The TV was a wedding present, a Rank Arena. The previous generation had its problems; it was built from poor components, it broke down easily. But the new model? It was indestructible. A good wedding present, they said.
Mary Cusumano. Just married. To Angelo, a hard working young man she met four years ago at another wedding. Mary doesn't say much about that day - understandable - it was over 35 years ago - but she clearly remembers that something ‘clicked'.
Four years later, in 1981, Mary was happily married, sleeping in a house cluttered with towering piles of Atari 2600 games and one single colour television.
"I can go back all the way back to where it started," says Mary Cusumano.
This is where The Gamesmen story begins. 31 years ago, in this house. With a wedding, four separate piles of video games and a brand new Rank Arena.
If you grew up in Sydney during the 80s or 90s, chances are you have a Gamesmen memory. Everyone does. Tugging your parent's arms towards their Easter Show stand, car-pooling from the distant orbit of Sydney's suburbs. Huddled in the back seat, frantically scratching at tightly-wrapped cellophane on the drive back home.
"The Gamesmen's game is computer games," went the jingle. Almost every gamer in Sydney knew it by heart.
The Gamesmen was Angelo Cusumano's brainchild, a retail enterprise born of serendipity and a legendary, pure work ethic. The year was 1982 and video game retail barely existed, but Angelo already understood the electronics market and saw the potential of these strange computer games. He knew a market existed and, if it didn't, he knew he could help build one. Mary remembers being a little confused by Angelo's early enthusiasm, but her new husband had to make a living. Selling computer games was as good an idea as any.
"Angelo came from an electrical background, and when he said this is what he wanted to do I was like, okay, great!," says Mary.
"But I didn't really know anything about games."
No-one did. Not then. Not really. But Angelo helped spread the word, starting in the burgeoning markets of Sydney.
"My lounge room was just filled with piles of stock," remembers Mary, smiling.
"This pile would go to this market, that pile would go to another. Everyone would come in and pick up their stock for different markets. It was tough in some respects - the business took over my whole home!"
The Sydney markets. Humble beginnings, but a solid starting point and one Mary Cusumano is proud of. In the early 80s Sydney's markets represented more than a simple shopping excursion, they were an experience in and of themselves - families came in droves to scramble for bargains.
"The markets were a real destination back then," explains Mary. "It was something people did on a Sunday, it was like a day out, and it was a great way to expose yourself."
For Mary's oldest son, Angelo Jr, the markets represent up many of his first memories. Of the business, and his Father.
"I was about three or four years old during the market days," says Angelo Jr. "I can remember some of it.
"I can vividly remember the Intellivision and Atari being sold. Game and Watches as well. Every kid wants to go along and work with his dad, and I was no different."
‘The long way is the short way.'
Mary's youngest son Chris Cusumano remembers the words of his father as he carries stock to and from The Gamesmen's shop in Penshurst. It was one of many famous Angelo Cusumano sayings.
"Sometimes you try and pick up all the stock in one load," Chris says, "and then you drop it and have to pick it all up again. If you had just made two quick trips you would have been fine.
"The long way is the short way."
"Our Dad was a man of sayings," adds Angelo Jr.
‘Stack ‘em high and watch them fly‘ - that was another one. Angelo always thought big. He wasn't content with trawling Sydney's markets for the rest of his days. As video games propelled towards the mainstream, The Gamesmen followed, expanding their business with a store in the suburb of Riverwood in 1984.
"I can remember our first shop in Bonds Road," says Angelo Jr. "This was pre-NES.
"We still had the market stalls at that time, but we also had the Bonds Road store as a showroom where we were able to manage holding stock."
It was around this time that The Gamesmen decided to invade the Sydney Easter Show.
The Sydney Easter Show - part agricultural celebration, part carnival. It also represented opportunity: retailers could hire space at the event and the exposure was tremendous. Back in the late 80s families would drive from the furthest reaches of New South Wales to attend the event.
