Retro Atari Scammers of the Modern Era: Texas Chainsaw Massacre and CreepshowSeptember 30, 2013
Scammers. Con artists. Such people have been a part of human existence ever since we invented money. Hell, probably since we started to talk. But I’m not here to debate the philosophy of “the con” or discuss its history. Today I’m here to inform our fellow gamers that, at times, there are still people out there who like to take advantage of others for a quick buck, or for a share of fame that they don’t deserve. It’s been happening for a while in retro gaming, in a variety of ways, but we’ll start with the Atari 2600 before we delve into some sinister examples from other collecting communities in other articles (there are sadly many we could discuss).
Think of the legendary downfall of Todd Rogers, pictured above. Todd was known as a legitimate player for a long time, but recently was found to have submitted scores that were false – a fact not yet currently known to most. I’m talking about a guy with connections to Twin Galaxies. In one case, his high score for the 2600 title “Barnstorming” was found to be impossible to achieve even stripping the game down without a single obstacle in the way. For Donkey Kong his 15 million, record-breaking score was questioned and it was found the videos concerning his incredible tally didn’t exist in the first place. Knowing how respected he was by many, you can easily anticipate what happened next – suffice to say some respected members of Twin Galaxies left the site forever due to the lies they uncovered. This is simply to illustrate how hot of a topic this can be for something that, speaking of day-to-day life, really doesn’t matter. It’s not like Todd actually hurt anyone financially, and I’m not saying he has, but the point is people don’t like being lied to, about anything. For this article I’m going to discuss two recent cases in point concerning the Atari 2600. Take notes.
After the 2600 faded into nothingness it became a hobby for collectors, historians, and homebrew enthusiasts, who breathed life back into the system, leading to incredibly informative sites like Atari Age and Atarimania. These were run by dedicated fans with treasure troves of information that would make an expert explode at the seams with the power of knowledge. But sadly, as the market for the Atari picked up with online auction sites and reached its first peak around 10 years ago, a few people tried to make a buck and a name for themselves, and they’re still doing it.
The reason for this is simple, the ability to create reproductions. Reproductions are simply homemade versions of actual games, which in many cases are actually illegal. Usually, in the case of unreleased games, it’s permissible, but occasionally people translate legally released games from other countries, or take ROMs and make fake versions of them to prey on unsuspecting and generally new, uneducated collectors. For the Atari 2600 this has generally only happened in two areas thus far. One involving money, the other fame. Let’s look at two cases studies.
Money comes first, right? For the Atari 2600, this was the unintended consequence of sites like Hozer Video Games, which provide the service of making reproductions. Someone buys a cart, puts it up for auction stating something like “I’m not sure what this is but it looks rare”, and there you go. You’d think maybe the makers of these reproductions would be more careful with who they sell to. Not like it really matters, you can do it yourself. All it takes is a donor cart, an EPROM programmer, EPROMs to replace the ones you take out, and a UV eraser. That’s a lot more technical sounding than it actually is, and it’s easy to prove it. The most recent occurrence of this concerns two rare Atari 2600 games released by Wizard Video, who tried out their hand with video games after success with horror releases on VHS. Two horror titles were created by Wizard for the Atari 2600, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. They’re interesting in the history of discussions on video game violence, but very loosely based on the movies. TCM is barely playable and though Halloween is more engaging, it’s pretty superficial. Interest lies in the fact that they’re quite rare due to poor distribution. More importantly, they’re cross-collectible, meaning both horror fans and retro gamers have an interest in them, which means double the bids if you throw up an auction. Part of the problem is if you post something as a prototype or reproduction, eBay has a tendency to remove the listing. So, to get around this, most sellers do something like this:
As you can see, this seller has been very careful in how they list their fake; they provide information about what it literally is, but nowhere state it’s a reproduction or the fact that such a double-ender of TCM/ Halloween was never even created for the Atari 2600. Some games in double-ender exist, such as those by Xonox, but there was never, ever a combo title for TCM and Halloween. In the above image, the label is clearly fake. But as you can see in the second image below, the label is actually hacked and Photoshopped using scans of real labels. This is easily verified by the two separate reproductions in the listing below it. Look at the price they got for what amounts to maybe $10 of actual work…
It doesn’t stop there, though. Sometimes people try scams like this to make a name for themselves. Todd Rogers faking scores is just the beginning, there may sadly never be an end with the internet allowing people to create pure fantasy to alleviate the pain of their boring lives. Case in point, there was a film expo in Toronto in 2012 where a man by the name of Joe Hart, who actually has family connections to the Hart family of wrestling fame, was given a table in the lobby to display some collectibles he acquired relevant to the film “Creepshow. He referred to this set-up as the “Creepshow Expo”, even though it was more like “Creepshow Table in the Lobby”.
