Category Archives: atari

Big Pong Theory

My buddy Ray brought this to my attention on the Facebook. This is how Atari celebrates its 40th anniversary this week…

The full story is here.

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The Secret History of Star Raiders

Back in the stone age days of the Atari 2600, when it was the videogame system, there was one game that stood out away from the rest, and not for any good reasons. That was Star Raiders.

Everyone had Star Raiders, but I don’t think anyone liked it, or even played it. Ninety-nine percent of all Atari games used either a joystick or a paddle controller, but not Star Raiders. It had a big number pad controller with a phone cord like cord. As an oddity it stood out, and as I said, I didn’t know anyone who played it, maybe because it was a bit difficult to play or to understand how to play. My Atari is long ago stored away, and I’m not digging it up any time soon to check it out – so forget that noise.

But the facts are of course that Star Raiders predates the Atari 2600, and goes back to the Atari 400 and 800, and the Atari 8-bit family of games. Yeah, this is one of the ancestors. Star Raiders may have been crippled by the limiting graphics of the 2600, or at least that’s what my computer geek friends tell me. I have also been told that it was the precursor to later games that I have enjoyed like Starmaster and the Star Trek arcade game, and even Wing Commander. The original SR even borrowed itself from Trek, Star Wars, and even Battlestar Galactica in its own designs. Man, I wish I remembered this game better, or at least played it.

Now imagine my surprise when I saw Star Raiders listed as a free download at the PlayStation Store. I downloaded it but only remembering it vaguely from childhood I didn’t play right away. After learning more about it, I was eager to play and jumped right to it.

Wow, the visuals are something else, but man, the controller directions are among the most complicated I have seen so far for the PS3. Steering was insane, but the format was eerily similar to favorite games like those mentioned above, Starmaster and Star Trek. It was very cool. I will have to learn more. I’m sure it will be worth it. And I actually feel a little bad I didn’t put more time in with the 2600 version.

Pac-Man from Hell

Now I know Pac-Man. Heck, we all know Pac-Man. This thing, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, that I downloaded from the PlayStation Store is not Pac-Man. I don’t know what the hell it is, but it scares me, it scares my heart, my poor poor pacemakered heart.

The board is horizontal, rather than vertical, much like the Atari 2600 Pac-Man game. Unlike that version, this does look like Pac-Man, and the graphics are very precise and very vibrant. Psychedelic acid trip vibrant, and the music is pulse-pounding house techno that seems to get faster and the game gets more frantic. I could feel my heart beating in time to it with the pressure of the game.

There are advantages. You get bombs to blow up the ghosts, but it doesn’t really seem to help as they recover quickly, and there are ghosts everywhere, sleeping until you pass near. They just keep coming. It’s almost as if someone decided Pac-Man wasn’t hard enough, it needed to give you a nervous condition as well.

Taking Inventory

With the addition of the PlayStation 2, I felt it was time to take inventory of exactly how far down the rabbit hole The Non-Gamer has fallen since this started. The first problems were that Ray also gave me PS2 games with the PS2, then I bought a few myself. Damn you, GameStop, for liquidating your PS2 games at buy-two-get-one-free.

Of course I started this blog after the purchase of a PS3. So far we haven’t purchased many PS3 games actually. I got one of the Ultimate Alliances because I really wanted to play it. I bought DC Universe Online as soon as I learned it was going to be free to play. The Bride bought Disney Universe and Sing It, and then there are all those games Ray lent us. There have been a few other games, but for the most part we have been downloading them.

The PlayStation Network provides an amazing, ever-changing selection of demos and trial versions of games. At last count, we had over eighty games in our system, including at least a dozen we have purchased. Pain is one of my favorites to this day. Whenever I open the PlayStation Network, I will end up playing it for at least a little while, good for a bit of stress relief.

Now even though I call myself The Non-Gamer, and this blog started with the purchase of the PlayStation 3, I do own other game systems. As I’ve mentioned I bought an Atari 2600 back in the 1980s. We have almost two of the old Atari game shelves full of the little cartridges

Once we got married, one of the big deal buys we made was an old Nintendo Entertainment System along with all the bells and whistles, not to mention about thirty different games. While I love stuff like the Mario games, there is always the problem of “turn waiting.”