In the store today Angelo Jr still gets accosted by grown men who want to reminisce about The Gamesmen's presence at The Easter Show. It was a culmination of factors. In the late 80s and early 90s in particular, the popularity of video games was steamrolling, especially amongst children of a certain age. Kids would spend hours queuing at the Gamesmen's retail stand to check out the latest releases.
"It was good timing," says Angelo. "I don't know if the same thing could work in this day and age. It really put us on the map.
"Sega and Nintendo, at the time, were all over the Easter show because it gave them a way to expose their products too. The first Easter Show when the Super Nintendo came out; there were kids lining up to play it. From experiencing it at the Gamesmen stand, they went home - and where were they going to buy it from? Well, they bought it from us."
Angelo Jr and his brother Daniel huddle around the Rank Arena, firing red shells at one another in Super Mario Kart. Chris is a little younger and prefers to clamber over the elaborate displays his Dad builds for the shop: a brick wall with Blanka bursting through for Street Fighter II, a helicopter for the launch of Desert Strike on the Mega Drive - they still use that one today, says Angelo Jr. For Call of Duty.
The one thing everyone remembers about Angelo Cusumano is how good he was at building things.
"He was very imaginative," says Mary.
"The store was always known for its displays," continues Angelo Jr. "A lot of the stuff we still have today. He built stuff. These days you see that kind of thing, but back then it was all new…"
Angelo worked hard, and he drove a hard bargain. In a lot of ways he helped build the market for video games in New South Wales, and he continued pushing throughout the early 90s. At its peak The Gamesmen was a family franchise, spread across four locations in New South Wales. Angelo's game was computer games. He was the face and voice for the family business he started back in 1982. Children would walk into the store and point at him - the man on TV. The Gamesman.
"He wasn't a gamer, he was just a hard worker really," says Angelo Jr. "He saw a niche and just jumped in. A lot of people still comment on him, the suppliers. He was one of those people that would go in hard!
"The staff still remember his way of managing people, and the business, all the little things he would do.
"He was a protector."
December 21, 1995. It was a Thursday - late night shopping - and the Gamesmen store in Penhurst was packed. Only four days till Christmas. Mary remembers about 40 people being in the store. Angelo Jr thinks it was closer to double that figure.
"And then three people just decided to change our lives completely," says Mary.
"Two of them remained inside the store. Another one went out the back and, you know. That was where my husband was."
Angelo was shot twice. He did not survive.
"I was here when it happened, I was 13," says Angelo Jr.
"It was essentially a plan to rob the store, to rob customers and it went pear shaped. Afterwards there was a standard reaction of shock. I couldn't understand what was going on; very quickly there were police and staff and they wouldn't let me understand what was going on. Before I knew it I was home."
Home, Mary believed, was where the remaining Cusumanos belonged under the circumstances. In the wake of such a tragic event, she strove for consistency, and The Gamesmen store - the business - was a part of that.
"It was tough," says Mary. "It was horrific. But I was not going to let that incident change our lives, because that would have made things worse.
"I always thought that keeping things as normal as possible for them would be the best thing. Whether that would be living in the same home, where we have all our memories, where we all lived together, or the business - that was important.
"I just thought it was part of keeping things normal for them. And I'm sure that would have been part of Angelo's plan. Especially having three sons - I also have a younger daughter - I'm sure he would have wanted them to work in the business, so why not keep it for them?
"We've held onto his legacy. You don't just walk away from things that are tough in life, you grasp it, you just carry it through and I'm sure he's there helping us along the way. I know he's proud of what the boys have achieved. That's what's really been a part of us wanting to be here. It's our reason to still be here."
Without fail, each morning, one of Mary's three sons turns on the Rank Arena, and opens the Gamesmen store - they want to continue the legacy.
