Archive for the Videogames Category
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Arcade, Main, Videogames
I like being involved in weird and unusual things. Sometimes I get involved in weird and unusual things by saying “sure” when I get invited to such things. Last week my friend Dean invited me to attend the inaugural Track and Field World Championships at a local private arcade. Dean told me a few well known competitors would be flying in from California for the event. He also told me that local video wizard Drew Stone would be documenting the tournament, and wanted to know if I would provide audio commentary for the proceedings and interview the competitors.
I said “sure,” which is how I ended up attending the 2084 Arcade in Beggs, Oklahoma with a wireless microphone system threaded through my shirt while watching some of the best Track and Field competitors in the world battle it out on the vintage game.
Track and Field is a classic arcade game, released by Konami in 1983. The game’s unique controls and social competition aspect (allowing up to four players to compete against one another) were enough to make it a good game, but the hype surrounding the 1984 Olympics (which took place in Los Angeles, California) certainly didn’t hurt the game’s popularity.
Each competitor in Track and Field must use three buttons to play the game. There are two RUN buttons that must be hit repetitively to propel your feet in the running events, and a third JUMP/THROW button that does just that. Not only does the game require quick reflexes and pixel-point accuracy, but also maniacally fast fingers (with tough forearms to match). While many classic arcade games only require good hand/eye coordination, Track and Field adds those RUN buttons to the mix. Literally, the faster you can mash those buttons, the faster your little man goes.
And Hector “FLY” Rodriguez is the fastest of the fast, although technically speaking he “flicks” the buttons instead of mashing them, as do most of the world’s top players. In 2008 Hector scored 95,350 on the game, breaking the former world record of 95,040 which was held by Kelly Kobashigawa for 23 years.
But Hector was not the only competitor in town. Jack Gale, also from California, arrived with his eye on the trophy. Gale is no stranger to winning — he is currently first in the world in games like Enduro Racer, Mad Crasher, and Vs. Hogan’s Alley, and holds (and has previously held) many others. Gale’s world record on Zoo Keeper stood for nearly twenty years.
Jack Gale and Hector Rodriguez discuss strategy outside the arcade as Mason looks on.
King of Kong did a disservice to the arcade community by prominently displaying the negative side of rivalry instead of the friendly competitive spirit I’ve witnessed at every single arcade competition I’ve attended. I’ve met several of the people featured in King of Kong (including Billy Mitchell) who have been nothing but polite and genuinely kind, not only to me but their other competitors. Anyone expecting anything less from a gaming competition (hosted in Oklahoma, no less) should be surprised. Rob Walker, one of the contestants and the owner of the 2084 arcade, cooked enough burgers and dogs to feed an army. My only complaint of the day was that so many people brought so many pops and drinks to share that there was no room in the ice chests for us to add our twelve pack. The vast majority of people I’ve met in this circle are generous and kind; in Oklahoma, doubly so.
(When some of the competitors noticed Mason taking an interest in the game, they began giving him tips and encouraging him to enter. While we all knew Mason’s chances of winning a tournament that included the world record holder were extremely slim, it was very nice for them to include him, a gesture that truly shows the real generosity and kindness of most arcade enthusiasts.)
With our bellies full of burgers and hot dogs, it was time for practice to begin. On any other day, everyone’s focus would have been on Walker’s immaculate collection of games… but not on this Saturday. On this Saturday, machines like Journey, Robotron, Joust, and Bubbles sat untouched as the contestants warmed up their chops on the three practice machines that had been moved into the center of the arcade.
As the sun went down, the competition lit up as nine hopeful competitors entered the qualifying round. Each qualifying round was played on the same machine. The machine had two cameras mounted on it, one rebroadcasting the screen to a large flat screen television mounted behind the player and another one recording each player’s face. Additional action was recorded by two or three additional cameras. All of this wizardry was concocted and coordinated by local television media Drew Stone.
After the prelims, the field was narrowed to five finalists: world record holder Hector Rodriguez, Jack Gale, event co-organizors Dean (owner of Arcade Sales and Rentals) and Rob, and Rob’s son Brad. Less than 10,000 points separated the top five scores.
Although Mason did not advance to the finals, he had another job to perform. Mason randomly picked each finalist’s name from a plate to determine the final order.
Although the competition was always friendly, it was also intense as each player flicked, tapped, and occasionally bashed the buttons as furiously as possible in order to propel their runners toward the finish line. Each competitor pulled out every trick they knew in order to obtain as many bonuses as possible. With gamers this evenly matched, a winning score could come down to earning a single 1,000 point bonus.
By the end of the night we were all hot, sweaty, tired, and having a blast. Dean and I, with our wireless microphones attached to our lapels, gave commentary on each player’s performance as they pushed their scores higher and higher. And while every competitor did awesome, at the end only one person could be the ultimate winner.
At the end of the night, pictures of the competitors were taken surrounding the Track and Field machines. The machine used in the competition along with a few additional Track and Field marquees were autographed. Trophies, leftover from the original Classic Video Game Tournaments in the 1980s, were obtained and distributed to the winners.
Oh, and speaking of winners, at the end of the night the points were tallied and the winner…
…will be revealed when the video is released. Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!
Thanks to all the competitors and spectators who attended the event, and special thanks to Dean and Rob for organizing the event in Rob’s wonderful private arcade, and Hector and Jack for coming all the way from California to attend the event. Talks are already underway in regards to a bigger event next year. Mason is hoping they do; he spent the morning practicing…
PS: If you want to hear me talk about the Commodore 64 version of Track and Field, I covered it a few months ago on my C64 game podcast, Sprite Castle.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Commodore, Main, Videogames
A friend of mine recently asked me to name five games I would recommend playing all the way through from beginning to end. There are tons of modern games (The Last of Us, Halo, Portal) that have great story lines, but I wanted to go somewhat old school with my list. I also couldn’t possibly limit myself to just five, so instead here are ten games I recommend modern gamers go back and play through from beginning to end. Note that this is different than my list of games that will always stick with me; the games on this post were picked for their memorable story lines and the rewards that come with completing them.
