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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ctrl+Open Apple+Alt, 8, 1. Press play on tape.

Part Three of a Series entitled All Your Free Time Are Belong To Us

At the ripe old age of 33, I've been on my own for about 10 years now. I moved out of my parents house a year after college and finally stopped paying rent and started paying a mortgage about four years ago. Yet, every now and again, I get a call from my mom informing me that I still have "stuff" sitting in my old bedroom. "Look, Mom, I'd love to come and get it all, but I don't have a place for my Millennium Falcon yet. I promise you I will get it before long." So, on this last call, I'm given an ultimatum to come and get a box full of computer disks from my old Apple IIc computer. Since my wife was busy at a lunch date with a friend, I found it a perfect opportunity to bring my daughter for a visit and root around this old box of floppies. Letting Grammy and Pappy have their Bailey fix, I went to work on dusting off the box. Pools of Radiance, Beach Head 2, Lemonade Stand; wow, does that bring back a lot of memories. While, I don't claim to be a hardcore gamer like those playing World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, I do consider myself more than a casual computer gamer and have been known to pull an all-nighter or two in my time.

My earliest experience with computers was in the first grade. I was one of those "gifted" kids. My wife called us nerds. We didn't call it "Gifted," we called it "IMPACT." I have no idea what it stood for, but I do know that one day a week I was able to leave my regular studies behind and go to another classroom for the day where we built model rockets, plaster of Paris dinosaurs, and played around on a computer. In those days, circa 1981, we had TRS-80s or as they are commonly called, TRASH 80's. I had some experience with them as I was enrolled in a "Kids and Computers" class at a branch campus of Penn State. We learned how to crate programs in BASIC and make the "high tech" computer do tricks like count to ten and make noise. However, in IMPACT we had no instruction on how to use these green screened machines for that we played video games. And within 3 years, we had access to the greatest machine known to kids, a Commodore 64.

I can remember being stuck for hours in a pyramid typing S,W,E,N,U,D sporadically, trying to find treasure or at least a vending machine that had batteries for my flashlight. Other times, I wanted to throw the keyboard out the window every time I somersaulted into a electricity firing robot or fell down a lift shaft while looking for puzzle pieces behind a bookcase. The most frustrating of all was not being able to figure out who scared the Kim family out of Granite Pointe and constantly having all my crystals stolen by those little black hats with feet. On the flip side of that, I always found great elation when I was able to sneak past the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or managed to make it to Oregon without dying of dysentery. I also so desperately wanted to have a house with a ladder coming from the bedroom (Pre Dawson's Creek) and elevator inside, but you can keep the dragon that blocks me from freeing the cat in the box.

One of my friends who lived down the road from me had a Commodore 64 and a ton of games. During the summer we would be playing baseball or war in the daytime and in the evening we'd all huddle in his brother's room around the blue screen and load up games with the infamous ",8,1" command. We'd burn the midnight oil playing Impossible Mission or Summer Games. And every once in a while, if we knew we weren't going to get caught, he'd throw in Strip Poker. I was so obsessed with getting a C-64. I begged my parents for one. I think that it cost around $600, about half of what an Apple cost. I waited for Christmas to come and yet, no computer was under the tree.

Finally, as computers started to drop in price, my parents decided that perhaps it would be good to get one for their burgeoning computer geek, me. My sister had already graduated from high school and was on her way to college as was my brother in 86. The only person who would be monopolizing the thing would be me, which would free up the television from my constant Atari playing and allow someone else the chance to watch. I was so psyched about getting a computer. I told my parents to get a C-64 so that I homework. So, in 1985, my parents bought a state of the art, Apple IIc. WHAT?!?!? Where's my C-64. Where's my Ghostbusters and In Impossible Mission games? I was so jacked. I guess they figured that Apple had more staying power than Commodore and that it was for school, not for fun.