A sticky fingered kid picks up the controller; he hits the buttons aimlessly. The TV's colours are saturated, and the picture flickers every once in a while, but it works. The Rank Arena - Mary and Angelo's wedding present, the same television the three boys huddled round when they were young - now sits in the corner of the Penshurst store, a testament to the continued strength of a family who've refused to buckle in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Seven days a week, from opening till close the TV stays on. It hasn't broken down yet.
"Keep moving forward" is what the Cusumanos say to each other every day. It's a new saying. But their father, Angelo Cusumano, can no longer man the store he opened in Penshurst back in October of 1989. Only the remaining Cusumanos can do that.
Each brother in turn - Angelo Jr, Daniel and Chris - tell the same story. They graduated high school one day, started working full time the next. Being the oldest, Angelo made the decision first - the decision he always knew he would make.
"I think very early in the aftermath I made the decision. Because I had worked with Dad before and I knew I wanted to get involved, that I would work in the business," says Angelo Jr. "You're dealt some cards, those were the cards we were dealt. We didn't like them, but the positive is that we've managed to keep it going, and it's given us a chance to make a decent living together, as a family. I don't think he could be any happier."
"We want to continue the legacy," adds Chris. "Keep the dream going."
In a drawer in Chris' desk there's a DVD. On the DVD, in sequential order, is a recording of every single commercial The Gamesmen ever created, right from the beginning. The early ads star Angelo and the catchphrase is always the same: "Computer Games are our game". To begin with Angelo Senior is a little wooden, but you can visibly see the improvement as the years go by. He "finds his mojo", as Daniel puts it.
But then there's a moment, a strange transition. Angelo is no longer in the commercial. In his place, a very young Angelo Jr - he can't be any older than 17.
"Now computer games are my game," he says.
Mary looks at the list. 300 names. It's a long list. But she's gone through 600 before. She double-checks the first number and starts dialing. One by one Mary Cusumano will call every single customer who pre-ordered to let them know their game has arrived.
Mary could send a simple text message to the customers who pre-ordered the latest Call of Duty, but it's a job she enjoys. So she dials the phone numbers. All of them.
"That's important to me - to call them," she explains. "I still give them a call."
"Mum will sit there and have conversations," laughs Daniel. "We're like ‘get off the phone!'"
"It's something I can't help doing!" Says Mary. "And that was something my husband used to tell me when we were out at the markets, ‘stop talking to customers for so long.' I would always tell him, ‘that's just part of the service!'"
In their store in Penshurst, The Gamesmen built a museum. It has every console you can imagine set in chronological order. Above it is a timeline, charting the progress of video games: where they've come from, where they are at this present point in time. Throughout the last 30 years, among the most the most pivotal turning points in gaming's history, The Gamesmen have been present, "rolling with the punches," as Angelo Jr puts it.
Inside a store dripping with the history of video-games in this country, The Gamesmen built a museum. It somehow makes perfect sense.
"To us it's about where we've been, and where we are today," says Mary.
"He'd love it. He'd love it."
The shooter we now know as Fuse, and which was formerly known as Overstrike, looks like a reasonably realistic third-person shooter. The first time we saw it, though, it was a little more cartoony. Which apparently is nowhere near as cartoony as it was originally.
"The game started out with a much more stylized and campy direction. We were actually going for something on the level of Ratchet & Clank, except with humans," Insomniac Creative Director Brian Allgeier tells IGN. "Maybe it was going to appeal to gamers who, we thought at the time, might be in their late teens. The industry's changed quite a bit… We would focus test the game in front of a lot of gamers, and get their opinion. These are people that regularly play PlayStation 3 and Xbox games. We started to discover that everyone thought this was a game for their younger brother. We would hear this from 12-year-olds. So we decided that we needed to make a game that had an older appeal."
He goes on to say "that's kind of the reason for the delay. It's like moving the herd of elephants, or turning the ship. Just turning a massive ship into a different direction and charting a new course."
Now, Overstrike's first trailer was nowhere near "campy" or "Ratchet & Clank", so I'm assuming that was the game's starting point before setting off on the long creative voyage where we now find it, perhaps slightly adrift, today.