Presented roughly chronological, let’s start at the beginning.
01. Adventureland (Scott Adams, 1978)
It all begins with Adventureland. From Wikipedia:
“Adventureland is an early, formative work of interactive fiction. It was written by Scott Adams, and was not only the first text adventure game to be commercially published and sold for the then-new home computers, but was the first commercially available adventure game of any kind for use on the systems.”
Why you should beat it: Quite simply, because this is where it all began. All roads to computer gaming eventually lead back to these original text adventures. There are many, many text adventures to choose from, including all the great ones released by Infocom, but to really understand where it all began, you should play Adventureland.
When you’re done reading the list, you can play Adventureland online right here.
Although the original was text only, later releases added static pictures for players to look at.
02. Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980)
The Atari 2600’s hardware was somewhat designed with Pong in mind. Pong contains two players (“paddles”), a ball, and a background (in Pong’s case, a simple vertical line dividing the screen). Most of the system’s early games like Combat and Outlaw were technical riffs on this design. Programmers weren’t trying to figure out how to create an adventure game for the Atari 2600 back then — they were all trying to figure out how to make working games using the console’s limited resources. Most of the system’s early games (including the ones I just mentioned) took up 2k of ROM each. That’s way less information than the words in this article.
Inspired by Colossal Cave (the original text adventure), Warren Robinett decided to create an an adventure — unoriginally titled Adventure — for the Atari 2600. He used the Atari’s backgrounds for the mazes, the two “player” sprites for monsters, the “ball” as the player’s avatar, and the “bullets” for additional maze features. He crammed all of this into 4k.
In retrospect Adventure looks incredibly simple and archaic; at the time of its release, it was heralded as imaginative and groundbreaking. According to Wikipedia:
Atari’s Adventure sold one million copies, making it the seventh best selling Atari 2600 game in history. As the first action-adventure video game and first console fantasy game, Adventure established its namesake genres on video game consoles. In addition to being the first graphical adventure game on the Atari 2600 console, it was the first video game to contain a widely known Easter egg, and the first to allow a player to use multiple, portable, on-screen items. The game was also the first to use a fog of war effect in its catacombs, which obscures most of the playing area except for the player’s immediate surroundings. The game has been voted the best Atari 2600 cartridge in numerous polls, and has been noted as a significant step in the advancement of home video games. GamePro ranked it as the 28th most important video game of all time in 2007. In 2010, 1up.com listed it as one of the most important games ever made in its “The Essential 50″ feature.” (Link)
Why you should beat it: Because Adventure was first, and for so, so many game developers, this was the first adventure game they ever played. With 4,096 bytes of code, a few blocky blocks and a dragon that looked like a duck, Adventure showed gamers what video games could be — an adventure.
03. Karateka (Apple II, 1984)
Originally released for the Apple II but quickly ported to other home computer systems, in Karateka players must punch and kick their way through a long line of opponents in order to rescue Princess Mariko, who is being held prisoner by Akuma in his castle. At the time of its release, Karateka was championed for its fluid animation and cinematic experience.
Few martial arts games of the 1980s had plots. The plot of Karate Champ is “keep winning tournaments,” while the plot of Kung Fu Master is “keep punching people until you save Sylvia.” Karateka was different though, and was presented like a mini movie complete with cut scenes and jumps in location as parts of the plot were revealed. When I saw Princess Mariko slump down in her cell for the first time, man, I knew I had to save her.
Karateka also features multiple enemies that can kill you with a single blow, including deadly portcullis and, ultimately, Princess Mariko. There is no saving your game, no bonus lives, and no continuing. In Karateka dead means dead — no happy ending for you.
Why you should beat it: Because both in life and in Karateka, you only get one chance. This game taught me that video games could be tough, fair, and rewarding all at the same time. From finishing off a tough enemy with a triple kick-kick-kick combo to punching Akuma’s bird out of the air in mid-flight, the whole game just seems fun. And for most first time players, the game ends with you being insta-killed, causing them to slap their foreheads and play through the entire game again to rescue the princess. Just like real life, sometimes 99% isn’t enough for a woman.
04. Bard’s Tale III (Interplay/Electronic Arts, 1988)
Wizardry (released by Sir-Tech in 1981) is cited as one of the first D&D-style games to be released for home computers. According to Wikipedia it was the first true party-based role-playing video game, the first dungeon crawl, and the first to feature color graphics. I loved Wizardry, but it wasn’t perfect. Soon, other games inspired by Wizardry came along, improving some of the original’s shortcomings. One of those was Bard’s Tale, released by Interplay and Electronic Arts in 1985. This was followed by Bard’s Tale II in 1986 and what I consider to be the best game in the series, Bard’s Tale III in 1988.
While Wizardry mostly limited players to multiple levels of the same dungeon and Bard’s Tale introduced us to multiple dungeons in the land of Skara Brae, Bard’s Tale III had players travelling to multiple worlds, parallel dimensions, and ultimately through time. It combined the dungeon-crawl layout of the previous games with the ability to enter short parser-based commands in order to handle certain objects.
Why you should beat it: Not only does Bard’s Tale III have a great story that takes place in great locations, but to me it’s the epitome of first-person old-school dungeon crawlers (Ultima be damned). I love this game and has dreamed about wandering around Skara Brae at night, dealing with wandering Wights and Ice Giants. The pixel-drawn animations are charming, the music is creative, and the whole game is enormously rewarding. None of that stupid grinding levels for the sake of grinding levels here (unless you’re starting with a fresh party). Instead it’s all about quest after quest after quest.