Still, that being said, I did find it very useful for school. I basically typed every paper and book report I had from 1985 to 1992 on Appleworks. However, when I was done with homework, I popped in my Seven Cities of Gold or Raid Over Moscow game and burned my retinas into the early morning. By Christmas I had already started building an impressive collection of games which included my first adventure game in full 15 colors, King's Quest. Gone was the days of text adventures that relied on my imagination to visualize the cavern or tomb in the pyramid. Now, I had full motion of characters and music and bright colors to send me into an epileptic seizure. My brother's roommate at Pitt had an Apple II as well and copied him about 20 disks full of games that would keep me busy for the next 5 years. They were simple games that didn't require much space but they were just as effective of monopolizing my free time as any of the ones that came on three or more disks. I began to forget about the C64 that required me to put in a disk, type in Load "GAME NAME",8,1 then type run. With my Apple IIc I just popped in a disk, turned it on and either the game loaded automatically or I chose whichever game I wanted from a menu list.

As I got older, technology got better, but my access to the "latest and greatest" of machines was always a few steps behind everyone else. There was one point where my parents were suckered into some sales pitch seminar at a nearby camp ground where everyone would get an Atari Computer just for attending. Wasting three hours of their time, the organizers of the meeting informed them that they had depleted their supply and only had Timex Sinclair 1000's left. This thing was about as powerful as the old Trash 80's I was used to in school. It plugged into your television and required a tape cassette to run programs. The tape player was often unreliable and the actual computer model had been discontinued for over 3 years. It still gathers dust in my parents' attic. By 1991, I was in high school and my brother had acquired a PC. It was a PC-DOS operating on a 286 IBM Compatible computer with a gold monochrome monitor. I had such fear of using this machine as I didn't understand how to make it work. I turned on the power and it just showed this little C:\ prompt on the screen. I grabbed a disk from his case, put it in the drive, and turned it on a second time. Still, no game loaded, just a C:\ with a little blinking line next to it. Did I break the damn thing? He's going to kill me. I asked him how to make it work. "I put in a disk and it didn't start up like my Apple." He chuckled as if to say, "Silly child." He then went on to explain that technically, I didn't need a disk to do something. The computer had a hard disk. I was baffled. "You mean like the ones with my games on it?" "Sort of, but it's smaller and already inside the machine. Here, watch." He flipped on the computer and began typing things next to the c thing and all of a sudden there was a text adventure like the old Pyramid game from the days when you had to push play on a tape to make it run. "Wow! What about that disk I put in the drive. How do you make that work?" He said, "That's a different drive called the A drive." He typed in a few commands and suddenly there was an A:\ prompt instead of a the usual C one. "So, you have to type in a bunch of stuff to run programs?" I asked. "Essentially, yes." he replied. "Pfft. You got ripped off. Mine just starts automatically." With that, I went back into my room and loaded up a game to play.

Eventually, because I'm a neb shit and attracted to bright shiny objects, I gave the 286 another go. I found a disk with the word prince on it. I remembered how my brother got to the A drive and was able to list what was on the disk. I typed "Prince" on the command line and soon I was a swashbuckling adventurer attacking foes left and right. I was pretty impressed. Not so much with the fact that everything was in different shades of gold, but that it actually was a good game. Soon, I was beginning to find friends who also had a PC and found out that they had color monitors. One particular friend had a game on his computer that turned you into a secret CIA agent. You could tap phones and sneak into buildings. While there you planted bugs and stole files from safes in an effort to stop a terrorist crime from occurring. I was amazed. The graphics were much better than the ones I had on my Apple IIc. My friend copied the game and I took it home to try on my computer. I was so pissed. It wouldn't run because of the graphics. It needed color. What the heck?!? By my senior year, I had convinced my parents that we needed a color monitor and I had finally switched from typing papers on Appleworks to Word Perfect on the PC. Of course, my evil little plan to play my spy game had worked and suddenly the doors opened to a whole new set of game titles. At school, I was stuck with playing Battle Chess and Life and Death on our school's Apple IIgs. By the way, I never could get the appendix out of the patient without him ending up in the morgue. Sad. There was this big movement with Apples in the schools but at home I was a PC man, now. If I was lucky, the resident computer geek at my high school, Brandon, was lucky enough to slip a copy of Wolfenstein 3-D onto the library PC's without our librarian noticing. The kid was an infamous pain in her ass, constantly doing things he wasn't supposed to do with the machines. He looked to be about 12, but was a Sophomore. I'm sure today, he's either a billionaire or some hacker that lives off the his parents' basement.

