Monday, January 26, 2009

Fog Lights?

Well, given the dismal number of comments from the last one I can see I'm probably the only person in the universe interested in video games, at least in the small universe of people that ever read this thing. I think Deanna summed it all up when she told me last week, "I'm so glad all the stuff about video games is over!"

But I said I wasn't going to talk about video games, didn't I? All right, all right already. Most people that know me would say, at least I hope they would say, that I am not one that spends a great deal of time complaining. Deanna would probably disagree, but if you can't complain to your wife, who can you complain too? I really do try to make a conscious effort to not gripe about things. Sometimes I fail miserably, but I think there is merit in having tried. I just don't see any benefit that ever comes of complaining about things. Yes, complaining does serve a small purpose in allowing one to blow off steam so to speak. This does come in useful at times. Keeping things bottled up like a pressure cooker is no good either. But it has been my experience that complaining about things most of the time does very little to improve the situation. More often it just makes you (and unfortunately, everyone listening to you) more miserable.

And who wants that? So, it is for the reasons above that I really do try hard not to complain about things, especially when they are not within my power to change.

All that being said, please allow me to complain for a moment. I did say I fail miserably at times. But after reading my tedious words, maybe someone will be able to at least explain this to me so my griping will have served some vague educational purpose. I have a problem with fog lights. Our van is equipped with these beacons of brightness, and I must say, they really do work well...... In a fog! When you are driving in poor visibility conditions those lights shining close to the road surface do improve ones ability to see in front of you. We've made use of these lights on several occasions and enjoy this feature immensely. I don't have a problem with people using these lights in foggy conditions. I have a problem with the people that use them all the time. Even when the nights are crystal clear.

Maybe with these newer vehicles, people just don't have a choice, like the headlights that shine during the day. Everything is on some sort of light sensor which controls the lamps outside the vehicle. Our van is a 2001 model and has a switch that allows us to turn the fog lights off. When its foggy, we make use of the beams. When it's clear, we give other drivers the courtesy of shutting them off.

I simply do not understand the purpose of using fog lights in conditions with good visibility. The only reason I can see is that they do blind the driver in front of you. In my opinion, these are worse than high-beams. They are especially bad in these monster trucks that are jacked up to the 2nd floor. Making them appear to smaller vehicles such as mine, like a 747 coming up behind you on final approach. The problem is made even worse, by yet another peeve of mine, tail-gaters. Hey, if I'm going to complain I'm going to do it right! Now you have not 2, but 4 monster lights coming at you just like 4 lighthouses sitting in your back seat!

Tail-gaters can make me even angrier than fog-lighters. Just a suggestion to any tail-gaters out there. This will make me slow down even more because I would hate to have to stop suddenly at a high speed and wind up having an SUV drive over the top of me. Other tail-gate opponents I've talked to will do the same tactic, so I'm just saying to those of you who follow too closely, you may not be improving your situation.

But the topic at hand is the fog lights. Thankfully, I have a lever on the rear-view mirror that directs the halogen towards the roof of my car, thereby cutting off the glare. The devious side of me always hopes that I'm shining the glare right back at the perpetrator, but that probably is very wishful thinking. Given the huge number of people that use these lights, I'm pretty sure they just don't realize or even care how annoying they are to the people who find themselves in the light of their affection.

There. I'm done. I feel much better. Ranting does allow one to clear the air a bit. Hopefully someone reading this will be able to explain why so many people these days like to use the extra lighting in front of their vehicles.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 5 Nintendo DS, Jumpgate, and yet another computer

At last, the long awaited conclusion to this dreadfully long and dull discourse on video games. I can just hear you readers cheering that an end to the torture is near. Deanna even said how boring part 4 was. One of the many things I love about my wife is that I can always depend on her to tell the truth, especially when I don't want to hear it. I will take brutal honesty over words that make me feel good any day.

I promise this will be my last post on video games for a good long while. I can't say forever because you just never know when the next great game will capture my attention so much that I'll have to write about it. But for now, rest easy, after this post I will not trouble you with video games for some time.

