It’s a rainy, dreary Saturday here in Ireland today. I figured I would spend my morning setting up a video capture rig and begin transferring some of my prized video cassettes and Laserdiscs to digital format for safe keeping. I dug out a box that holds my small, but perfectly formed collection of cassettes and began filing through to select what to record first. A petite cardboard slipcase was snuggled in between a couple of Gamest DoDonpachi cassettes, I reached in and dug it out to reveal some glorious artwork by Masamune Shirow. What I had retrieved was a promotional cassette tape for Lords of Thunder (Japanese title: Winds of Thunder/ウィンズ オブ サンダー ). With a runtime of just 7 minutes, I figured this would be an ideal cassette to capture first and so I popped in the tape, hit record and settled in to watch this short video.
A TTI Duo logo swings it’s way fancifully on to the screen, overlaying handheld footage of someone wandering up a flight of stairs, through a room filled with concerningly questionable furniture and in to a darkened room where a television has been left on, coincidentally hooked up to a Turbo Duo playing Lords of Thunder. Cue an awful crossfade effect from the television set to some captured footage of the game. I assume ‘Rod Soldier’ (if indeed the short end credits that consist solely of ‘Another Rod Soldier Production’; is anyone actually aware of any previous Rod Soldier productions? I’d love to know – are to go by, then this guy was the director of this travesty) was aiming for some sort of effect that simulates the viewer being transported ‘in to’ the game.
For the next 7 minutes cue a melting pot of captured game footage, randomly cutting away to frankly the most bizarre, nonsensical drivel ever recorded. Honestly, what was ‘Rod Soldier’ thinking when making this video? Were a bunch of NEC executives flown in from Japan to meet with ‘Rod’ to discuss marketing for the Turbo Duo and the seminal shooting game Lords of Thunder in the USA? Was ‘Rod Soldier’ the top dog in the US division’s marketing department at the time? What on Earth possessed this man to want to market an incredible game with a load of old bunk that had absolutely nothing to do with the product or relating to the target audience?
One scene in particular utterly boggles my mind. ‘Rod’ and his ‘crew’ are hurtling along in a car down a busy street, window wound down, yelling at a woman in another vehicle (who is obviously a plant), asking her what she thinks of Lords of Thunder. That’s all well and good in an ‘ask the gamer on the street vibe’ that seems to echo throughout this promotional video. However ‘Rod’ commits two colossal atrocities with the events that unfold during this sequence. Firstly, expert director ‘Rod Soldier’ appears to have never heard of a product called a wind shield. This particular product is incredibly useful for reducing wind noise, especially for outdoor recordings. This is particularly evident when we can quite clearly hear ‘Rod’
screaming talking, but unless you have the hearing of Lee Majors, a bat, or Taiwan’s PAVE PAWS radar then almost nothing the interviewee says is audible. Not a good start ‘Rod’.
“I already have SEGA but I would trade it in for this!”
What follows is utterly baffling. The interview cuts away to a nightime shot of ‘some dudes’ in a car hurtling down a freeway exit ramp in a vain attempt to launch the car off of all four wheels. They succeed, and speed off screen, the car swaying wildly out of control while some arms appear out of the windows, fist pumping and yelling and so on. This inexplicable sequence then cuts immediately to a scene of what appears to a be a rather serious car accident, oh and a shot of a rubbish bin. The mind genuinely boggles, frantically, to try and process what any of this has to do with an incredible Japanese shooting game. A game that, if marketed correctly, may well have helped increase sales of a console with such a minute market share in the West. Heck, even a young lad in a shop at the start of the video admits “I already have SEGA but I would trade it in for this!”. Which is encouraging.
Cue more frantic edits of captured gameplay and interviews with people of a certain age who it is entirely acceptable to assume would have absolutely no idea what a video game is, let alone what Lords of Thunder is. If the majority of the younger population at the time had only Nintendo and SEGA in their video game vocuabulary, is it really feasible to expect an 874 year old man with no teeth and a shopping trolley, or a man who looks like a Captain Birds Eye would have even the feintest inkling what an NEC Turbo Duo console is?
“Most of what he says you will interpret as “blah blah blah…”, the whole time fixated on this gentleman’s exquisite mullet.”
So the feature canters on, splicing in more footage from the game, which is really the only plus point I can find in this mess until Val Kilmer (or at least a very good look-a-like) shows up to give a bit of ‘toothy spiel’ about why he likes the game. Most of what he says you will interpret as “blah blah blah…”, the whole time fixated on this gentleman’s exquisite mullet. I’m delighted that I now have this hair masterpiece safely tucked away in my digital archives.
This incredible ‘Rod Soldier’ production draws to a close with a few more gameplay sequences teamed up with a couple of shots of a man holding a cheap looking t-shirt that I assume was given away outside the shop where ‘SEGA kid’ was interviewed, and later seen at the pawn shop across the road offloading his Genesis to fund a Turbo Duo console and a copy of Lords of Thunder.
For the finale, the viewer is treated to a short (and in some cases very short) look at some upcoming games. First up is Bomberman 93. A good start. A solid game to attract a few punters. Next up is Riot Zone aka Crest Of Wolf, which is a lot like Streets Of Rage and Final Fight so the majority of time is spent on this game. Next is Dungeon Explorer II. The now salivating viewer is treated to footage of the title screen and….err…that’s it. I guess ‘Rod Soldier’ figured Dungeon Explorer II may look too boring compared to Riot Zone and thus any footage the developers were hoping to squeeze on to this video was left on the cutting room floor and fired out of a cannon in to the Sun. The preview is wrapped up with a look at Bonks Adventure. Another preview which consists of the title screen and about 0.0001 microseconds of gameplay. Still, it got more of a look in than poor Dungeon Explorer II did.
What do I think of Lords of Thunder? Not much, going by this 7 minute promotional video. I don’t think ‘Rod Soldier’ is much of a director (though I would like to see his other works prior to making this promo). I remain utterly baffled by what the director thought he was going to acheive with this mess. I would have loved to have been in the board room when this video was screened for the first time.
Thankfully I never saw this video until after I had purchased the game, many years later. Looking back at this oddity, and flipping through some of the marketing material used to promote the games and the console in the USA, it’s no wonder at all that NEC were smothered out of the West by SEGA, Nintendo and later Sony. It’s also a bit sad too, because if the campaign for the console and games was done right, the future of video games could have been very different. What is really sad though, is that Captain Birds Eye and Bloke With A Trolley are probably dead now.
I’ll be curled up on the sofa with a bottle of Amaretto. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.