After high school I was able to take the computer with me to college while my brother moved onto better system that he built himself. I still did all my homework in Word Perfect as I was running DOS 5.0 and DOS 6.0. When I wasn't involved in a Tecmo Super Bowl tournament with my roommates, I spent some of my free time playing Sim City and solitaire. It was about this time that I upgraded to a Packard Bell and I became friends with a guy in my dorm tower at Pitt named Ray. He was a game geek like I was and while he was trying out his new fancy Playstation he lent me a bunch of games for my computer. It was also about this time that another guy on my floor introduced me to Doom II. Between Ray's games and Doom II, I've probably fried most of my brain. There was one particular instance that I loaded Doom II onto a PC in a campus computer lab and stayed there until dawn playing. I couldn't even think about attempting that, now. Even if I had the free time, I'd fall asleep with my drool shorting out the keyboard. A girl I was dating at the time was another big gamer who was into the Zork series as a kid and introduced me to the graphical, full motion video installments of the series. I ended up giving my Packard Bell to my parents and had my brother build me one from scratch for cheap. I had that thing maxed out on space and memory by 2001 and finally upgraded to a Dell Dimension Desktop, just so that I could finally play The Sims. From there I wasted free time with Sim City 3000, Deer Hunter 5, and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

Sadly, I don't play games as nearly as much on the computer because I just don't have the time or budget feed that addiction. I still refuse to give up gaming completely as I have switched over to gaming consoles to waste what little free time I'm allowed. The biggest problems I faced with gaming on a PC is that I could not keep up with the technology. I know for sure that I could not run World of Warcraft on my current PC due to the fact that I don't have the memory or video cards to support it. I spent the better part of the 90's letting the tail wag the dog in terms of computer buying and frankly I don't have the free time anymore. At least for the money, it's cheaper for me to buy a game console to play games and leave my PC for work or simple stuff like music and photos. I still play games on my PC, but they're mostly classics through an emulator or DOSBox. From time to time I play online games through miniclip and mindjolt but nothing like the heyday of my youth when I would wile away the hours clearing out the forgotten realms of Dungeons & Dragons looking for a +3 Long Sword or trying to get poor Leisure Suit Larry lucky without getting hit by a taxi.

For now, that box of games from my parents' house sits in my garage on top of an old foot locker I had in my room growing up. The destination for both will most likely be the attic....or the trash if my wife gets her way. Maybe I can set up one of our smaller, dated, television sets in my spare bedroom so that I sell a cup of lemonade or save Sally from the clutches of the purple meteor, once more. Of course, there's no point in playing In Search of the Most Amazing Thing, anymore. I already know what that is. It's the free time play all those games.

Mongo's Top 20 Computer Games
  1. Doom II (PC/Windows)
  2. Tombraider (PC Windows)
  3. Maniac Mansion (C64/Apple)
  4. Myst (PC/Windows)
  5. Ghostbusters (C64/Apple)
  6. SimCity 2000 (PC/Windows)
  7. The Sims (PC/Windows)
  8. Drug Lord (PC/Windows)
  9. Prince of Persia (PC/Windows)
  10. Covert Action (PC/Windows)

Honorable Mentions

  1. Freecell (PC/Windows)
  2. Bruce Lee (C64/Apple)
  3. Noctropolis (PC/Windows)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahh...those were the days. I notice that you didn't talk about Dream House!!!!!!!!

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