After Electronic Arts shut down Earth and Beyond I took another gaming sabbatical. There were a couple of computer games I played from time to time but I didn't spend anywhere near as much time as I did with Earth & Beyond. Both games were old in techno-years but still ran great on my computer and provided much needed stress relief. The first was called Age of Empires. The first version was published in 1997 but still highly enjoyable to play. They are up to Version 3 now with a bunch of spin-offs called Age of Mythology, and Asian Dynasties, but I'm perfectly content to continue playing the original. This is a strategy type game where you pick one of several civilizations like Greeks, Hittites, Egyptians, and so on. You have several different scenarios to choose from but most of them start off in the stone age with crude tools and weapons. With these you need to harvest or mine resources like timber, stone, gold, as well as provide food for your people by hunting, fishing or farming. Along with developing your civilization you have to construct an army and defend yourself and attack enemy civilizations who are doing the same thing. As you construct buildings and grow your population, you also conduct research which leads you to the tool age, bronze age, and ultimately, the iron age which has the most modern weapons and architecture. Each civilization has it's own strengths and weaknesses and architecture and clothing style to match whatever race you choose. You can play by yourself against the computer or you can play with up to 7 people over the Internet.

The other game along the same lines is called Rise of Nations. This one was developed in 2003 so it was a little newer. The races were more specific to countries that you could choose like the French, Irish, Russians, and so on. Also, the architecture and weapons were more modern. With Age of Empires, even in the most advanced Iron age, you were still fighting with swords and arrows. With Rise of Nations you get battleships and stealth bombers. The graphics and animation were also a lot better. When a ship's guns fired they would actually rock back and forth in the water due to the gun's recoil. Serious gamers appreciate this level of detail. Game play was about the same. You develop your civilization while attacking and defending against the enemy. I still enjoy both these games today though I don't get to play very often.

The kids were getting older and introduced to homework and activities like soccer and piano lessons. Our house was getting a little small for us and we made the decision to buy an acre about 3 miles North of Mandan and build another house. Before we could do this, we had to sell our existing one and move into an apartment for a time. So things were extremely busy and didn't allow for much gaming.

After moving and going through the process of home construction a 2nd time I once again renewed my vow never to do that again. The next time I move it will be when I am no longer physically able to maintain the house we are in now. We will pick a smaller place where someone else can take care of lawn mowing and snow removal. Then kids and hopefully grand kids can move us while we sit back and give orders. That sounds good to me.

We really enjoy our new home. They should almost let you build one house for free so you can see all the mistakes and things you don't like and then let you tear it down and build what you really want. We learned a lot from our first experience and are very happy in the new location.

About this time the Nintendo Wii came out but we decided against a purchase. The kids would have enjoyed it but what they really asked for were DS hand held units. They liked the Game boys they had gotten previously and wanted the new DS that had just come out. These little units made me a believer in hand held gaming. I still prefer the bigger consoles and PC games for myself but what I enjoyed about the DS is that they provided some separation between the kids.

The GameCube was given to both of them and they were expected to share and play together. I don't know what kind of delusion we were suffering from but it did not promote sibling love. Invariably, arguments ensued over what game they were going to play, who got to have which controller. (like it matters) and who was cheating or doing something unkind. Even after several time outs and game groundings later, the problem still surfaces on occasion.

When they each got their own DS with their own games, oh the blissful tranquility that ensued! You did not hear a peep out of them for hours on end. Silence was truly golden. This is why we were in no rush to go out and get a Wii. The kids were and still are perfectly happy with their DS games. But I imagine when the Wii 2.0 or whatever they decide to call the next generation of Nintendo consoles we'll have to break down and buy one. But, of course, not until after the initial madness ends and prices start to come down. Every new system seems to follow the same game plan. They get released at astronomically expensive prices. They sell out. Nobody can find them for awhile. They come back, possibly sell out a few more times, but eventually there gets to be a surplus on the shelves. Then the deals start coming out. That's when we usually make the purchase. All it takes is a little patience. In the meantime, you scout the territory, find out what games people seem to enjoy playing, so you can make, hopefully, the most informed decision in your gaming purchases.

Even after we moved into the new house, there was definitely a lull in my gaming. There was no cable service in our area, which meant Internet service was also limited. The wireless options were kind of expensive so we got a Satellite dish and actually went back to slow dial-up for a time. Then Extend America came out with some very attractive pricing for it's high-speed wireless with free installation so we were back to broadband Internet once again.

After getting the faster Internet and a little more discretionary time I again delved into the world of MMORPG's. Looking for another space game I selected Jumpgate. The graphics weren't quite as good as Earth & Beyond, but the gameplay was much improved, especially flying the spaceships. It was more of what you would expect flying in space to be like. Left, right, up, and down mean very different things in zero gravity. If you get moving in one direction it's not all that simple to move in another direction. It also makes shooting and actually hitting other ships more difficult. The learning curve was pretty steep. Many times I crashed into asteroids or space stations because I couldn't fly the ships. But once you mastered control of the thrusters and guns, it was enormous fun. I had to be careful. I was determined not to make the same mistakes as the last space game where I was playing way too much and isolating myself from my family. I really had to restrict my game time. There have been a few sporadic incidents but I believe for the most part I've been successful.