It's important to remember that games change art styles all the time while they're early in development. What's notable about Overstrike/Fuse's metamorphosis is that it's done so publicly.
For many long-time Splinter Cell fans, the latest trailer for upcoming Blacklist was cause for either laughter or deep concern, so distanced did it look from the series dark, quiet and stealthy roots.
Fan uproar isn't the fault of the game, though. It's the fault of the fans. Apparently.
"Everyone can make kneejerk reactions to a vertical slice of the game that are really uninformed as to what the whole experience is like," Blacklist director David Footman told Eurogamer last week. "We really have to be patient as we roll out each item about the game.
"The proof is always going to be in the pudding. Talk is talk, and it is just all talk right now. We really need to get a demo out there, for people to see how you can ghost levels, to see the gameplay. It seems to be an overreaction because people are just seeing the 'pow!', the explosiveness."
Ubisoft, this is a problem, and it's not with your fans. It's with your marketing. Assassin's Creed III has run into similar (if not as upsetting) issues with its trailers' YEAAHHH AMERICA tone, this despite the fact the people making the game say the actual game's not like that at all.
If there's more to Splinter Cell Blacklist's very essence, then show it. You can skimp on characters and settings all you want, but if a trailer can't even sell a game's tone accurately, what the hell is it selling?
It's almost tragic. Drip-feeding us content is one thing, but for a publisher's marketing arm to think it's a good idea idea to withhold such basics as what a game's like is crazy. How dare we see an action-filled trailer for a video game and assume that video game is full of action!
To then call fans' reactions "kneejerk" and "uninformed", as though this kind of thing is normal - it's not, even in the perverted world of games marketing - only makes things worse.
My favourite is probably He-Bro up there, but Sintaur is equally awesome, both for the figure and the name.
It can sometimes be rough trying to find enough quality cosplay to feature in this weekly roundup. Not this week.
This week has just about everyhing you could want, from a high-fashion take on Star Wars to a Final Fantasy wedding, via the Pyro's psychotic dreamland before winding up with some amazing Dragon's Lair cosplay. Yup. Dragon's Lair.
To see the larger pics in all their glory (or so you can save them as wallpaper), right-click on the "expand" icon on the main image above and select "open in new tab".
As seen on SenninUzumaki.
While everyone gets excited over Firaxis' very-promising XCOM remake, it's easy to forget that there was once another XCOM game on the cards from 2K. One we haven't seen nor heard from for a very long time.
There may be a good reason for that. First seen by the public as a uniquely retro first-person shooter, these screenshots sent in by a Kotaku reader - part of what we're told was a recent marketing survey - suggest the game has gone back to the drawing board, coming back as a third-person shooter.
While the 1960s setting and general XCOM prequel vibe remains, it's now apparently being pitched as a squad-based game similar to SOCOM or Republic Commando, with the player in command of a team of agents, which you can order around the map to perform various actions.
The survey suggests the game is still in development at 2K Marin (it was originally being led by 2K's Canberra team before all the delays), as it tells the user that "it is being developed by the same people who created BioShock 2".
If that's not interesting enough, the survey takers are also being told the game would be for PS3 and Xbox 360 (with no mention of PC), and are being asked how they'd feel if it was made available as a $30 downloadable title, as opposed to a $60 retail game.
All of which, if true, make it sound like 2K is set to pull an "I Am Alive", cutting its losses on a troubled project and trying to make the best of a bad situation by selling it on the cheap.
Bear in mind though this is all unconfirmed. We've contacted 2K for comment, and will update if we hear back.
UPDATE - 2K tells Kotaku "We have not made any new announcements regarding the XCOM title currently in development at 2K Marin, and it is our policy not to comment on rumors or speculation."
Don't worry, this isn't (very) NSFW. We're here for laughs, not leers.
