haunt the current hero. Nope. Just a circle. Eating balls. With ghosts. In a maze. And people have loved it for about three decades.

pacman3I sometimes wonder, “What kind of evil, vengeful god would trap Pac-Man in an endless maze of horror and death?” But then I wonder, “Meh, who am I to judge?”

And, while we‘re not on the subject, what is the deal with Ms. Pac-Man? Are we to believe that the only gender-identifying organ on the Pac-Man race happens to be a bow? Scientists would have quite a hard time explaining the evolutionary importance of that. Or, is it possible that Ms. Pac-Man is really just Pac-Man in drag, as the word “man” is still very prominent in her name? It would certainly explain why J. Edgar Hoover loved playing this game (for those who don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover was the inventor of the vacuum cleaner–and a cross-dresser). And let’s talk for a moment about the character known as Jr. Pac-Man. It’s Pac-Man…in a beanie. Is Jr. Pac-Man really a game starring Pac-Man’s offspring, or is Pac-Man just reliving the childhood he never had in some Freudian delusion of ghost-tainted fear and ball-munching madness? Oh, well. Some of these questions may never be answered, but for gamers, that’s okay. Namco’s classic has stood the test of time, and still remains an incredibly addictive game. There’s a reason why it’s been copied, ported, and cloned for all this time. I mean, really, the game is literally everywhere. And it rarely ever changes. Here’s hoping it never will.


For more info: Pac-Man Wiki

A Tribute to “The Best Day”; or, Gillespie Wrote This Poem

Scratching at notebook paper,
Pen marks scrawling and scribbling
Evidence of words and ideas coaxed–
Subconscious thoughts of teenaged
Mind given form and manifest function–

Wealthy Gillespie hands with ease
Paper containing his own handiwork,
Breaking my concentration
Like a murder of crows
Blocking out the sun:

“One day, the sun will shine
Birds will chirp
Winds will blow

One day, air will be crisp
Bees will buzz
Flowers will bloom

One day, people will feel fulfilled
Trees will blossom
Children will sing

One day, on the greatest of days,
Life will be worth living again.
Because Ginley will be dead.”

For me, puzzled, to use as my own,
While secrets remain as to the writer’s
True identity.  I use it now, remade,
Reformed, paraphrased, eviscerated,
Sentiment exposed and revealed.

But Gillespie still wrote the original.

– From An Old Man’s Nocturnal Emissions
Randall Malus, c. 2001/2015

TBT #3 – Namco’s Dig Dug: An arcade classic remains so after all these years

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 14, 2009.

After the financial fiasco that was the Moonwalker article, I decided to stop holding back and just be as wacky as I wanted to be.

So of all games, why Dig Dug?  Because of a high school memory.

Way back when, a Catholic theology teacher and moderator of the Sci-Fi Club I was a part of had a Dig Dug cabinet in his room.  If the room was empty and you had the quarters, you could play for as long as you liked.  Well, someone did, and someone got the high score.  That someone also named themselves “ASS”.  So, every time the attract mode flipped over to the high scores, ASS was very plainly displayed at the top.  Every teenage student thought it was hilarious, and it took weeks (and increasing bribery from said theology teacher) to replace the high score with a more PG name (I personally tried several times, with the intention of replacing ASS with “FUK”, but to no avail).

Of course, the thing the teacher didn’t know was that there’s a switch inside the cabinet that clears the scores…and we didn’t tell him until after ASS’s score was beaten.

The same problem with this article applies as before–the original pictures were lost in the unpublishing, but these are close approximations to said originals (in fact, I think the first two might indeed be the originals).  Also, Cy Brown’s site is no longer operational–which is a shame.  He pretty much built a bunker in his backyard and chronicled the entire process.  Thankfully, you can find it by using the Wayback Machine and typing in the original URL, which is indeed below.

– Randall Malus, 10/08/2015

digdug1Title screen from the NES version of Dig Dug which is, in truth, like every other version.

Ah, Dig Dug. You are so awesome a game that Namco could not possibly think of a better title than one which combines both the present and past tenses of the word “dig”. But you don’t just break grammar rules, Dig Dug. No, no. Not you. You also spit on Einstein and his theory of the cosmological constant by having absolutely no end. Indeed, you go on forever, eating quarter after quarter for round upon round. And story? Who needs that? Not you, Dig Dug. Oh, sure, in Japan there’s a whole epic saga concerning your main character and his quest to rid the land of monsters or something. Here in the good ol‘ U.S. of A., though, you’re just a game where some guy digs holes under someone else’s garden and uses a bicycle pump to blow up dragons and bespectacled spheres. I have no idea from whence the bicycle pump comes or into which orifice the bicycle pump finds itself, nor do I have any concept of which law of physics is broken when a non-elastic creature is popped like a balloon. All I know is that you, Dig Dug, are fun and addictive and, unlike drugs, most will never be able to quit you.

digdug2Picture courtesy of Cy Brown, a master hole-smith.  This is pictorial proof that holes exist.

Yes, folks, Dig Dug is a slice of fun from long ago (1982 to be precise). But what, pray tell, was the inspiration for such a game? Why, digging holes, of course! You see, in real life, a person can dig holes and, once the person has done so, the holes themselves will have been dug. How does one go about digging a hole? A shovel and loads of strenuous work. Don’t ask me anymore than that as digging is manual labor and, due to a manual labor allergy I have, I avoid digging like the plague. But holes themselves (the aftermath of digging) certainly have their usefulness. Holes dug in a cemetery (more commonly known as “graves”) keep the dead from rising and assaulting the living at night. Historically, Austrian dictators have used holes called “bunkers” to escape justice. Long holes often called “tunnels” aid in the transportation of goods and employees. And not one of these uses apply to Dig Dug in any capacity whatsoever.

digdug3Tactical digging action.