Last year, our government gave us an Economic Stimulus check. Well, if the government is going to be generous enough to give us some money, we might as well do our patriotic duty and spend it. So we bought a new computer. I'm still getting used to Windows Vista, but I'll manage. Strange how the older I get, the more resistant I am to change. I know for a fact I didn't used to be this way. Now I do enjoy the consistency when things manage to stay the same.

I am eagerly awaiting the new release of this game called Jumpgate:Evolution, a project that's been several years in the making. It should be released for closed Beta testing any time now. As an original subscriber, I'll get to play ("test") the game for free for a period of time. From the reviews it seems as though they've kept everything that is popular with the original version and have added or expanded on some things players have requested. And the graphics are truly stunning. "Out of this world," you might say. I can't wait until this gets released. But I'm still determined to make sure the game doesn't take over my life. Computer games will hopefully always remain an amusing past time and a form of stress relief. They would never be able to replace the love and companionship of my family.

There you have it. My history of computer games over the years. I do apologize to drag all of you along for the ride. Rest assured, I intend to keep my promise and not submit another gaming blog for very long time. Thanks again, for putting up with me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 4 Children, GameCubes, and Windows XP

Good grief do I ever talk a lot! When I started this I was thinking 1, maybe 2 posts. Now I'm on part 4? Let us trudge on. I got a Pentium 100. There really isn't much to say about this computer vs. my previous one other than it was faster. My JetFighter jets suddenly went from Mach 1 to Mach 8. The JetFighter game was designed for older, slower computers so the planes now flew a wee bit faster. Almost too fast that you couldn't play it.

Again, I ask, what is a guy to do? Get new games of course. Let's see, I had 2 favorites on this computer. Star Wars: X-Wing was definitely one of them. I didn't like this game at first because the keyboard response was horrible and my old joystick was pretty worn out. It was even more frustrating because you had to qualify in the fighter before you could actually fly it for missions. I couldn't pass the tests because the controls were too sluggish. My oldest younger brother saved the day by getting me a Logitech WingMan II joystick for my birthday or Christmas one year. Thanks Jeremy! The game rocked after that! It was dreadfully hard though. I don't think I ever solved all the missions. I got so far and eventually just gave up because the missions got to be too difficult.

I'm ashamed to say X-Wing got the better of me. It was a great game but just too hard for my meager talents. Awhile later I got a helicopter game called Gunship 2000. I hadn't been much of a helicopter person until that game came along. I'm sure I would get into arguments with military aviators who fly jets for a living. But I have to say flying these Apaches and Cobras is just a little bit more challenging. My high school friend, Craig, who used to fly Apaches for the Army is probably saying. "Duh?" Obviously, I've never done it for real so I totally don't have a clue. I imagine both types of aircraft have their challenges. This was a sweet game! You could fly all manner of rotary-wing craft and had all sorts of missions from search and destroy to rescue. You could fly at night or in the day and all kinds of armament were at your disposal. As you increased in rank you got to command flights so you would go out with 4 other choppers in addition to the one you were in. The highlight was when the silver eagles signifying the rank of full colonel appeared on my uniform. This was the highest rank you could get in the game.

My youngest brother and sister, Brad and Kim, got a Super Nintendo around that time. Jeremy had purchased a game called Double-Dragon for it. Sometimes Brad and Kim would get bored with their Super Nintendo, and though I wasn't bored with my regular Nintendo, I really wanted to play theirs so we'd swap on occasion.

This was kind of a seedy game. The double-dragon's were two street fighting brothers and a rival gang had kidnapped one brother's girlfriend. So the Dragons had to wade through all manner of ugly characters with their fists, feet, and sometimes guns and knives to rescue the girl. What made this game so special was that it was one of the few games that Deanna actually played. Yes, that's right, my sweet innocent wife was a street fighting machine. Deanna is one of those people who just don't understand what is so great about video games. She thinks they are about as exciting as watching paint dry. But she got into this one. I was the blue guy and she was the red one and together we were unstoppable. At least until Jeremy got a Super Nintendo of his own and asked could he please have his game back.

I still have the Pentium 100 system collecting dust in the basement. I had too many good games for it, most of which no longer run on modern computers. I couldn't bear to part with the games so I have to retain the PC so I could still play them if I ever get the urge. Every now and then Deanna, in a cleaning frenzy, asks if I ever plan to turn that thing on again and needs a very gentle reminder why in the world we still have it.