05. King’s Quest (Sierra Online, 1984)
King’s Quest holds the title of “first 3D graphical adventure game,” although the definition of 3D as it applies to video games has changed throughout the years. King’s Quest was called 3D because Sir Graham, the protagonist, could move both up and down as well as left and right and could walk behind objects as well as in front of them. It’s a far cry from Oculus Rift, I’ll give you that, but at the time it was still pretty amazing.
King’s Quest was designed to show of the graphic and sound capabilities of IBM’s first foray into home computing, the PCjr. The PCjr launched for $1,269 ($3,000, adjusted for inflation); for that you got 128KB of RAM, a horrible chiclet keyboard, no mouse, and no monitor. (A complete system with a few sensible upgrades brought the price closer to $1,500.) Prior to its release it was predicted that the PCjr would put all other home computing companies out of business, but that didn’t happen. Instead the PCjr was discontinued after three years, after having sold only 500,000 units.
Despite the PCjr itself which is viewed as a flop, the greatest thing to come out of its release was a new line of games made specifically for it. Sierra On-Line was paid in advance to develop a launch title that would show off the PCjr’s capabilities (including its 16 color mode and three voice sound chip, provided by Texas Instruments). That game ended up being King’s Quest.
King’s Quest was the first point-and-click game, a genre that became very popular in the 80s and 90s and died off as other interfaces took favor. In these games you use your computer’s mouse to click on the screen, causing your character to walk to that spot. (Again, I realize that’s not particularly groundbreaking today.) For computer owners without a mouse, you could still control the game using the keyboard’s directional arrow keys. This control scheme was combined with a simple parser that allowed players to interact with this new graphical environment. To pick up a rock you can’t just type “GET ROCK” as you’ll be greeted with “You’re not standing close enough to the rock.” You have to actually stand near things to interact with them.
The plot of King’s Quest is simple and involves gathering three treasures hidden throughout the land. You’ll have to solve small puzzles to retrieve them. As a kid, I struggled with some of the puzzles; as an adult, you’ll struggle with the interface as you’ll constantly be trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do.
Why you should beat it: King’s Quest isn’t the best point-and-click adventure of all time, and if you like this style of game there are many better ones you should try including Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max hit the Road, Full Cycle and The Dig. Sierra also released several other series of Quest games including Space Quest, Police Quest, and Hero’s Quest. That being said, it’s always fun to explore the roots of gaming. Better games came from companies like Sierra On-Line’s radical thinking and willingness to throw things to the proverbial castle wall to see what would stick. I found defeating King’s Quest a rewarding experience — and if you do too you’ll be excited to know that not only was the game later remade with better graphics, but there are also seven official sequels which will keep you busy for a long time to come.
06. Another World (Delphine Software, 1991)
In half an hour, Another World manages to tell a complete story. It does this without any spoken or written dialog and with no additional information other than the game presented on the screen. Of course it doesn’t need to show your health information because if anything touches you in this game, you instantly die.
Another World begins with a video showing Lester Knight Chaykin’s particle accelerator being struck by lightning. Even though as we watch the action unfold we know what’s about to happen before Lester does, the moment he is zapped away into the alternate universe the game takes place in is still jarring. The transition from introduction to gameplay is seamless; you will find yourself suddenly controlling the action you were just previously watching. (If you don’t, you will soon find Lester drowning…)
Why you should beat it: The polygon style of graphics used in Another World were very unique at the time, although I suspect many of the techniques invented for this game live on in modern gaming. Even if it didn’t have a groundbreaking art and storytelling style — which it does — it would still be a great game.
I’ll be honest with you: this game gets super hard toward the end and the odds of you beating it are pretty low. If you aren’t compelled to play this game, or don’t get very far after trying, you should at least watch the entire playthrough below on YouTube. It’s 23 minutes long and will spoil the ending for you, but it’s almost as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
07. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)
By the time Lucasfilm Games had entered the ring, point-and-click adventures had dropped manual parsers and were completely point-and-click games. While some gamers didn’t like losing the control the parser provided, being able to select verbs from a menu and objects from the screen took some of the guesswork out of “what am I supposed to do here” problems gamers previously experienced with these games.
Maniac Mansion introduced a few new ideas to the genre, including the ability to switch between multiple characters in multiple locations in order to solve puzzles, but more than that, it was funny. Really, really funny. I grew up with the Commodore 64 version, although the DOS version is also very good and playable. Some of the 16-bit version like the Amiga don’t look “right” to me. I suppose it comes down to what you’re used to.
Why you should beat it: Because you kind of need to play this one before playing the equally funny Day of the Tentacle. And because no other game on this list allows you to put a hamster in a microwave.
08. The Incredible Machine (Sierra On-Line, 1992)
While many games are about action and strategy, The Incredible Machine is all about puzzle-solving. On each of the game’s 84 levels, you’ll be presented with a puzzle and some tools, and it’s up to you to come up with some sort of Rube Goldberg device in order to complete the level’s goal. Some of the goals are simple (“Pop the balloons”) while others are more complex. On each level you’ll be given some combination of tools to deal with: pulleys, ropes, belts, gears, ramps, scissors, and so on. Many of these tools can be combined to make more complex machines. Guns can be made to fire by connecting their triggers to objects using ropes, for example. Little “motors” (hamster on treadmills) can be started by hitting their cage. All of the tools can be “flipped” left-to-right to modify their actions. For many levels there are often obvious and intended solutions, but you don’t have to solve them that way.
The first 20 levels are “tutorial levels” that pretty much tell you how to solve them. After that, the difficulty ramps up and you are on your own. You’ll spend half your time trying to come up with workable solutions using the few tools you’re given for each level, and the other half trying to make those things work. It’s a fun kind of problem-solving.