The clip above is an edited version of a film (remixed by DeeprUnderstanding) originally
directed executive produced by Hugh Hefner himself, back when he was just an old guy who was out of touch, and not the shambling ghost of the 1960s he is today.
It speaks directly to a growing fetish of mine: indulging in the hilarious ways the 1990s thought the internet worked, or someday would work.
You'd think a business that's one stop short of porn would have seen what was coming, but no. For one, I'm sad to report, 1990s Hugh, that he word "cyberspunk" isn't really a thing. Nor is the internet a "renaissance of the written word", where playmates both write music and strip down on their office floor.
Then again, what are the chances of seeing somebody from the mid-90s say, on film, "I truly believe that in the 21st century the internet will be dominated by cats, animated .gif files and amateur pornography"?
Mike Sass worked at BioWare for twelve years. That's an astonishing amount of time for an artist to stay put at the one studio, but it also means that if you've ever picked up a BioWare game or even seen an advertisement for one, you've likely seen his stuff.
Working mostly as a marketing illustrator, Sass' richly illustrative and, dare I say, refreshingly old-fashioned pieces have helped sell and define our experiences with games like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
He left BioWare in 2008 to go freelance, and has since worked for companies like Blizzard and Magic: The Gathering owners Wizards of the Coast.
If you like what you see, you can check out more of Sass' stuff at his personal site.
To see the larger pics in all their glory (or so you can save them as wallpaper), right-click on them below and select "open in new tab".
Consoles see two big releases this week, Resident Evil 6 from Capcom and NBA 2K13 from 2K Sports. That leaves little room for other big stars.
• Resident Evil 6 (PS3, 360)
• War of the Roses (PC)
• NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, PSP, PC, Wii)
• NiGHTS into Dreams (PS3)
• Sonic Adventure 2 HD (PSN)
• Sonic Adventure 2 HD (XBLA, PC)
• Cave Story (3DS)
• Drop Zone: Under Fire (Wii)
• Samurai G (3DS)
Coming in a close second is NBA Live, a game that hasn't been on shelves since 2009. There is only one person who worked on both NBA Elite 11 and NBA Live 13, both canceled at the last minute, in 2010 when the game was being made in Canada and in 2012 where it was developed in Florida. That is two years of work with nothing to show for it.
The EA Sports publicist who called me Thursday to say their NBA product had, again, been scrapped also picked up his life and family and moved from the Pacific Northwest to be a part of this project. His marketing manager did, too. They at least have other titles to work on.
But Andres Rivela moved an entire continent just to find the same ignominy at the end of the road, thanks to EA Sports' inability, for a second straight time, to set reasonable expectations for its NBA game or fully understand what remaking a console sports simulation involves.
There are others on the team who may have covered shorter distances to be a part of this, but are no less stranded. Florida is a geographic backwater in console games development compared to British Columbia, Seattle, or Texas. NBA Live 13 reached full strength in its development team about a year ago, and though there are some longtime EA developers in the creative leadership, a lot of guys around Rivela's rank had to move to be a part of this. I played basketball with them back in April.
And what I am about to write here, I would say in their presence: EA Sports should junk its NBA simulation. Just get out of it and this license altogether. There is no upside to kicking the NBA Live can another year down the road, for either management or labor. Two straight efforts at publishing an NBA simulation have failed, which didn't even happen in the days when games were sold on cartridges. It only gets worse from here.
This is a publicly traded company that has eaten three years' worth of development costs on a multimillion-dollar license while publishing no game. Meanwhile its competitor, 2K Sports, at a fraction of the size, under corporate leadership that would jettison a licensed project at the first sign of trouble, has run out three consecutive white-hot excellent, year-round sales leaders, because anything less would mean the end of all their jobs.
You become known for that kind of killer instinct only one way: delivering the goods. And EA Sports will have to bag a lot more groceries in NBA Live 14 or whatever it's called, than it planned to in 13.