Around this time we had our last child, a boy! Our family was finally complete, at least until we got the fish last Fall, but I must stay on topic. I was getting depressed with my job at the Game & Fish Department. I had applied for a couple different jobs in the department when vacancies got created and was turned down. I had applied elsewhere in the state, and was turned down. I was starting to stagnate and felt I had progressed as far as I could with Game & Fish. Don't get me wrong, this is the best organization I've ever had the pleasure of working for and I loved my job, but I didn't think I would love it so much if I would have had to do the same thing for the next 20 years.

At the time I didn't think I had any alternative but to go back to school for a master's degree in business administration. That seemed to be the resounding factor why I couldn't get the jobs I was applying for. UND has an MBA program through Bismarck State College where you take evening classes through an interactive video network. The instructor is in Grand Forks and teaches a class there as well as in Bismarck and Dickinson through video cameras and microphones. It is really slick for people who want to get advanced degrees and can't leave their full-time jobs.

Unfortunately, for me it was a disaster. After being away from college for so long it was not in my genetic make-up to return. Back then I was teaching night classes myself 2 nights a week and then another night involved going to my class. Don't forget we also had our 2 children by then who need and deserve family time as well. And I was a little naive. My vision of college was listening to lectures, studying, taking tests and doing homework. Graduate school is that plus much research, paper writing, and public presenting. It was too much to handle. I suffered emotions I had never dealt with before. I would wake up with cold sweats in the middle of the night, stressed out over one thing or another, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, not knowing when or how things would ever get better. I finished my first (and only) semester class with a 115% but it took pieces out of me I don't think I've ever gotten back.

If I would not have been teaching, I could have done it. The only way I could justify withdrawing from the program was to firmly convince myself I could have completed it if only... But my family and my health were more important. But one good thing that came out of it was a new computer. Through some kind of educational deal, I basically got an interest free loan to purchase a new PC. A Dell Dimension with a Pentium 4 processor and gigabyte of RAM (fairly respectable in 2002, especially considering I was still happily using my Pentium 1 and basically bypassed 2 intel upgrades) I felt a little guilty that I now had a computer originally purchased for educational purposes which was now a game machine, but not too much. I paid for that computer in more ways than dollars.

Again, I had so many great games it's difficult to pick what I liked best. I had a lot of fun with Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. You may have guessed I'm a bit of a Star Wars/Star Trek junkie. I searched high and low for screen shots but couldn't find any that didn't have the website plastered over the picture and I'm a little concerned about copyright issues so you'll have to make do with the box cover. Bear in mind, the images on the computer screen never, ever look like the cover art on the box. But it was great, 5 whopping CD's of cool graphics and music and the joystick given to me by Jeremy was still going strong. I started to have a little bit of trouble and had to break down and buy the strategy guide to go with it. Let the record state that I did successfully complete the game and graduate from the academy WITHOUT using the guide, but did use the guide eventually to get into the secret levels and bonus rounds. At the end of the game Captain Kirk himself offered me his original USS Enterprise he was so pleased with my results.

We also got cable internet for the first time and were able to disconnect the slow dial-up connection, finally. It was a long time coming with that. Now that I had a decent computer and a high-speed internet connection I checked out massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG's). I used to think it was cool to dial up a buddy's computer and play head to head over the phone. Now you can get on the internet and play with and against thousands of people all over the world. As you might guess, I gravitate towards the space games. Earth and Beyond had just been released and I got a free beta test account. You got to play the game for free for a time before it was released to the public.

Oh my goodness! I had never dreamed graphics and game play could be so much fun. The space scenery and ship designs were truly stunning. This game got me in some trouble. I was playing way too much. I'm ashamed to say at the expense of quality time with my family. Nothing should become more important than your family, least of all a computer game. I did eventually get my act together and put myself on restriction and set limits for my playing time. Something I continue to do to this day. The phrase, "Everything in moderation," seems to come to mind. I'm very mindful of the time I spend gaming and make sure my family understands they will always come first. When they begin to doubt the truth of this statement, I know it's time to shut the computer off. After 2 years Electronic Arts shut the game down. I did mourn its passing, but not too much. It was getting a little stale anyway.

Around this time our kids got the Nintendo GameCube. I am not the type of person that has to run out and buy something the second it's released to the public. I also don't have to buy every version that comes out. After my original Nintendo, there was Nintendo64 and SuperNintendo before the GameCube was released and we didn't bother getting those. Even the gamecube waited until it had been on the market and the prices started coming down. With a little patience you can also get the package deals that include additional controllers and games. Here's a picture of a cube and controller, ours is silver instead of purple.