The game also comes with a free-form editor mode that allows you to create wacky machines with no restrictions. The Incredible Machine has two direct sequels as well as another similar line of games (The Incredible Toon Machine). Another line of Incredible Machine games (“Contraptions”) were released in the early 00s, and in 2011 the game was added to Apple’s App Store although it has since been retired.
Why you should beat it: Because it’s a game that can be both frustrating and fun at the same time, something that many modern games forget is possible. If you enjoy physics-style games like Crayon Physics, you should check this out. I don’t have to ask you to beat this one; once you get started, you’ll just want to.
09. Fallout (Interplay, 1997)
There were a lot of 8-bit games that tried to recreate post-apocalyptic worlds, but few did it better than Wasteland. Another Interplay/Electronic Arts teaming, Wasteland takes place generations after a nuclear holocaust. While the game is highly revered among classic gamers, for whatever reason the relationship between Interplay and Electronic Arts soured; the Wasteland connection was removed from EA’s planned sequel (Fountain of Dreams), and Interplay’s sequel (Meantime) was cancelled. Even through Interplay no longer retained the rights to Wasteland, ten years later in 1997 they released their own “spiritual” sequel: Fallout.
Although the setting is the same between the two games, Fallout is presented with a more modern interface. Although most of the game’s events play out in real time, combat remains turn based. The main plot of Fallout revolves around the search for water, although players will experience many side plots and tasks along the way. Despite the game’s gritty and bleak setting, Interplay injected the story with tons of humor.
Why you should beat it: Fallout was named “RPG of the Year” by GameSpot in 1997 and in 1988 by Computer Gaming World. PC Gamer once named it the fourth best PC game of all time. Artwork from the game is on display as part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibition.
Fallout is one of the best computer role playing games ever released, period. In 2014 a fan-made sequel to Wasteland was finally released. It’s really good, and in fact the games interface is better than Fallout’s, but Fallout is such a great game that I stuck with it. But if you like it then yeah, definitely check out Wasteland 2 too.
10. Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012)
Hotline Miami (the newest game on my list by 15 years) takes place in 1989 and is presented in a top-down retro style. After receiving a somewhat cryptic message on your answering machine, as the first chapter begins you will decide what kind of mask to don (rooster, owl, tiger, pig, or horse, each with its own advantages) before walking into an enemy’s building and single-handedly massacring dozens of enemies. Some of them you will knock to the ground and bash their brains in mercilessly with a crowbar or a baseball bat before obtaining an Uzi or a shotgun and really getting the party started.
Throughout the game you’ll discover things are not all as they seem. Your senses will be thrown off by minor changes in levels and items coming and going. You’ll also get killed. A lot. A lot lot lot. Fortunately each level restarts immediately after your demise. Going in with guns blazing didn’t work? Try hiding around a corner with a bat and see if that doesn’t do the trick. Line of sight is important in this game.
The story itself is unsettling. Just when things don’t make sense, they’ll begin to, only to get more confusing again. There’s no point in trying to explain Hotline Miami. I played this game for hours a night every night for a week or two before beating it. It wasn’t until the very end that I understood the entire plot. At least I think I did.
Why you should beat it: Hotline Miami moves fast, plays fast, and gets weird fast. Figuring out how to beat each level is so much fun that you’ll quickly lose track of how many hundreds of lives you’ve violently taken. Which is okay when you’re the good guy, right? At least I think you’re the good guy. The game’s story is good, but more than that it goes to show how effective old school graphics and gameplay can be when done right. Also, Hotline Miami 2 was released last month.
The following games came up while I was brainstorming but eventually fell off the list. They’re all great games and rewarding to play through in their own right: Prince of Persia, Oregon Trail, Ikaruga, Double Dragon, and countless others.
Now it’s your turn. What games do YOU think people need to play through? New or old, doesn’t matter — let’s hear your additions to the list!
Posted at 9:00 pm by Rob in Main, Movies, Reviews, Videogames
My sister Linda is the best Tetris player I have ever watched play in person. Tetris is simple. It consists of seven different rotating pieces (trivia fact: “Tetriminos”) that must be placed in rows to prevent them from reaching the top of the screen, thus ending the game. When the pieces are dropping slowly and you’re getting the ones you need, anyone can play the game; it’s when things start speeding up and you hit a “drought” (a long period of time in which players do not receive straight pieces) that separates the men from the boys — oh, and the women from the girls. If I’d had any since at all I would have pulled my sister out of school and driven her cross country, hustling Tetris players for cash in seedy 80s arcades.
Even at her prime, I’m not sure my sister could have out-Tetrised the players that appear in the 2011 documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which follows Robin Mihara’s attempt to find the world’s best Tetris player by establishing a national tournament.
The documentary begins with Mihara tracking down the country’s best Tetris players, who have all declared the NES version to be the de facto version of the game. This is done by searching Twin Galaxies (not getting a quip from Walter Day seems like a glaring omission). Unsurprisingly, most of the country’s best Tetris players look and act exactly what one might imagine adults in their 30s and 40s who have dedicated their lives to mastering a Nintendo game might look like. Along the way we meet a guy who mastered solving Rubik’s Cubes “in order to pick up women,” a girl who often ignores her spouse while playing Tetris, and another girl who plans on wearing a sweatshirt that says “I > U” along with Nintendo-branded pajama bottoms to the tournament. None of the potential contestants come off as annoying, but none are particularly charismatic either.
The dark horse of the tournament is Thor Aackerlund, one of the winners from the 1990 Nintendo World Championships who became a spokesman for Nintendo before turning into a recluse and walking away from the industry. For a while the film teases a Billy Mitchell “will he or won’t he show up,” but eventually he does and although a bit hesitant to reenter the limelight, he turns out to be a nice guy.
