Last week I posted a story named The Worst Real-Life Products For Video Gamers (circa 1982-1983) . However, that was not the end of the story. You see, you survived that Halloween in your Asteroids costume, Bat Mitts and Gobbler hat, and while you were not fooled by the charms Space Willy, you also did not get the job working for The Ultimate Wiz. However, there was some good news. You decided what you wanted to be when your grow-up: A video game designer.
The Promise Of A Career In Video Games
Thanks to Atari, your dreams will one day become a reality. why? Because they had such a need for game programmers in 1982, that they advertised for them in Electronic Games magazine.
In fact, Atari was so desperate for game programmers, that they let you call them COLLECT just to apply. Okay, so maybe you did not know Assembly language, or have 1-3 years experience programming for 8-bit computers yet, but you still had time to learn, right? Atari was the biggest company on the planet making games. They would be in business making games forever. There was no way they would go away before you had the chance to grow-up and go work for them. Right?
Industry Insider Newsletters
To help advance your now burgeoning career in video games, you decided that you needed to get more up-front information about industry you loved..
While you loved reading Electronic Games magazine, you noticed something very odd. The news always appeared old. Very old. In fact, some times reviews and news about games arrived in the pages months after the games were in stores (three months to be exact, as that was the lead-time for the magazine). However, there was an answer.
Instead of only subscribing to a year of Electronic Games magazine, a monthly, full-color 100+ page professionally produced magazine for $28, you also saved up your “arcading” quarters and subscribed to Arcade Express, the bi-weekly, 8 page type-written and
photo-copied, industry newsletter from from the same publisher as Electronic Games for the paltry sum of only $25. Sure, it was about 1/10 the content for nearly the same price, but you would get the video game news months before it arrived on the news stands,. It was like a blog that posted every two weeks, but only you (and the few other subscribers) had access to it.
You would be an Insider. Your future career in video games unfolded in front of your eyes.
Even though Arcade Express was one of the better newsletters at the time, the economy of the industry “insider” newsletter was basically the same as others in other industries. You paid more money for quicker access to news that did not have to go through the long lead-time (and vetting) of a professional magazine. For industry professionals, this was probably worth the money. For 12-year old kid simply loved video games, it was not worth price of 100 games of Time Pilot, Galaga, Bosconian, Asteroids and Star Castle at the arcade.
When your mom asked you what you wanted for Christmas in 1982, of course, first on your list were great new Atari 2600 games like River Raid, Pitfall and Vanguard. Besides those things, you also stuck on few things from the front and back pages of Electronic Games magazine because, well, it was still the greatest publication in the history of the world, your bible, and your reference to everything that was worth anything. If you were going to be a great (the greatest? ) game designer for Atari, you would need to be great at games, right? The two obviously went hand in hand. To get there, you needed more than blocks of wood, and gloves themed to flying mammals.
On Christmas morning, you started with your stocking. Yes, your mom still made you one of those and while you might have outwardly pretended it was childish, sercetly, you loved it.
The epitome of “Truth in Advertising”, you pull The Ball out of your stocking first (well, two balls because they were only sold as a pair) This amazing device was pushed onto the stick of an basic Atari 2600 controller, to have it “feel” like an joystick from the arcade (minus the the, umm, “stickiness” left over from the last guy who played. By the way, how anyone survived the 80’s arcades with no hand sanitizer is still a mystery to me). No matter that most of the time you held the joystick from the side, ad not the top, because holding from the top made no sense what-so-ever, and having this thing shoved on-top only made the stick heavier and harder to move, but still, you know, it was worth it, right?
The next item you pulled out of your Xmas stocking was the FP-1, a device created to save you from a full 50% of all the possible inputs you had with your Atari 2600 controller at the time: pressing the fire button.
This device not only required you to have a joystick already, but a screwdriver as well. You had to take out the four screws on the bottom of your joystick, and open it up to reveal the wonder inside (well, a circuit board and separate wires for the four cardinal directions and the fire button. By placing this wondrous $10.00 electronic device (actually, it was more like a small plastic drain stopper that replaced the fire-button’s connection to the circuit board) inside your joystick you would be able to hold down the fire-button instead of pressing it. Of course, pressing the fire-button was one of the only things you actually did most Atari 2600 games, and at the same time, rapid-fire was pretty much useless because most games limited your shots anyway ,so the utility of this devices was dubious. Still, it was great to get in your stocking, and later that morning you would crack-open (and hopefully not break) a couple of your 2600 joysticks to get it installed. Now you were really on your way to video game dominance, and in-turn, a fruitful career working for Atari.
There was nothing better for preserving your precious and collectible electronics and games than defacing them with ugly labels you would fill-up with scores after four plays and then want to scrape off immediately.
