Category Archives: adventure

Dragon’s Lair and the Arcade with No Name

When I started writing this entry, I was struck by a bout of senility as I could not think of the name of the arcade where I first encountered Dragon’s Lair. It was upstairs at the Gimbel’s end of the Echelon Mall, directly above Listening Booth, and had an odd shaped entrance, like a large Chevrolet symbol. When I was in high school and college, it was the place to hang out, even though it had been predated by Funway Freeway on the opposite side of the Mall by at least a decade. Most importantly it was the place where in June of 1982 I first met my future wife.

I struggled with this mind fart, I Googled, I contacted old friends I hung out with at the time, and finally, on a whim, looking at old foreign coins, as I suspected, I came across tokens (for the uninitiated, arcade games didn’t run on quarters, you bought tokens with quarters and put the tokens in the machines) from the place. Video Village. Such a simple name, yet so evasive over the years. When I saw it on Google as a store in the Mall listings I assumed it was a video retail store, but no, it was the arcade.

In the early 1980s arcades were everywhere. There was Space Port in the Deptford Mall, the Cherry Hill Mall had had several over the years, heck there was one in every mall. I’ve already talked about Malibu, there was also Bally’s across from the Cherry Hill Mall, and the Galaxy (not the rock club) down the road from it on Route 70. There was even one in my hometown right on Atco Avenue, the Sweet Shop. Like I said, they were everywhere, and also like I said, Video Village (now that I finally remembered the name) was special.

New games or games with buzz were given a special position in arcades so everyone could see them. At Video Village, this was just inside the entrance, facing into the Mall, this way, even if you were on the other side of the stairs, you could see the new game. This is how I first saw Dragon’s Lair, logo standing out above a throng of heads of perhaps two or three dozen people mesmerized by it or waiting their turn on this amazing new game. And it was amazing, at least for its time.

There were no pixels or imagination involved in Dragon’s Lair, as it was fully animated by Don Bluth, just late of Disney, and designed almost as a choose-your-own-adventure with the magic of laserdisc technology. It was all about a light touch and perfect reflexes to get heroic knight Dirk the Daring past various traps in the castle dungeons, the evil wizard Mordoc, and the dragon Singe, to rescue the Princess Daphne. Oh, you couldn’t wait to try it yourself, but it was also a blast to watch – not just a game, it was an entertaining cartoon as well.

This was a far cry from Atari’s Adventure, said to be its inspiration. Dragon’s Lair was also a notable step into the future for one other reason as well. It was the first game I am aware of that took two tokens, fifty cents, to play as opposed to one token/quarter. I am unsure if this was forward thinking or just plain greed, but at the time in my easily amused late teens, it seemed a fair exchange.

So why all the nostalgia for events that happened over three decades ago? Well, I just recently downloaded the Dragon’s Lair LLC app for my iPhone. It has the same great animation and gameplay, only using the touchscreen instead of a joystick. So Dirk the Daring lives, or at least he does when I make the right moves…

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Late Night Kitchen Adventure

I have insomnia. Anyone who follows my Twitter, or my Miso which feeds into my Twitter know this, as they have watched me rip through entire seasons of television series in the dead of night. Yes, it’s true, not being able to sleep at night, the devil does make work for idle hands. I still write from time to time when I can’t sleep, watching TV on my iPhone is recent bad habit.

When I first got married, playing Atari was my can’t-sleep go-to. We inherited The Bride’s grandmother’s condo, and with it, most of her furnishings. Thus we had a tiny TV in the kitchen, one without cable. No cable, so not much point in watching it, but I got the bright idea to hook my old Atari 2600 up to it.

Now when I say ‘old’ Atari, it’s not an original system. It is one of those wannabe Gemini systems popular in the mid-1980s when Atari was having its first nostalgia resurgence. Back in the day, the Ataris I played belonged to seemingly everyone else in the world but me. This was my first Atari, circa 1985. The months after the purchase were spent madly collecting old 2600 games I loved years earlier at places like decrepit K-Marts, dead Kiddie Cities, and the Berlin Farmers Market.

One of the prizes of that game search was Adventure. Back in the day, this was the closest we had to a Dungeons & Dragons video game. There was no Warcraft, or Diablo, or even Bard’s Tale, just this great little vague pixilated game full of fun and forced imagination. This was a game with buzz, with everyone talking about what may or may not be the first videogame Easter egg – the dust speck. More on that later.

In Adventure, you were a small square that moved via joystick through a maze visiting castles of different colors seeking out keys, the sword, and finally the chalice. Along the way you had to dodge or kill the three dragons – Yorgle, Rhindle and Grundle (how’s that for having a brain that’s a vast storehouse of useless knowledge?). There was also a bridge that allowed you to pass through obstacles, and the mysterious dust speck hidden in the wall that led you to the game designer’s credit. Now that’s what the dust speck really did, although there was much speculation as to its other abilities.

It’s a fun but simple game, and by simple I don’t mean to imply easy at all. There was quite a lot of difficulty to it. And there still is. I play it today on my iPhone with the Atari’s Greatest Hits app. I miss the days of the original Atari, except for waiting my turn, which was maddening with Adventure, but most of all, I miss my insomniac late night kitchen adventures, they were the best.

The Non-Gamer

The non-gamer – that’s me. I’m old, horribly horribly old, almost fifty. Gosh, it hurts to even type that. Like I said, I’m old, and I’m not a gamer, at least not by today’s standards. So if I’m not a gamer, why am I writing this blog? Good question.

My background in videogames is being around for the birth of Atari, specifically Pong. Yeah, you remember Pong, and if you don’t, you probably saw pictures of it painted in animal blood on cave walls. Pong was the first of the Atari 2600 videogames, and the shot heard round the world that triggered an electronic revolution in the world of games and hobbies.

Pong was followed by fun stuff like Space Invaders and later personal favorites Starmaster, Adventure, and Yar’s Revenge and even Donkey Kong. That last one was a keeper. It triggered the jump to the next generation of videogame, and also the point where I got lost. I had an Atari 2600, but I didn’t get a Nintendo system until 1998, way beyond when it was cool or even cutting edge – and even then it wasn’t my idea to get the system. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the videogame age.

A Super Nintendo system followed later, but only so I could play geek favorites of mine – Justice League Task Force and Super Godzilla, notably the only two games ever purchased for the system. Up until a few weeks ago, that was as cutting edge as I got. Then the PS3 came into the house.

This was a surprise, but apparently something The Bride had been thinking about for a while. I had initially asked for a Roku or a Blu-Ray player for Christmas but Santa was not accommodating. The Bride thought a PS3 would service both functions and have games so she got one. And here we are.

There’s an old joke that the only thing that separates a full-time freelance writer from an unemployed bum is a videogame system. To keep that balance from claiming me, I’m starting this blog, recording my impressions as a decisive non-gamer into the gaming world of PlayStation. I’ll try not to be too stupid or naïve, and maybe we’ll all learn something. Welcome to my nightmare.