Like the Donkey Kong kill screen from The King of Kong, Tetris too has its own mythical achievements: one involves maxing the game out at 999,999 and the other involves reaching level 30. Thor claims to have done both but doesn’t feel the need to take or share any photographic evidence of his achievements. A few of the other competitors timidly hint that they have their doubts about Thor’s achievements, but no one goes as far as to call him out. In fact, it turns out that for the most part people who spend 10-12 hours a day mastering a Nintendo game tend to like one another.
After establishing the fact that there’s going to be a tournament, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters spends the next 45 minutes introducing us to the contestants. During this part of the film you’ll be exposed to a lot of people who play a lot of Tetris, and also a lot of Tetris. Along the filmmaker’s journey he got to watch a lot of Tetris footage, and you’ll get to see some of it, too. Some of the footage is impressive and a lot of it goes by too fast to tell what’s going on. All the footage made me think (a) all these people deserve to be in a Tetris tournament, and (b) I hope it happens soon.
The final third of the film covers the tournament itself. Some of the players do well and some don’t go as well as they had hoped. Will one of our new friends win the tournament or will Thor reclaim his former title?
During one of the film’s interviews, Thor explains that shortly after winning the 1990 Nintendo tournament, his house burned down and his family became essentially homeless, their only income being his endorsements and paid appearances. “In one way life is a lot like Tetris,” he says. “It throws random things at you, but what you do with them is up to you.” For me, this was the film’s takeaway moment.
While The King of Kong transcended Donkey Kong and perhaps video games in general in its simplified (and in many cases, forced) “good vs. evil” theme, I don’t think Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters does the same. While it’s a good film, I’m not sure it would appeal to those not interested in Tetris or at least video game tournaments. If you’ve ever played Tetris so long that you’ve dreamed about the game or attended a classic video game expo, no doubt you’ll enjoy this film.
In 10 minutes I’m about to go wake my sister up, get her out of bed, and start her Tetris training regimen for the inevitable sequel.
Posted at 12:00 pm by Rob in Main, PC Related, Videogames
I didn’t have a phone line in the first apartment I lived in, which cut my BBS/modeming habit when I moved in drastically down from “many hours a day” to “nothing” very quickly. In regards to computers, it was a transitional time for me. When I first moved into that apartment, my primary computer was a Commodore 64. When I moved out of the apartment and in with Susan I bought my first PC, a 386/25 PC that my friend Josh helped me assemble.
The minute I moved in with Susan and got that PC I plugged it into the phone line and pretty much monopolized it around the clock. When that became a problem, we purchased a second phone line. When I set up my own BBS, we added a third. That’s true. We had three phone lines in a mobile home. Two of them were used exclusively by computers and sometimes I used the third, too. I spent a lot of time connecting to people and things electronically (still do).
One of the big differences between the Commodore and PC worlds was that there weren’t a lot of good shareware software titles for the Commodore 64 (and for the most part, the free stuff sucked). The PC was different though. It was the era of “shareware” — try before you buy software. Most shareware titles included a few levels you could play for free with the option of buying the full version to get all the levels. This worked great for me because I was getting new games every day. I’d play the shareware versions of these games and long before I tired of playing them the next shareware game would come along and off I’d go. One of the gifts of ADD is that you’re never in the same place for long.
Doom (the original) was released on December 10, 1993 — 21 years ago, today. Computer bulletin boards didn’t operate at the speed of light like the internet does today and I’m sure it took a while for Doom to make its way across phone lines to the BBSes in Oklahoma that I called. Weeks or months, likely, but it did eventually arrive and I did eventually play it. And I was amazed.
I tend to think about first person shooters (FPS) in the following eras: there was Wolfenstein 3D, which was a game, and then there was Doom, which was a franchise. Then there was Quake, and everything else since then has been a rip off of Quake. That’s my opinion. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the FPS genre, partially because they give me motion sickness headaches, and partially because they all have that “been there, done that” feeling.
Around that time my friend Josh had introduced me to Laplink, a piece of software that allowed you to copy files between PCs through the use of a Laplink cable. As it turned out and as I learned at Best Buy, you could also use those same cables to connect two computers for the purpose of playing games. And that’s what we did for months. Every night after the doors closed, someone would connect the two fastest display computers via a Laplink cable, load Doom up on them, and blast away at one another until everyone else was done restocking shelves and vacuuming.
They say Doom sold over a million copies, which is an amazing number considering that most people (including myself) just played the free shareware version. I never bought Doom, but when everything in the world got released on CD-ROM in the mid-90s, I picked this up out of a bargain bin:
This CD is not special. There were a million collections of WADs (custom Doom levels), skins, graphics, sounds, maps… you name it. These were created by people all over the country (world?) and then loaded to BBSes. Every now and then some company would download them, organize them, and release them on CD. Each CD included the shareware version of Doom so that you could play all of these things. Doom was much more than just a game. It was an infrastructure that let you create your own games.
When I think back to those old ID games, I tend to think of Wolfenstein 3D as single-player, Doom as introducing player-vs-player, Doom 2 as introducing LAN (local area network) gaming, and Quake as introducing internet gaming. That’s not technically correct, but that’s how I mentally sort those games out.
In the summer of 1995, I think, I held a computer gathering in the guest area at our trailer park. Several of my friends brought their computers and, using a stack of old 10 megabit network cards and hubs, we wired them all together and played Doom, Doom II, and a bunch of other games.
The one thing that will always stick with me in regards to Doom was that feeling of “I’ve been here before” you got after playing the game for so long. In 2D games you might recognize a level you had previously encountered, but in FPS, I got the feeling that I had been to that physical place before. It was a weird feeling, to think of video game levels as real places.