Easily my favorite game is Mario Kart: Double Dash. You get all the Mario Brothers characters and a cool selection of go-karts and you have races over various locations and terrain. There's also a battle mode where you essentially shoot things at other karts as they are shooting at you but I prefer the all-out racing. The gamecube was a lesson in humility for me as it is the first gaming device we had where the kids were able to beat me at. My excuse is they get to play it a lot more often and therefore get to hone their skills much more than me. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. We've got several other games for the cube, but I've given up even trying to win. But with Mario Karts I can hold my own. That is the best I can achieve playing against kids that have put in so many hours of playing time.

Well, it's 5:00 and my family is awaiting me at Pizza Ranch so I'd better sign off for now. One more installment and I'll close the story on video games. Thank you, my dear readers, for putting up with this not so interesting topic.

Tribute to video games - Part 3 Freedom, Nintendo, and the Intel 386

Words could not describe how tremendous I felt after my last final of my last class of my last semester in college. I was giddy with joy. It was like a heavy load I had been struggling under for the previous 2 years had just been lifted. I truly heard choirs of angels singing the hallelujah chorus as I walked down the steps outside the building. Had I not been a quiet, shy, unassuming young man, I probably would have let out a rousing "Dukes of Hazard" YEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAW!!!!!

I was truly on top of the world. Only 2 other events could have eclipsed that moment. 1.) when I became a Christian at a Resurrection Band concert in Jamestown and 2.) my wedding to the most beautiful, precious woman that ever graced this terrestrial ball. Absolutely everything was going my way. I had a job waiting for me with the Bank of ND when I got done with school so I didn't have to worry about unemployment. I was moving back to the city I grew up in and loved. We were moving from our shoebox apartment to a 2, not a 1, bedroom apartment in which the kitchen, dining, and living areas were all separate, walled-off rooms. It was like moving to a palace. At that time, at least, we were debt free. No small achievement considering I had just finished college. I never had to make a student loan payment. We're not debt free now, of course, but that's beside the point.

It took me a little while to make the transition from a full-time student with two part-time jobs to a full-time employee who only worked 5 days a week. It was weird to come home at 5:30 and not have to do anything. It would be another 6 years before we had children. I hadn't started teaching night classes yet. Don't even get me started on the weekends. 2 whole entire days in a row without any school work or paid work to perform?

What was a guy to do? I had heard a lot about the Nintendo Entertainment System but up until then, I didn't have the time or the willingness to spend money on such a diversion. However, every time I heard an advertisement for this little unit it brought back very fond memories playing the old Atari and Telstar systems. It seemed with all these leisure moments I was suddenly blessed with, the time was ripe to once again indulge my fondness for video games.

I was hooked the first night I brought it home and ripped off the shrink wrap. This was my first introduction to the world of Mario Brothers. Two cartoon plumbers who have all sorts of crazy adventures. I still have the system to this day. It's been replaced once. I started having problems with the unit and foolishly assumed it was the box and bought a used system on eBay for $50, only to find out that it wasn't the box, but the AC power adapter that was defective, something you can get at Radio Shack for about $7. To add insult to injury, I couldn't even resell or use my original because I destroyed it opening it up to see how it worked. (You have to understand I was under the assumption it was already broken so what more harm could I do?) Ah well, lesson learned. It took my son a week after I had replaced it to bust off the door where you insert the game cartridges. Since you can still play with a "door less" unit I haven't bothered to replace it. I now keep it under lock and key and the children are forbidden to go near it except under VERY close supervision by yours truly. They've got their own games. This one is mine.

I had to get Tetris, of course. What I liked about this was at the end of the game there was an animation of a rocket launching. The size of the rocket was dependent on how high your score was. If your score was too low you got this puny little stick-pin that you had to squint to even see on the screen. The rockets increased in size and design with your final score. My highlight occurred when I maxed out and got this larger-than-life space shuttle at the end with a magnificent blast-off. I think I did give a "Dukes of Hazard" yell at that point.

My favorite game, though, was Super Mario Brothers 3. It had everything I love about video games. Running, jumping, flying, swimming, shooting, puzzles, obstacles, and don't forget rescuing the little princess at the end. It takes roughly 12 hours to play, start to finish, if you go through all the levels and all the worlds without taking any shortcuts or cheats. I still remember the first time I defeated the evil Bowser (angry crocodile-type guy) and rescued the princess. To this day it is my favorite game among all the Nintendo systems past and present.

