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.


Steve at Random said...

My video game experience began with "Pong". However, my formative years were not spent playing video games -- as did my sons -- so there's no way now that I can ever beat them. This Christmas break I played a few games of "Tiger 08" on Derek's 360. However, I never won a single game. First, I don't hold the gadget right. Second, my hand/eye coordination for video games is not very good. My best memories of video games was a few years ago when I tried my hand at snowboarding. I never won of those races either. But they are fun. I simply was born too late to have my hand custom fitted to the remotes.

randymeiss said...

I'll be talking about the complicated remotes they have now in one of my sequels. I'm too old to appreciate all those extra buttons. It was easier and funner with one button and one stick. But my problem isn't so much the controllers that I just don't have any time to play. Brian, on the other hand, spends hours every week honing his skills. It was so hard to give up my superhero unbeatable gaming title to my 10-year-old son. I can still take him in Mario go-karts but that's only because he doesn't consider that game worthy of his time.

Ar Vee said...

Asteroids was a favorite of mine.I remember on a trip to Yellowstone Park we stop at Gardener spend the night.Some friends along with my wife and I stopped at a pub downtown and they had an Asteroids machine tucked in a corner almost out of sight.I was so happy,I was good at asteroids.My wife and friends went into another room to play some stupid poker machines.I couldn't believe it when my wife came back to me for more money to waiste on vidio poker.I said you're throwing your money away.That money could be used to play something far more important,Asteroids!To make a long story short,She wound up paying for the entire trip with her winnings.But what would that be worth if I hadn't saved planet Earth ahead of time with my space capsule firing at such rapid speed as to destroy all cosmic danger.

randymeiss said...

You know Ar Vee, if it weren't for your political persuasion we could be bosom companions. Hockey and asteroids. You're my kind of guy.

Ar Vee said...

My political views are all based on scripture.I have never signed up to one side or the other.If the new folks stray away from Love,peace,compassion,and forgiveness my persuation will change.

AZJim said...

Ahh, I do remember shooting at those ducks and skeet, but while you thought the trick was getting Dad to like it, so you could get more quarters, Dad was using you guys for an excuse to keep on playing and feeding his addicition. (This was also one of the few games I could beat you guys at.) I was pretty good at PACMAN also but that was only because the game had a set pattern that played over and over so you basicaly memorized the moves of the machine. Now where did Brenda hide my SUPER NINTENDO?

BismarckMandanBlog said...

I have two Atari 2600s in my garage, with dozens of games and every controller made. I used to have actual Pac Man and Tron arcade standup machines in there too, but parts of each one eventually failed. The rest were sold for parts.