We also have a Super Nintendo as well, but only two games for that, Justice League Task Force and Super Godzilla. Yeah, it was a Christmas gift, and was feeding two of my peculiar obsessions. It did not get much play as no instructions came with the game system, or either of the two games.

I haven’t even thought of the dozens of games on iPhone if they count.

Wow, I guess I’m not much of a Non-Gamer after all. Now, can someone please tell me how to turn off the PlayStation 2?

Level Up (or is that down?)

My buddy Ray, in order to give me some more range in what I write about here on The Non-Gamer’s Gamer’s Blog, and just because he’s a great guy, and a helluva friend, lent me his PS2. He even came over to hook it up, and gave me a game.

Ray got me the Atari Anthology, yeah, baby, kicking it old school. I think it was also a left-handed way of saying I was inept at gaming, and just old, period. The implication is that these would be the only games I would be good at. I can’t deny that, I guess. I was damned happy to play Yar’s Revenge on my HD TV.

Now when Ray told me he was doing this last week, I knew what I had to do. I had to get a copy of Justice League Heroes. On one New Year’s Eve several years ago, Jeff and I played this game for about, oh, I don’t know, six or seven hours straight while our respective other halves chatted and eventually slept. I had a blast. Not only was it a reintroduction to videogames for me, but it was also a cool superhero game that also played with the continuity of the comics. This was a DC Universe of characters and situations I knew. I loved it.

Once I knew there was a PS2 coming, this was the game I wanted. Well, that and the Godzilla and Ultraman games for the PS2, but those have proven slightly elusive, if not impossible. Why wouldn’t you make a game for the whole world to play? Grrr… don’t get me started…

So after warming up with some Atari, looking bright and colorful in high definition, I moved over to Justice League Heroes and enjoyed smashing Brainiac’s robot minions with Superman and Batman. Hmmm… I guess Brainiac is the default bad guy for DC Comics videogames…

I had a blast. I confess to having to call Ray to ask how to turn it off when I was done, but I’m learning. More reviews to come, especially from the PS2 now too. Thanks, Ray!

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…

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.

Lions, and Robots, and Anime, Oh My!

I don’t get Voltron. I mean I get it, I understand it, but I don’t get it. It holds no nostalgic value for me. It came out some time after I traded cartoons for girls, you know, waaay back in college.

For those of you in my situation, I’ll refresh your memories. “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” was an animated series in the early 1980s that was edited together with segments from two earlier Japanese animes called “Beast King GoLion” and “Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.” It was done in much the same way “Power Rangers” was put together, only not live-action. In the American compilation, the Voltron Force are five individual who fight the forces of evil in five different colored robot lions, that can combine into one giant robot and fight the bigger badder menaces they can’t on their own. It was a huge hit here in the States for boys and girls.

As I said, it was past my time, much like G.I. Joe or Transformers. Still, I like giant robots, and especially monsters, when I saw that a game called Voltron: Defender of the Universe was available for free download from the PlayStation Store, I thought, why not?

The game starts with a whole lot of animation, old animation, which makes me think it’s probably from the original American TV series. There’s a bunch of it, so much of it, that you expect that to be what the game is like, but no, that’s not the case at all.

Had the game had a Japanese anime feel to it, it might have been a bit juvenile, but it would have worked. The game however is nothing like that. It’s like a crisp high definition version of what the old 8-bit and 16-bit video games for Atari and Nintendo used to look like. If you were told that blue and red pixilated blur was supposed to be Superman, you just nodded and blindly accepted that.

This stolen-from-the-web pic is 100% clearer than what I saw in the game…

It’s like that here. After about five to ten minutes of running my black segmented blob of shiny metal through bad obstacles and having it gobble up good obstacles, it occurred to me that might supposed to be the Black Lion. Yeah, it’s like that. What I was able to see of the game was pretty, indistinguishable, and pretty primitive. I gave up out of boredom, not frustration. If there are giant robots or monsters, I wouldn’t know. I didn’t get that far.