After 6 years, the time came to finally replace my Apple IIc computer. One of the loan officers at the Bank of ND asked me if I knew anyone interested in buying a cheap computer. Hello? pick me please. It turned out my co-worker's younger brother was in college earning some pocket money by building computers for people. He had built an Intel 386 (the highest processor at that time) system for someone who changed their mind and didn't want it. He was willing to sell it to me at cost so he could get it off his hands. What a deal! So it was with just a little regret I said goodbye to my time with Apple computers and hello to DOS and Windows 3.1. I did manage to sell my Apple to St. Joe's school in Mandan so I felt pretty good about making a little money and postponing the computer's trip to the landfill for a few more years. The school was pretty happy about their end of the deal as well. I take care of my things and the screen, printer, external disk drive and computer were still in excellent condition and I sold it to them for what I thought was a very reasonable price.

Another world of video gaming was suddenly open to me. My favorite on the 386 system was Jet Fighter 2. I had played with some flight simulators before but the graphics were horrible. (yes, even more horrible than this) and the planes were cumbersome and very hard to fly. This game had all my favorite jets. The F-16, F-14, F-15, F/A-18, and the YF-23. You could take-off and land from runways or aircraft carriers and choose from dogfighting or bombing missions (or both). It wasn't enough to simply take out the targets. You then had to make it back to base alive. It was a great little game.

I had that computer another 6 years until about the time we had our first child. A girl! Talk about another life changing experience. But that's another blog. I had such good luck with the "home-built" computer I started looking at these again when my 386 started showing it's age. Fortunately, a family friend was in the computer building business and not only gave me a generous "family" discount. Basically, I got by with just paying for parts again. He also gave me another generous discount by taking my old system and its antiquated Epson Dot Matrix printer in trade. I use computers like cars, I drive them until I really don't have any choice but to replace them. The 486 systems had come and gone and I was still getting by with my 386. Now it was the dawn of the age of Pentium. So my next PC was a Pentium 100 with Windows 95! So long DOS.

Unfortunately, it must also be goodbye dear readers. I'm really trying hard not to make these too long. It's also been my experience that not everyone is overly excited about video games, and find the topic to be quite boring, so I don't want to torture these people too badly. More to come...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 2 Tetris and the Apple IIc

My video gaming activity took a leave of absence when I got to high school as well as my first couple years of college. I played very rarely. Believe it or not I was pretty serious about maintaining a strong GPA. I'm the kind of person who has always known what they wanted. By ninth grade I knew what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to major in, and what kind of career to have. I didn't want any road blocks to prevent me from achieving my goals so I knuckled down and really worked hard at keeping my grades up. I also got my first job at McDonald's when they came to Mandan in 1984. I could write a whole other blog on my experiences there. Of course there was concert band, jazz band, marching band, pep band, concert choir and swing choir. Not to mention all the solo and ensemble festivals I participated in. I just didn't have much time for gaming.

I had known for years I wanted to work with computers. I had visited with advisers and faculty from the Computer Science Department at North Dakota State University and came to the quite obvious conclusion that if I wanted a degree in Computer Science I needed to be prepared to spend many hours in front of a computer screen. There were several labs on campus open 24 hours a day, but I realized it would be much nicer to be able to do my work from our tiny apartment at married student housing. Deanna, my very recent and beautiful bride, also appreciated the fact that if I had to pull all nighters writing programs at least I was at home doing it.

My Dad very graciously got me my first computer as a high school graduation present. Look at this bad boy, an Apple IIc. Note the 5 1/4 inch floppy diskettes. You don't see those anymore. My unit also came with a 2nd floppy drive so I could copy disks, and an ImageWriter printer with black AND color ribbon. Printers back then needed ribbon and operated much like a typewriter. There was no hard drive but there was a whopping 128 KB of RAM. Your bargain basement computers these days Start at 1 GB of RAM and most people usually get 2-4. If KB and GB make no sense to you, 1 GB is the equivalent of about 7,812 of my puny old Apple IIc's put together. But you have to put everything into perspective. Programs back then didn't need huge amounts of memory to run. Sound and graphics were very crude compared to today and memory was extremely expensive so programs ran as efficiently as they could and used as little memory as possible. That little computer got me through college so it definitely fulfilled its purpose. Thanks Dad!

I should mention a high school friend, Clint, who operates the Bismarck-Mandan Blog referenced in the list off to your right. He was the one who convinced me to go with Apple Computers vs. the IBM PC Jr. which was also a hot item at that time. He was invaluable getting my modem to hook up to the University mainframe. Thanks Clint! I had a couple good games on it. This was my first experience with computer solitaire and a couple other card games.