As has been said, Dig Dug is a game about digging holes and popping monsters. The holes themselves are seemingly dug for the purpose of popping monsters (with popping monsters not being a secondary concern to digging holes). Skilled players can use rocks to aid them in their monster-killing and, occasionally, vegetables that the player can pick up for extra points will appear, but the above stated is generally the main object of the game. Even though this is a simple concept (as is common for early arcade games), the game has stood the test of time and remains a popular arcade classic to this day. Classic gamers searching for a touch of old time can find Dig Dug on virtually any Namco compilation disk (most recently on Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360), the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and literally billions of flash-based game sites on the internet.

If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re the only one on earth and I highly suggest you play it immediately. It certainly beats digging.


TBT #2 – Remembering the King of Pop: A look back at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker for the Genesis

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 7, 2009.

This article started out as a review of the game and quickly turned into an opportunity to celebrate the life of an artist I greatly respected–as an artist, if nothing else.  I published it on the day of Michael Jackson’s funeral as a personal memorial and was surprised when a literal ton of people viewed it.  Unfortunately, Examiner’s policy of shelling out a shiny penny per person viewing it assured that I wouldn’t receive anything for it. Though only my second article, already I was disenchanted.

The thing I like about this article in retrospect is that I’m starting to be a little more myself here.

As was the case with the first article, I’ll have to approximate the pictures again, as Examiner’s unpublishing has eliminated the originals.

– Randall Malus, 10/01/2015

moonwalker01Hoo!  Who’s bad?

So, I recently went to see Public Enemies (which is, for those of you who don’t know, a loose account of the life of mob boss Al Capone where ol’ Scarface is renamed “John Dillinger” for reasons unknown to me) and, though it certainly is a good film, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to the greatest gangster movie of all time: Moonwalker.  I mean, that motion picture had everything a human being, animal, or plant could ever want in a gangster film.  There were guns; dance numbers; Joe Pesci kidnapping children and sporting a ridiculous topknot; Wesley Snipes learning what it truly means to be “bad”; and, arguably the two most necessary components for a good gangster film, Michael Jackson turning into both a car and a robot.  Ah, Moonwalker.  What an awesome piece of the 1980s you were.  Sega, in its infinite wisdom, saw Moonwalker for what it was always meant to be: a money machine.

moonwalker2You would think that these superfluous moves would at least restore

health…especially the crotch grab…

And so in 1990, Sega developed a game for the Sega Genesis that celebrated the King of Pop’s music career within the confines of Moonwalker’s largely incoherent storyline.  Those who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s know that this game needs no review and no introduction.  For those of the new generation, however, I’ll try to give you a brief run-down of the object of the game.  Starting out in the Club 30 pool hall (with “Smooth Criminal“ playing in the background), the player as Michael Jackson must rescue all of the children kidnapped by Mr. Big (Joe Pesci’s character from the film).  This is a requirement in order to advance in the game; Bubbles the Chimp won’t lead Michael to the stage boss until the player saves every single solitary child in the area, whether hidden behind doors, inside car trunks, behind tombstones, or out in the open.  To impede the player’s progress, Mr. Big employs several henchmen ranging from mobsters and street thugs to zombies, dogs, and what look like Cobra Vipers from GI Joe.  From Club 30, Michael makes his way through the streets (with “Beat It” playing as the background theme), a graveyard (“Another Part of Me” in the background with “Thriller” playing during the dancing sequences), caverns (“Billie Jean” as background theme), an inner sanctum that resembles the Technodrome (“Bad” as background music), and a final battle in which the player pursues Mr. Big via Michael’s “Battle Plane” while speeding through space.  Each level plays out like one of Jackson’s music videos, with the exception of the cavern level.  Really, how does one associate caves with “Billie Jean”?  The final level is a bit of a departure from the platforming in the rest of the game, as well, since the perspective shifts to a sort of flight simulator (Michael’s in a spaceship, so it makes sense).

moonwalker3This picture is somehow appropriate.  This joke, however, is not.

Michael comes up against some pretty steep odds in the game.  Jacko’s not unarmed, though, and this is where the game gets even more interesting.  The player can utilize what I can only guess is fairy dust in order to dispatch foes, as well as Michael’s patented spin, hat, and something called “dance magic” in which all enemies on-screen will dance with Michael for a few seconds before dropping dead.  In addition to these offensive attacks, the player can make Michael perform a number of moves that have no in-game affect whatsoever, including the incredibly cool moonwalk and the infamous crotch grab (no one can ever accuse this game of being an incomplete Michael Jackson experience).  At random, a star will fall from the sky and, if the player can catch it quickly enough, Michael will change for a short time into a robotic death machine that fires bombs from its shoulders and lasers from its eyes, effectively killing every enemy in sight.  Absolutely classic.  The game is difficult, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous (especially during some of the boss fights), but this is a minor flaw that is easily disregarded.  Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is an above average game and truly worth a try (which, considering the game’s recent status as a “collector’s item”, might be easier said than done).

All joking aside, I can think of no better thing to do on the day of Michael Jackson’s memorial service than play this game.  Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Michael Jackson changed music forever.  Though his actions within the confines of his personal life were scandalous and, by most accounts, unpalatable and unacceptable, let us mourn the artist at his craft if we cannot mourn the man.  This isn’t for Michael Jackson the father, Michael Jackson the son, Michael Jackson the husband, Michael Jackson the brother, or Michael Jackson the accused.  This is in memory of Michael Jackson the musician.  Here’s to Michael Jackson, forever the King of Pop.  Respect him or beat it (pun intended).