If you got a hankering for Voltron, get over to Netflix, not to your PlayStation, just my opinion.

Smash ’em Crash ’em Racing

When I was a kid, way back in the Dark Ages known as the 1970s, these cars called SSP Racers were all the rage. These wonderful toys with the one big wheel and the T-stick to rev them up and race across the concrete or the floor filled many days and nights of my childhood. There were dozens of models to collect and then they came out with the next evolution – the SSP Smash-Up Derby. Not only could you race them, now you could run these cars at each other and parts would fly off, just like in the demolition derby.

When I first started college, in that null zone between the Atari 2600 and the first Nintendo system, I had a first date with a girl who invited me babysitting. The home where she was babysitting had an Atari system, so I borrowed some games to play while we, ahem, babysat. Before we moved on to other activities, we played several racing games on the Atari like Night Driver, Pole Position, Enduro and Spy Hunter (I think, it might have been too early for that last one), but because we had other things on our minds, we played them badly, and crashed into stuff constantly. In hindsight it was kind of fun. The crashing part, I meant.

Now among the demo downloads from the PlayStation Store I have found a game that kinda puts together those two memories into a fun beach atmosphere. It’s called Smash Cars, and I like it a lot, and even my feeble gamer novice mind can grasp how it works.

You’re controlling a little remote control sand buggy and racing around a preset course on the beach. Oh sure, it’s a race, and you’re supposed to win and get the best time, but I had the best time by crashing into stuff. You can drive through boxes, drive off the pier, and the most fun, crash into the people in the beach. I absolutely love hitting the jump button as I approach this one guy, and nailing him right in the beanbag if you know what I mean.

I love this game. A lot. When I was looking for mindless destruction games, I should have been looking for this one, not The Incredible Hulk or Grand Theft Auto. Highly recommended.

I Enter the Portal

I told you earlier about The Bride’s obsession with Portal and Portal 2. Well, I keep hearing, and not just from her, how fun the game was, so, with the thought in mind that I could always mute the sound and not have to deal with GLaDOS or her cake rantings, I thought I would give it a shot. God help me. I popped the Orange Box disc in. (Yes, I have finally learned how to turn the darn PS3 on by now.)

Unlike the The Bride, I wanted to try all the games on the disc, before trying Portal. I tried Team Fortress 2, and quickly learned that this was a multiplayer game. Hmmm… as much I do want to try that someday, I pass that one up for later, and move on. Keep it simple, stupid should be my mantra, after all, I can barely work the controller on this thing yet.

Then there’s Half-Life 2, divided up between regular Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episode One and Episode Two. I really don’t get it. I was under the impression that Half-Life was some sort of zombie shooting game. In the first version on this disc I was greeted by a creepy Christopher Lee wannabe with multi-colored eyes talking gibberish at me and then dropping me off at a train station. Wow. How about some background, some instructions or something, huh? Anything?

At this point, I just think the videogame companies are just mocking me. I’m old, I wouldn’t understand. I retreat to the instruction manual. It says I am Freeman, and I’m here to shoot the alien Combine who have taken over the Earth. Okay, I’m down with that, but what’s with the subway station and the vague overhead marching orders. Give me something to shoot, goddamnit! Give me a gun to shoot with, and I’m not talking about the aliens, but that guy who keeps ‘welcoming me to City 17.’

Next. In Episode One, I’m the same guy, only this time I have a gun, but I can’t make it work. When I try it makes a whimpering sound. I’m really getting frustrated here. The intro to Episode Two is at least exciting, lots of shooting alien creatures. And then it starts… and I’m trapped in a crashed train car with no gun. Remember the old Atari days when the game started when you turned it on. To hell with this crap, I move on to Portal.

Immediately the voice of GLaDOS makes me regret trying this. At least I have a gun, but I can’t kill anything with it. But it does make a noise and show a blast when it’s not making portals. But it’s a puzzle game, and much like the cryptic crosswords that give The Bride so much joy, it gives me a headache. Five games, and all of them a total wash for me. I’m glad The Bride enjoyed this. I don’t however.

Yes, I entered the Portal, and then I jumped right back out again…