I also had a Conan game for my Apple Computer that was pretty cool, you had to navigate obstacles and defeat bad guys and rescue the princess at the end. Kind of like the Mario Brothers games from Nintendo. I couldn't believe I actually found a screen shot. This is level 2, I believe, dig those purple trees? Also, after I started programming in College I wrote a couple games of my own. I had a blackjack game and very crude tank battle type game where you moved this "tank" like object around and shot at stuff. It was a horrible program but I was impressed with myself at the time.

After considerable research into NDSU's degree requirements it made a lot of sense to go my first 2 years at Bismarck State College. The tuition was about half the price and I could live at home. They offered the same classes I would have taken in Fargo if my first 2 years would have been spent there. I was also guaranteed the credits would transfer, and they did.

Fast forward to 1988. I got married and we moved to Fargo so I could finish up my Bachelor's degree. What a culture shock. The one thing BSC didn't prepare me for was the huge size of the NDSU campus. Access to the instructors was almost non-existent so it was very difficult to obtain help when you needed it. I still don't know how I made it through those last two years of college.

But as busy as I was with school there was always some down time between classes yet not enough time that it would allow me to go back to the apartment and crash. So we usually headed to the student union and it's quaint arcade. I got hooked on a game called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a hoot! 4 people could play all at the same time each with their own turtle and it's signature moves. My favorite was the orange-banded turtle with double nunchakus, I think his name was Michelangelo. He's the turtle 2nd from the left in this picture. The colors don't display very well. My guy was orange instead of yellow and the guy in the front, Raphael, was red instead of orange.

Then Tetris literally took the USA by storm. It was unbelievable how popular this game became. I'm still amazed at the amount of my quarters that machine swallowed. It's kind of a building block game where you have to build a tower and rotate the various shaped pieces into the right spot. We justified our playing time by saying it was good brain stimulating activity and the architecture students considered it like extra credit. A real simple game to learn but very addicting. I enjoyed it so much it was one of the first games I got with my Nintendo system which will be coming up in Part 3.

I finally realized how I survived those 2 stressful years in Fargo. Tetris, and 2 for 1 chimichanga day at the cafeteria. I actually hung on to that Apple computer for another couple years after graduating college, getting a job in Bismarck and moving back to my beloved Mandan.

Alas, this post is approaching my length limitations so I'll have to continue on another day. Stay tuned if you're still awake.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 1 Telstar and Atari

Now that I've officially recovered from the deer collision, I've been pondering what to write about next. So far only 2 topics come to mind. The first topic is snow and as much as I do enjoy snow and really have missed it these last 10 or 12 years, enough is enough. It's kind of starting to wear out it's welcome. Also there are many, many other blogs talking about record breaking snowfall and I really don't wish to add to the multitude. I imagine there's a few people like me who are tired of looking at snow, they probably don't want to read about it either. Snow, it's wet, it's cold, it's white (hopefully). 'nuff said.

The only other thing on my mind lately is video games. I've been a video game junkie ever since I started walking on two feet. Watching my kids and enjoying the blissful silence as they while away the Christmas vacation on their Nintendo DS's has put me in mind of just how much electronic games have changed over the years.

Growing up it seemed as if every restaurant, cafe, or grocery store had one or two video games on the premises just begging you to put quarters in. It was common knowledge that when our parents took us out to eat they better have at least one dollar for me and my brother to each get 2 quarters. Back then all video games were a quarter. It didn't matter if it was pinball, asteroids, or space invaders. I also remember 2 quarters didn't last very long since I was never very good nor could my parents or my allowance feed my addiction often enough for me to get any better. As my brother and I got a little older we were both able to have a whole dollar so we doubled our playing time.

Two video games that stand out in particular were when Bismarck used to have a Happy Joe's Pizza and Ice Cream parlor. Dickinson still has there's and I highly recommend the black licorice ice cream, it's very difficult to find anyplace else. On the wall of the old Bismarck Happy Joe's were two video games, one was a bowling game and the other was a trap shooting game and they both were amazing. Even Dad got addicted which was a good thing, because if he liked playing it there was a good chance you got more than 4 quarters worth of playing time. You had to go and ask the people at the counter for the controller, then you put your quarter in and got to play your game. The whole dining area was able to watch since the screens were on the wall. Great memories.