So, happy birthday to Doom. Now that you’re finally 21, let’s go get a drink and talk about being Knee Deep in Hell while everyone else watches this video.
(And yes, that gave me a headache to watch.)
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main, Videogames
By the time I began purchasing the seventh generation of video game consoles in the mid-2000s — the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii — I already had a wiring nightmare on my hands. Even before I owned those three consoles I had at least twenty other gaming systems wired up to my television and ready to play.
You’re probably familiar with those old manual RCA switch boxes that allowed you to hook four different things up to a single television. To wire up that many televisions, I had eight 4-way switch boxes connected to a big 8-way switch box. All of these switch boxes were numbered and I had a cheat sheet mapping out all the connections next to the television. To play the Nintendo, switch box 1 needed to be on 2 and the big 8-way switchbox needed to be on 3 (2-3). The Super Nintendo was on 3-3; the Commodore, 4-1. The 8th 4-way switch box was reserved to those all-in-one joysticks. I had quite a few at the time and was constantly unplugging and replugging different ones in.
The only way to power this monstrosity was by daisy chaining power strips. I had a plug in the outlet that split the two existing sockets into six, all six of those had power strips plugged into them, and a few of the power strips had additional power strips connected. There’s no part of this configuration that would have passed any kind of safety inspection. Every time I left the room I was worried something was going to spontaneously combust in the middle of the night and burn the house down.
Unhooking all that stuff was a lot simpler than hooking it up, I assure you. After we sold our last house and bought our current one, all of those consoles, controllers, power supplies, power strips, wires, and switch boxes went into big plastic tubs.
That’s where most of them remain today.
The PS3, Wii, and 360 are all still hooked up. In another area I have a Retron 3 (that plays NES, SNES, and Genesis cartridges) and my Atari 2600 hooked up. To be honest, most of them are collecting dust (if it weren’t for Mason, all of them would be). Upstairs I also have my Commodore 64 and Apple II hooked up, but to be honest most of my retrogaming these days is done through emulation. Between the Raspberry Pi, the MiST, the emulators on my PC and the 60-in-1 arcade cabinet downstairs, most of the games I enjoy playing are just a click or two away. I never said emulation was better, but it darn sure is convenient.
I don’t know what to do with those tubs of consoles, so for now, they sit. I paid too much money to get rid of them, but lack the space or interest to hook them all back up. So, in the tubs they’ll stay for now until I can figure out what to do with them.
A friend of mine tagged me with the following challenge on Facebook:
10 games that will always stay with you. Rules: Don’t take more then a few minutes. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works of the gaming industry, just games that have affected you in a positive way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.
If you know me you know simply making a list isn’t enough, so I added some additional information and links to videos. Although many of these games appeared on many different platforms, I included the ones that my memories were most closely associated with. I also extended my list to 12 games, and you’re lucky I didn’t make it 50. Without further adieu…
01. Wizardry / Bard’s Tale (Apple II/C64)
Wizardry was one of the first dungeon crawlers to be released for home computers, and the first one I ever played for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia it was the first color dungeon crawler and the first true party-based Dungeons and Dragons-style game. Released in 1981, this was one of the first games I can remember my dad and I playing at the same time. He would play at night and make maps of the game’s dungeons on graph paper, maps I would use the next day to advance further in the game.
Just a few years later, my buddy Jeff and I would spend an entire summer playing Bard’s Tale in largely the same fashion. Although the graphics were slightly better, the gameplay of Bard’s Tale is largely identical to Wizardry. RPGs in the 80s got too large to keep my interest, but I greatly enjoyed (and miss) this era of dungeon roaming.
02. Lode Runner (Apple II)
The recent passing of Doug Smith has this game on my mind. Lode Runner was an early platform game with just enough tricks to keep it interesting. The goal was to collect all of the packages from each level while avoiding the “bunglings.” The game’s original gimmick came in the digging of holes, which could be used to bury your opponents or dig your way out of trouble. The original game only came with 50 levels, but there were sequels and also a level editor that allowed you to easily create your own levels. Lode Runner was fun in 1984 and it’s still fun in 2014, and I still play it occasionally.
03. Gauntlet (Arcade)
The first arcade games were one-player only. Then there were two-player games that required the players to take turns. Then came two-player head-to-head games. Gauntlet may have been the first four player game I ever played in an arcade, and unlike most games at that time, the goal of Gauntlet was for players to work together. Sure, occasionally Warrior would shoot Elf in the back while Wizard stole the food, but ultimately gamers learned they could get deeper into the dungeon (and more bang for their buck) by working together.
I have many wonderful memories of playing Gauntlet with my friends. Because of this, Gauntlet II was one of the first arcade games I purchased when I began collecting arcade games.
04. Dragon’s Lair (Arcade)
I will never forget the first time I saw Dragon’s Lair in an arcade. If you were there in the 80s, I doubt you have forgotten it either. Seemingly overnight we went from blips and bloops to actually controlling a cartoon. It was awesome! It was incredible! It was… not that much fun. And it was hard to play. Several laserdisc games (including Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace) came and went over the next few years. Ultimately they did not change the gaming industry in the way they had hoped to, but it was still pretty awesome. The takeaway from Dragon’s Lair ultimately was that graphics aren’t everything; gameplay is king.
05. Doom II (PC)
While I had experimented with playing games online with other human beings, Doom II was the first game I ever played against other people on a local area network (LAN). I actually learned how to network computers together just so we could play Doom II. The graphics in the video below make me cringe a bit, but back them the gloomy dungeons and atmospheric sound effects set the tone for an amazing game. It took what worked from Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D before that), added multiplayer, and delivered an unforgettable gaming experience. Doom II was so good that the gaming industry has been applying new coats of paint to the concept and re-releasing it for 20 years now.
06. Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Donkey Kong is a light-hearted game starring a pre-Mario Mario in which he climbs ladders, jumps barrels, and saves his girlfriend level after level. It’s simple… or is it? Once you start to learn how to “control” the barrels, how to control where fireballs appear from and how to run up your score thanks to several glitches, it becomes and entirely different game. Adding to the pressure is the game’s infamous “kill screen,” a point where Mario dies for no apparent reason and the game ends. Suddenly the goal switches from “how high can you go?” to how many points can you score before the game crashes. For someone who doesn’t play a lot of Donkey Kong, a respectable score is in the 20-30k range. My high score is just over 100k. The current world’s record is 1.2 million. If you have a couple of hours, you can watch a recording of it below. Donkey Kong is an example of a seemingly simple game that is still revealing secrets 30 years after its release.
07. Paradroid (C64)
This game captured my interest back in the mid-80s and I still enjoy it today. In Paradroid you control a floating helmet and your job is to take over other robots by challenging them to a game of electronic switches which… eh, it makes more sense when you play it, I guess. This game has been ported to a few other machines including the Amiga and Windows, but the C64 original is still my favorite. There’s no other game like it.
08. 720 (Arcade)
In the futuristic Skate City, one must learn to “Skate or Die” and do it quickly. There are so many great things about this game: the boom box mounted to the top of the cabinet, the one-of-a-kind joystick, the awesome music, killer bees, exciting levels and challenging competitions. If you were into skateboarding in the 80s, this was the game to play.
I fell in love with this game in the 80s. When I began collecting arcade machines in the 90s, I put this on the top of my “must have” list. It took me fifteen years to track one down, but I finally found one. It’s still out in my garage today, calling me.
09. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
If I had a dime for ever minute — heck, every hour I spent playing Super Mario Bros. 3, I would be a rich man. Jeff, Andy and I played this game for so many hours that we could navigate some of the levels with our eyes closed. One of the greatest platform games of all time.
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation)
THPS2 did what no other game had done for me; it accurately portrayed skateboarding. I lost myself in this game for months, chaining together huge combos and pushing the points on every level to the max. There have been several sequels, but none of them captured my attention the way this one did. For years I owned two PlayStations and one had this game in it at all times.
In addition to gameplay, THPS2 had an incredible soundtrack, a new concept in games back then. It’s so good that I still have it on my phone today.
11. Impossible Mission (C64)
“Another visitor. Stay a while… staaaay forever!” This was one of the first (if not the first) game I ever saw for the Commodore 64, and what an introduction to the machine it was. Puzzles aside, the speech samples and smooth animation was enough to capture a kid’s imagination, and it did. For years I didn’t know what the goal of this game was and it really didn’t matter. We had fun running around, avoiding the robots and the “killer black ball” and couldn’t have cared less about “winning.” When it came to graphics and sound, this game set the Commodore 64 apart from the competition very early on.
12. Rogue (DOS)
Ever heard of a “rogue-like” game? This is where the term came from. Originally designed for mainframes, Rogue made its way to home computers in its original, ASCII format. The combat was rudimentary (you just ran into creatures to attack them) but the game offered a ton of things to discover, from magic scrolls and rings to cursed items. The game’s maps are randomly generated every game and items are randomly placed, so every game is different. You’ll need patience and skill to make it all the way through the dungeon, but you’ll also need a bit of luck; since all items are randomly placed, that includes food. Occasionally, through no fault of your own, you will die of starvation.
Rogue taught me three things: sometimes success depends on luck, a good game doesn’t need good graphics, and sometimes life isn’t fair.
Posted at 12:00 pm by Rob in Main, Videogames
A few of my video game friends and a lot of my non-gaming friends have sent me links to this news story about Michael Thommason who just auctioned off “the largest video game collection” (per the Guiness Book of World Records) for $750,250.
News sites get excited when they hear the words “biggest” or “best” or “fastest”. Nobody wants to read about the thirteenth largest video game collection being sold. Of course thanks to the internet, our boundaries have grown larger. When I was in high school it was enough to have the fastest car in town. Today you have to have the fastest car on Facebook. Or at least say it’s the fastest.
I’m no expert when it comes to buying or selling bunches of things in a single lot, but I do know two things about it. The first is, when it comes to price, aim low. With a little rounding, 11,000 games selling for $750k comes to $68 per game (not including shipping and/or renting a box truck to go pick up your new collection).
According to the auction itself, the seller has several complete collections. The first one that caught my eye was the Atari 7800, mostly because I know it’s a fairly small collection (just over 80 games). I went to PriceCharting.com and checked their list of Atari 7800 games. Looking at the loose cartridge prices, there are only three games that sell for more than $68. Most5 of them sell for much less than that. In fact, over a dozen of the games can be picked up for less than $5. I’m not just picking on picking on the Atari 7800. Most disc-based systems have dozens if not hundreds of games that sell for a penny each on eBay. For every 9 games in that collection that are worth a penny each, there had better be a 10th one that sells for $671 to get that average price per game back up.
That brings me to my second point. Nobody yet has paid that price. Yes there was an auction, yes there were bidders and yes the auction ended with a bid of $750,250… but until somebody shows up with a dump truck full of money it hasn’t technically sold. I have dealt with “buyer’s remorse” from people on eBay who have bought things from me for a dollar. I’m not saying someone who would bid three-quarters of a million dollars for a bunch of video games might back out on the deal, but it’s
Although nobody has identified the buyer yet, I hope he does end up paying for the auction and enjoys his new game collection. We’ll see if that happens.
