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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yorgle, Grundle, and Rhindle, oh my!

Part One of a Series entitled, All Your Free Time Are Belong to Us

Imagine if you will, it's Christmas morning in the year 1980 and you're five years old. The year has been somewhat good to you. You're still riding high on the fact that the Steelers won the Super Bowl despite their 9-7 season for this year. The U.S. was beginning to feel patriotic again with the "Miracle on Ice" during the Olympic Winter Games and you were still giddy and confused by the declaration that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father. "But they don't have the same last name." Still, all this aside, nothing enthralls you more than running downstairs to see the plethora of presents that Santa has left you. What did Santa bring me this year? I hope I get more Legos and Star Wars action figures. Maybe, just maybe, we'll get an Atari this year.

You see, video games have been a huge part of my life and this Christmas was nearly met with disappointment as I had finished opening all my gifts but no Atari was to be found. Suddenly, as if it were straight out of A Christmas Story, my parents said there was at least one more for the three of us kids, all the way at the back of the tree. We feverishly opened the big honking box, mystified at what could be inside. It was an Atari 2600! Well, to be truthful, it was the Sears Tele-Games version that included Target Fun instead of Combat. Additionally, they bought us three games to go with it. They were Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Maze Craze. As the ColecoVision and Intellivison consoles became available I lusted for one these as well because the quality of games where perceived to be superior. Since my parents were unwilling to buy me another 2nd Gen console, I opted to just make the best of my Atari and hold out for hopes that the graphics would get better than a square chasing a dot around the screen. I simply became creative with what I had. I would trade games back and forth with friends constantly rotating my stock. It was a frugal effort that kept me from having to buy more 4 bit titles which mostly did not provide much content or replay value as others. Where graphics lacked, I found enjoyment in compelling game structure. My favorite game to this day is Adventure. It offered the first "easter egg" in the form of a credits screen and had a level that randomized locations of objects and monsters allowing for a greater replay value as the game could be different every time.

Alas, my ownership of this game was short lived. It disappeared sometime between 1983 and 1984. To this day I maintain that it was in my house the entire time, having slipped into another dimension through a worm hole located in a chair in our living room. The ratty piece of furniture had a tear somewhere under the seat cushion and I believe that the game fell down between the cushions and was lost forever, along with one of my Lego men, and my math homework from third grade. Honest, Mrs. Kofsky, I swear I did the assignment. It just disappeared from my Trapper Keeper.

For seven years I played that Atari even though the console had declined in popularity and eventually died off around 1983-84 due to the underwhelming appeal of piss poor titles and saturation of the market by every Tom, Dick, and Quaker who wanted to cash in on the craze by stealing programmers from each other to establish lucrative gaming divisions. With the advent of home computers, and computers in the classroom, sales moved away from game consoles and found their way into Steve Jobs' and Bill Gates' pockets. In the past few years I acquired another Atari 2600 while cleaning out the house of my wife's grandmother. Right now it's sitting in my garage collecting dust as I have no place for it or do I have the hookups to make it work on any of my televisions. My own Atari, I believe, is sitting in storage at Dad's office as is most other things of my childhood. Now having access to two consoles, I may consider selling one on eBay if I find it a worth while venture. In any case, I still do play Atari titles, although, they are in the form of ROM images used on an emulator called PCAE. This way, once in awhile, I can still go chasing after a dot with my red square and with only one button, there's no confusion as to how to slay the dragon. If only all of my life was that simple. Think of it, anytime I get the blue screen of death, I need to just blow on my computer as if it were a cartridge and voila, problem solved.

My Top 5 Best and Worst 2nd Gen Console games.

The Best

  1. Adventure (Atari 2600)
  2. Pitfall! and Pitfall II (Atari 2600) Jack Black once did a commercial for Pitfall!
  3. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Intellivision)
  4. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600)
  5. River Raid (Atari 2600)

The Worst

  1. E.T. (Atari 2600) Is there any wonder why there are thousands of copies buried in New Mexico?
  2. Pac-Man (Atari 2600 port) Horrible graphics and little similarity to the original. Reason 2 for the Game Crash of 83.
  3. Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle (ColecoVison) Sure, the music was good. But, if you walked into a picket fence or a blade of grass, you died. Come on!
  4. Swordquest: Earthworld (Atari 2600) Another popular adventure game, but extremely boring and difficult
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600) Loved the movie but a one player game that required the use of both controllers and lacked half of the movie's elements meant "Welcome to sucktown, population you."

Honorable Mention

  1. Cosmic Avenger (ColecoVision)
  2. Circus Atari (Atari 2600) Highly addictive Breakout style game. Clown deaths are kewl.
  3. Warlords (Atari 2600)
  4. Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600)
  5. Haunted House (Atari 2600) Simply a derivative of Adventure in a 4 level mansion but offered more difficulty.
  6. Frogs and Flies (Atari 2600) I know this makes six, but I had to add this silly game because it just simplified everything to spending the day eating flies. How cool is that?

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