Surprise! Your mom didn’t know that though, and thought these Score Card Video Game Labels from Image would be the perfect gift for you so she stuck them in your Christmas stocking as well. Of course, her ulterior motive was to get rid of all those surplus sheets of green-bar printer paper strewn all over the house with high scores written on them, but so what?Now that you think about it, maybe she was right. They would be an awesome analog way for you to keep track of your scores while you worked your way up to “wildly employable Atari video game master”. Thanks mom.
As you reach the bottom of your Christmas stocking, you pull out an item that you definately did not ask for. Your older sister giggles uncontrollably when you pull it out and says “I told mom to get you that, it looks like would be perfect for you!” .
At first glance, you know exactly why she suggested it,and you know there s no way in hell you will let your friends see you with what amounts to an excited dog penis that you attach to an Intellivsion controller.
Your sister sees your eyes and blurts out “Yeah, I know, you don’t even have an Intellvision. That’s the best part!”
Next, you started opening your presents. You asked for a lot of cool video games that year, but the first thing you open is a 7″ single. Who could it be? What amazing New Wave 80’s band’s did your mom find and buy record? Duran Duran, U2, R.E.M., The Alarm, Big Country, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Cure, Midnight Oil?
None of the above. Instead she got you the Mindscape flexi disc from Data Age, a bizarre space age promotional record created to promote Data Age’s Atari 2600 games like Warplock, Bugs and Ssssnake. At first, you had no idea what to say, but after a while, a thought struck you. Maybe the great Atari game programmers listened top this kind of stuff (the thought didn’t occur to you that they might have been smokin’ some doobage at the same time, because well, you were a 12-year old video game nerd.). What better way to get you into the “mindscape” of the great video game designers than listening to the sound of video games being born? You put the record aside, determined to record it to a cassette tape later that afternoon.
The next present you open is a medium sized box. Could it contain those remote control joysticks you have been coveting since the first few issues of Electronic Games were published? The ones with giant bases that were impossible to hold and ate batteries faster than the Atari Lynx?
Your mom thought it would be very useful to buy you a device that would save you the massive effort of changing games. You know, the mammoth process of unplugging a game, and inserting another one into the console.
The Game SeleX held 9 cartridges, and could switch them by turning a dial. Yes, it did take some wear off the Atari 2600, but at almost $70, you could have just saved up a bit more bought a spare Atari 2600 instead.
However, there was an upside. The time saved switching cartridges would give you more time to hone your game playing skills. Instead of wasting your effort taking game cartridges in and out of your Atari you would have more time to think about your amazing future game designs Great game programmers didn’t have time to switch out cartridegs, did they?
The next present is from your sister. You opened up, a bit tentatively, not sure what would be inside. Your fears are matched when you pulled out a white “Vidiot” t-shirt.
“It’s perfect for you!” your sister laughed, and giggled uncontrollably again, “you should wear it every day!”
You turn finally to last big box under the Christmas tree. It looks really exciting. You had put both an Atari 5200 Super system and a ColecoVision on your list. You knew that there was very little chance that you would get one. However, sitting in front of you was a huge box that could only be one of those two dream presents. You quickly ripped off the copious amount of wrapping to reveal…
“We have such a small TV,” your mom said, “I thought it would be great for you to see your games…bigger”
“Uhh, yeah” you said.
In truth the idea was interesting. You played all your games on 19″ Zenith color TV, so the idea of making them larger seemed pretty cool. However, in practice it was just not that great. While it did make the games appear larger, it also showed just how blocky and pixelated all those Atari 2600 games really were. In fact, it seemed that the old 19 inch TV was a blessing in disguise, as its’ blurry picture actually applied a good amount of analog anti-aliasing to the Atari 2600 output. Still, seeing your games larger was giving you even more ideas about how to make them better, and in turn training you for your definite future as a famous, highly paid game programmer for Atari.
In fact, you could feel that future within your grasp. You spent all the rest of vacation playing your Atari 2600 and using all the accessories that got for Christmas. By the time school started again in January, you knew that you would not have to try very hard in your classes, as your future would be in game programming, and there were no Junior High classes there even relevant for that, right? How would stuff like Math, Science Writing, or Art ever help you make games?
They were a waste of time.
You spent the first day back at school day dreaming about working in Sunnyvale, designing and programming arcade games for the rest of your life. Your future was set, all you had to do was study your games, come up with ideas, and wait for the great Atari to call.
Then, when you got home, your new copy of the Arcade Express newsletter arrived.
Uh oh. The news was not good. Atari had a horrible year in 1982. In fact, they lost so much money that there was a good chance the whole video game industry would never recover.
Atari was never going to call, and your career working for the making video game was over before it ever started. You solemnly page through Electronic Games one more time, and in an instant , you see your future.
Well here we go. “Forget video games, it’s all about video!” you thought. All you needed was this free report, and the real future awaited you! It was brand-new and space aged. If video games did not have a future, then this would be the next best thing. There was even talk of a new cable channel named MTV that played music videos all day long. This was definitely the future. There’s no way that was going to go away!