Posted at 12:00 pm by Rob in Commodore, Main, Videogames
Get ready for another picture-intensive post that documents my family’s visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California! The Computer History Museum is divided into 20 numbered rooms, which advance their way through the history of computers chronologically, and starts with a pretty old computer — the Abacus.
From a historical perspective this makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t do a good job in convincing a couple of kids that this museum is not going to be boooooring.
At least the first 10 rooms of the museum cover computers that were made before I was born. There were large sections of ENIAC…
…along with a large UNIVAC…
…and several other old computers. One room covered the development of transistors and another showed old analog machines designed to track trajectories. Again, all these things were historically interesting but did little to keep the kids’ attention.
One of the things that I found really interesting was this Enigma codebreaking computer from World War II. There was a short video playing next to the machine and the kids did think that was cool.
Another historical computer on display at the museum was this Cray 1. When I was a kid all I knew about Cray computers was that they were used in creating the graphics in The Last Starfighter. It’s cut off in the picture, but this Cray contained 32k of RAM and cost between $6 and $10 million dollars.
If you are a lady and think this museum sounds boring, then check out this computer from 1969!
This computer was designed to appeal to women and was designed to store recipes and live in your kitchen! For $10,000, owners would get the computer, an apron, a cook book, and a two-week course on how to program the thing. All the recipes were stored and presented in binary, which might explain why these kitchen computers from Neiman-Marcus did not sell well.
Also on display was this IMSAI 8080 computer. I don’t think anyone knows what this machine actually does. People only know it as “that computer from Wargames!”
The first room that really captured the kids’ attention was the one that focused on robots. There were several robots on display, from small toys to industrial machinery.
Then, as my dad would say, “this is where I came in.”
Starting with this Apple 1 (signed by Woz), the museum got into what I think of as the birth of home computers. While I know hobbiests dinked around with Altairs and other home machines, it wasn’t until they had monitors, keyboards, and simple storage that home computers came in to their own.
TRS-80 Model I
More Retro Machines
This was the first point in the museum where I could say, “I had one of those!” (Or in some cases, “I still have one of those!”)
One room contained a large display of peripherals, from early mice and keyboards to all kinds of controllers. Here are a few I recognized! Of course I owned (and own) Atari Joysticks and that Wico stick on the right, but that Archer joystick in the middle is the one we had for our Apple computer growing up as well.
The next part of the museum focused on computers in arcade machines. Two very famous arcade machines were on display at the museum.
Computer Space is, of course, the first coin-operated machine.
This was the first Pong machine (a prototype) that was put on location at Andy Capp’s. If you have ever heard the story about how the first arcade machine broke down because it was so jammed full of quarters that it would no longer operate, this is that very machine.
This room got more into computer software. As you can see by these games on display, this area focused on text adventures. A kiosk running Zork was on display and Mason spent a few minutes working his way through the first couple of screens.
There were three playable machines in the “computer game” area running a text adventure, Pac-Man, and Pong. All three were noticeably running emulators.
As quickly as the tour began, it ended. The last room focused on the “dot com” revolution. The coverage felt a little uneven with a lot of focus on early machines and not much on modern history. The kids would have liked more interactive exhibits (kids love pressing buttons and watching videos). Overall the museum was very enjoyable and we did learn some things. Seeing the old historical machines was exciting.
There was one last exhibit on display at the museum but I’ll be saving that for a separate post of its own.
Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.
My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.
Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.
This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.
After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.
If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.
Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.
The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!
Posted at 11:04 am by Rob in Arcade, Videogames
My friend Sean and I were recently talking about how Thanksgiving can be almost like two separate holidays for kids and adults. While the adults enjoy talking and eating and watching football, the kids are often left to entertain themselves. I decided to do something fun for the kids this year and drag one of my few remaining arcade cabinets in from the garage and set it up in the back dining room.
This machine began life as a Williams cabinet — either Defender or Joust, I think. Someone converted it to a Buster Bros. machine many years ago, and I bought it at an auction for $50 in non-working condition. The problem turned out to be a faulty power cord, which was definitely the easiest arcade repair I ever successfully performed. The game worked for a couple of years and then the board inside died, so I replaced it with a “48-in-1” multigame PCB. (“48-in-1” means that the board has 48 different classic games included on 1 single board.) Then the monitor died and I replaced it with a computer monitor. Since the 48-in-1 is a vertical PCB, I mounted the monitor on its side.
The game was a success, I think. My kids broke the machine in for me before anyone arrived. Morgan’s favorite game is Centipede. Even though the 48-in-1 does not support a trackball she still loves playing it, blissfully unaware at how difficult and unnatural it is to play using a joystick. Mason on the other hand likes to go through all the games and try them all. I’ve caught him playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and Galaga, to name a few. In the picture above, my nephew Griffin is playing Burgertime while my other nephew Phoenix climbs onto a stool for a closer look with Mason watching on from behind.
This morning on “Black Friday,” Mason was the first one to fire up the machine. I posted a fairly weak Donkey Kong high score yesterday of 39,300, but Mason watched how I did it and has been trying to beat that score off and on ever since. I’m sure he’ll do it eventually. Later, mommy got in on the action as well. Susan’s score was 400 and her question before they started was “Am I Mario or the Donkey?” which is funny because there’s no donkey in Donkey Kong.
This particular cabinet is too rough to keep inside the house for long. The coin door is rusted, the sides of the cabinet are gouged, and the control panel is all scratched up. And while the 48-in-1 board offers a decent selection of games, I’m already starting to get requests. (“Does it play Tetris?” “No.” “Does it play Dr. Mario?” “No.” “Does it play Gauntlet?” “No.”) This may be the nudge I need to finally put together a proper MAME cabinet, one that looks nice enough to stay inside the house permanently.
Until then though… back to that Donkey Kong score.