It is an open secret that NBA Live 13 was going to be a stripped-down, digital-only title to be sold for $20 on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. You were going to get online multiplayer, play-now exhibition, and a basic franchise mode. And they couldn't even pull that off over one, two or three years' development time, depending on what the story was when you talked to EA Sports.
Meanwhile, NBA 2K13 has a shoe editor. That will even mail you the shoes you created.
Maybe NBA Live 14 could release in South Korea, or some country where its overall brand isn't irrevocably tarnished. (China's probably out.) There is no way sports video gamers in North America are going to tolerate a barebones $20 digital title that took two years to make. Not as a serious alternative to something that is as intellectual as NBA 2K. Maybe that strategy could have worked for EA this year, coming back from the Elite disaster, as a kind of promise ring for going all the way next year.
Maybe people were willing to believe NBA Live 13 was really a one-year project, considering the year lost to NBA Elite in 2010, and the autopsy needed in 2011 when the game was sent to a new studio. Fine. But now? You better believe NBA Live is now officially a multi-year project. Consumers will expect multi-year quality. And EA Sports is asking for two years, if not more, to complete basic features that 2K Sports can deliver in one.
So if it really wants to open the ball on these people, EA Sports has to sign up for a lot more development than it originally bargained for in its comeback year, despite not collecting a dime on an NBA title at launch since 2009. I don't see how it makes money without an on-the-shelves retail game. (I also don't see how it makes money with one.) But if they're going to do this, instead of just the three pillars of online multiplayer, presentation and core gameplay, you're now talking about adding a singleplayer career mode like "My Player," which is almost an entire video game unto itself, and which is now a basic expectation in every team sports simulation published in North America.
If NBA Live is not going to go with street-ball minigames or celebrity teams, EA Sports could fall back on international teams and FIBA rules, but that still requires licensing and development adjustments for modes that telemetry would suggest are novelties at most. So maybe you're talking about porting over some kind of Ultimate Team setup—again, now a basic expectation of every sports simulation—which requires a dedicated staff to manage the card collection.
Fine, let's say EA Sports is willing to do all of this. Guess what. They get to do it all over again for NBA Live 15 on the Xbox 1066 or PlayStation 4our or whatever the next generation is going to be called— while maintaining support for NBA Live 14.
The average gamer might have thought EA would just jump back into the Major League Baseball business once 2K vacated it, but they're not. Not when they'd have to build a game from the ground up, only to remake everything a year later to take advantage of new hardware and fulfill gamer expectations.
Yet we're supposed to believe that is what NBA Live is now going to do, when it failed against lesser conditions. And that's not even considering the Sisyphean marketing job EA Sports will be up against next year, when every mention of NBA Live coming up to its release will carry the stench of two canceled titles.
Since those two cancellations, NBA 2K has brought in the greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth, then his friends, then the team they all played on, and, OK, how about Jay-Z as executive producer of the whole thing. Visual Concepts will not stand pat. They are singularly consumed with eradicating EA Sports from basketball. Next year, who knows what we get. I keep expecting Earl Manigault in blacktop mode, with Roundball Rock in the soundtrack.
Though an EA Sports spokesman insisted the entire NBA Live series has not been canceled, only this year's game, I think there's another reckoning to come in the form of the company's next quarterly earnings call. Last time they got on the phone with investors, the stock price was at a five-year low. It's not much better now.
Peter Moore, the current Electronic Arts chief operating officer, and former president of EA Sports, often spoke of the tight relationship the label had with the NBA, and of the personal one he had with the league's commissioner, David Stern. At E3 he told Gamasutra that, after 17 years as a licensee of the NBA, he could not "imagine a future of EA Sports without an NBA game."
Well, I don't have to imagine a future without an EA Sports NBA title. The present is enough. We're in the third year without one. EA Sports is holding a terrible hand in a poker game to which it has put the most in the pot. If it wants to match that to see another card, alright. I think it's going to fold. I think it should fold.