The page is littered with spelling errors and gibberish that suggests the man may lack a sense of reality. He even suggests on the Facebook page that he somehow had a hand in bringing George Romero to Toronto and helped to fund the event, even making reference to a legit magazine as though he’s connected to it (he isn’t, I checked with them, and removed their name to keep them out of it). My Facebook is set to Russian, so if you’re wondering about the Cyrillic, that’s why.
To be honest, he actually appears to have some interesting items from the film’s production, though now you may question some of those items. Because sadly, as part of a gimmick, as part of a lie, whatever the reason – he started telling fans he possessed the one and only Creepshow prototype for the Atari 2600. It was displayed within a glass case on his table at the “expo” you see above, which we’ll refer to now as “table”. A prototype, you ask? No, it’s a complete farce, meaning, he has either a real, different game (like Asteroids) with replaced labels, or it’s an empty piece of plastic with no actual game in it. But let’s see an actual picture of this rare find so you can judge for yourself:
As you can see, and if you have half a brain, this is nothing close to a real prototype, which looks more like this (TCM Prototype courtesy of Atari Age):
So what’s the difference? Come on people. The label on our Creepshow “prototype”, isn’t properly glued and isn’t properly cut. It should be rounded at each corner since Joe is pretending it’s Atari-brand, and further it’s lacking the design of actual Atari-branded cartridges. Atari was using a different label format in 1982, when Creepshow was released, so unless they decided to release the game around 1979 before the movie even came out, there is no way the label would have such a design. Looks strangely new as well… Further, why would Stephen King be named as the programmer (see bottom of the label)? He is certainly not known for programming anything. Not to mention the label art is the comic book image taken from the Wikipedia entry on Creepshow. But it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps the man just wants attention. Hell, if Bret “The Hitman” Hart was related to me, perhaps I would as well, but what sense does it make to lie to both horror and Atari fans to try to elevate yourself? Even when presented with proof, some people still don’t know when to shut up or apologize.
See that? That’s a “screenshot” from this Creepshow prototype, according to Joe Hart, and here’s the “video” of it:
First of all, the video was made by someone using Flash, and features more colors and graphical effects than the Atari 2600 could actually handle. It isn’t even the same gameplay as the “screenshot” shown above. And notice, the person who posted the video actually has their name at the end of it? Yeah. The screenshot is more technical. An acquaintance of mine, who is always around the famous Atari Age and runs his own site Atarimania, sums up the technical details for us like this via Facebook in a comment to Joe Hart about his fake prototype:
You’d think that would be enough, but sometimes people don’t know when to quit. Here’s Joe’s response from Facebook:
Good luck making any sense out of that. The first problem is it amounts to a collection of random facts, and further it makes incorrect statements about some 2600 game companies, such as Mystique (later sold to Playaround), who never, ever made or planned to make any horror games. Further, the 2600 was not released in Japan, that was the Atari 2800, with only a handful of Atari’s most popular games in its library. Since it bombed due to Nintendo’s Famicom, there’s not a chance in hell they would take a gamble on a game that was a license of an American horror film. The only Creepshow game for the Atari 2600 that exists is a homebrew that is still in the works. Be warned, Joe Hart or someone else may try to pawn it off as legit or attempt to sell it.
Some of this information is so readily available on the internet that it’s amazing anyone would continue on with such a lie, but it seems when you’re in deep enough, you prefer to drown. In this case, thankfully, the person in question has not tried to make any money as of yet, it’s simply a method for drawing attention to his strange obsession with a single film and his table expo that amounts to a collection of moderately interesting items. The point is, it’s wrong to lie to both horror and video game fans about something that doesn’t exist. People spend their lives cataloguing and researching these games to preserve this piece of our cultural history, and to have someone create false history for their own personal gain is not morally correct, and in many ways is just as bad as trying to make money off of a reproduction. It’s akin to Discovery Channel’s latest debacle concerning their megalodon “documentary”. In the age of the internet, it’s a good idea to do your own research and hold on to your wallet. As they say though, there’s a sucker born every minute.