My first experience with a home video game was when my best friend Troy got a Coleco Telstar Arcade. Back then this was like winning the lottery. It had three games in pyramid configuration where you rotated whatever side you were currently playing towards you. It had the original PONG (tennis like game where you hit a ball back and forth), Road Race (driving game with a 2-speed shift (hi-lo), and a quick-draw game with a realistic plastic gun you could whip out and shoot at a stick man on your TV screen.

I couldn't beg to stay over at Troy's house often enough. He always seemed to get the cool toys before anyone else. If you look in the center of the picture you will see a triangular cartridge that popped out and you could get other cartridges (games) for the unit. I don't believe he ever got more cartridges but it didn't matter, we had hours and hours of fun on the cartridge he had.

He was also the first kid I knew to get a Microvision hand held game. Sold by the Milton Bradley Company, this was cool because you could get different cartridges or rather face plates to change your game. BlockBuster, a brick breaking game, kind of like PONG-solitaire style, was my favorite.

Not to be outdone, I did score a Football2 game for my birthday or Christmas one year. I can't remember which one. This was another addicting hand held game sold by Mattel. My cousins had one they brought to Minnesota one year over Christmas and I begged long enough that my parents finally got one for me. I think a big reason they got it was so I could give them some peace and quiet on the endless trip to MN. The speed limit was only 55 MPH back then. I wish I could have found an image that showed the little red blips that were the players. The quarterback was a brighter red blip. The most challenging thing about this game was when you threw a pass the football also became a little red blip that was blinking so it was difficult to tell the football from the opposing players. There were no fancy graphics and animations, just little red dashes on the screen.

One day the neighbor boys invited a bunch of other kids in my area to the local roller rink, Wheel-a-while. It was located in North Bismarck near Century High School. These were old-school roller skates with 4 wheels per foot, 2 in front, 2 in back and a big rubber stopper in the toe. They had speed skating, couples skating, a limbo contest, and VIDEO GAMES! This is where I spent most of my middle-school weekends. Space Invaders and Asteroids were the popular games back then. At least until Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man came on the scene. I was a big fan of Space Invaders, but also of Dig-Dug, a tunneling game where the hero had to blow up the monsters with an air pump until they exploded and you got bonus points if you ran over the assorted fruit or vegetable that appeared each level. But I'd have to say my absolute favorite was Galaga. This took the boring monotony of Space Invaders to a whole new level. It was the same concept, blow up the aliens. Only the game play was faster, had better graphics, and of course there was the challenge of allowing your ship to get captured by an alien, then shooting the alien with your 2nd ship and then getting your original ship back and joined with the second to double your firepower. Games were so simple back then, you had one stick and one fire button. Point and shoot.

It was a sad day when Wheel-a-while closed down. I really miss that place. An establishment called Bump-and-Tilt kind of attempted to take it's place. It was an interesting concept. Instead of a roller rink, there were bumper cars. I'm sorry they just weren't near as much fun. But there was a huge selection of video games. In this place you paid one fee at the door and the games themselves were "free". It was a good theory but there was only a handful of really good popular games and there was always a line. They had a rule where you got one game before giving the next person a chance. And of course there were kids that were very good so their one game stretched out a long time and when I finally got a chance it was "game over" after a minute or two.

Then Dad got us a Christmas present one year that blew my friend's Telstar system out of the water. The Atari 2600. This was a great console responsible for many hours of wasted time. I had all kinds of favorite games for this little unit. Again, note the simplicity, one fire button, one stick. The learning curve was nonexistent. Tank battle was pretty good, frogger got a lot of playing time and there were Atari versions of pac-man, asteroids, and space invaders. My brother and I thought we were pretty smart when we accidentally discovered if you shut it off and then turned it on right away through some computer glitch you got a double missile for space invaders. More firepower equals more dead aliens. We watched in awe as the high scores reached lofty heights. Then I found out later in an Atari gaming magazine that it was a well known "flaw" and basically the whole world knew about it so that burst our little bubble a bit. So then we went back to the "real" version of the game with the single missile saying the double missile was for wimps. But as hard as we tried it was impossible to achieve the high scores so we quickly went back to the double missile version.

Then my brother had to ruin everything by falling down on top of it. The fact that it was probably me that pushed him was beside the point. He broke off the two switches on the right side. But it still worked, you just had to jam your finger in the slot and move it that way. Years later we found out Mom had sold it at a rummage sale or something because, "nobody played it anymore." If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. Great memories though, that's really what matters. You can't sell great memories at a garage sale.

Well, there I go rambling on again. I'll have to divide this up into 1 or 2 more sequels. I still play video games to this day. Some kids never grow up. Hopefully this wasn't too boring for those of you who aren't into the gaming scene.