Ralph Baer: Ping-pong, tennis, hockey, Handball, volleyball, gun games, chase games (one spot chasing and wiping out another). It also had a joystick attachment with a golf ball mounted atop the shaft with which we played "golf" using an actual putter.
Steve Fulton Your original Brown Box was called an "analog" computer by Atari to defend against a Magnavox lawsuit. What do you have to say about that?
Ralph Baer: The Brown Box and its 1968 predecessor developmental systems were neither built around an analog computer (come on now...this was a consumer product!) nor was a purely analog design. While its circuitry was made up of discrete components, the circuits contained Flip-Flops, AND and OR gates, One-Shots, diode matrices, etc...what are these circuits if they are not digital circuits? People think that discrete component circuitry was strictly analog. This is complete nonsense. Of course we built digital circuits in the forties and fifties before there were IC's. In the sixties, plug-in cards with as little as one or two flip-flops were typical of logic modules of the day. So the notion that the Brown Box and its production version, the Magnavox Odyssey game was comprised of "analog circuits" is a myth...but that myth has a real origin: During the lawsuits, the opposition (Bally-Midway, Seeburg, etc) tried to make the judge believe that our circuits were analog and theirs were digital and hence they didn't fall under the Claims of our patents. The judges ruled otherwise and saw through this ploy in a hurry.
Re. cost considerations: In 1967, when the lab work to design a practical consumer product began at Sanders (in my little skunk works lab), IC's were not an option although we were comfortable with them in our defense electronics work. They were just too expensive for use in a consumer product. We HAD to use discrete components (resistors, capacitors, transistors, diodes etc.) .When Magnavox finally began to negotiate a license starting in late 1969, they dragged out the negotiations (just like the big company they were) until well into 1969. The engineers were then turned on to get a production design out the door by late 1971 and production had to ramp up in early '72. There was just no time to redesign the product radically (which it should have been because a lot changed in IC pricing between 1967 and 1971) So they went with what was realistic: They copied our Brown Box circuitry almost part for part and changed only those things that FCC RFI regulations forced them to alter so as to meet the FCC specs for spurious radiation.
Steve Fulton There are many people who believe that analog computers, while severely limited, were elegant devices. Do you have any special views on analog computers?
Ralph Baer: Analog computers were indeed elegant devices. I used them as did many other radio and TV engineers in the fifties and sixties. They were great for modeling dynamic motion problems....but they cost on the order of $10,000 or much more. So forget analog computers as a means of playing home "video" games, except in the context of a demo in a lab environment where one or more analog computers were sitting around and one could temporarily borrow one for a "fun" ballistics demo (like Higinbotham's so-called tennis game).
Steve Fulton You and Magnavox had to sue Atari (and others) over Pong and patent infringement. Were you satisfied with the outcome?
Ralph Baer: After ten years of litigation in courts from Chicago to San Francisco we collected many tens of millions of dollars. I spent a great deal of time working with our lawyers and testifying in court. The outcomes of all of our lawsuits were completely successful (for our side) and the infringers uniformly had to cough up large sums of money. At the same time, we (Magnavox under the Sanders patents) had well over a hundred patent licensees all over the world in the mid-seventies and collected large amounts of license income from those licenses, also.
Steve Fulton Was the patent on your videogames for play methods or for the hardware or both? Did it matter that the Atari products were digital and yours was analog?
Ralph Baer: We won our lawsuits because our patents covered both what is termed "means plus function"...i.e. we showed in the patents and claimed the concepts of the interaction of machine controlled screen symbols (such as a ball) and player controlled symbols such as the player paddles ( the functions). We also showed how this interaction could be accomplished (the means). Any game made by a manufacturer that exhibited the type of interaction defined by our patents was found to be infringing...and the judges in Federal District Courts and in the Court of Appeals all saw it that way.
Steve Fulton What did you think the first time you saw Atari Pong?
Ralph Baer: I/We did not see it but heard about the demo of the first Pong unit built by Alan Alcort (sic) about September of 1972. The minute we got wind of its existence, it was clear that there had to be some reason why a ping-pong arcade game (of all things) popped up from nowhere. It did not take long to find out that Nolan Bushnell and other Nutting Associates employees had signed the guest book at a Magnavox new-product demonstration at the Airport Marina in LA (on May the 26th, 1972 I believe) and that they (including Nolan Bushnell) had played the Odyssey ping-pong gamed hands-on there. Later denials by Bushnell and others in court or in depositions (or to the press) that playing the Odyssey ping-pong game had nothing to do with creating the Pong game were found less than credible by the courts and, in any event, defy logic and common sense. Bushnell's 1972 Computer Space game (being produced by Nutting Associates) was a commercial failure because it was too hard to play. When the visitors saw and played the Odyssey game, at least one light went on in Nolan Bushnell's head: Hey this is neat and easy to play! And secondly, somewhere along the line Bushnell recognized that there was such a thing as a consumer home game market (as introduced by the Odyssey game) and that 40 million homes are a slightly larger base for a new business than a few thousand arcades. And so Atari entered the home video game business in 1975 and made big success of it. But Odyssey had shown the way! With 360,00 games out there by early 1975, it was also a resounding success.
Steve Fulton Were you involved any other Magnavox videogame systems throughout the 70s and 80's?
Ralph Baer: Yes, throughout the seventies. There was virtually no Magnavox video game activity in the eighties...nor did anybody else do much in the early eighties. The industry had tanked completely and did not get resurrected until Nintendo came along, having spent a lot of money on designing and producing a 1980's type product. During the seventies I worked with Magnavox with varying degrees of success. I was responsible for resurrecting the Odyssey2 game in 1978 when management at Magnavox made the decision not to go forward with the program. I was successful in turning them around. I did however, play a major role in getting Colleco into a hugely successful string of video game products starting in 1975. All of these games were based on the General Instrument AY-3-8500 series of single-chip game devices. I was instrumental in getting Colleco first dibs on what was then a limited (yield) product availability problem for the AY-3-8500 devices. Colleco sold over a million Telstar games as a result and became a licensee of ours early on. We (a small group at Sander
s I set up) also helped Coleco by designing parts of their next years models (the Coleco Arcade game, etc.)
Steve Fulton When did you leave Magnavox?
Ralph Baer: I never worked for Magnavox. During the 1980's I got out from under running a division with 500 engineers and support people at Sanders and became an Engineering Fellow at Sanders Associates, later a subsidiary of Lockheed. Magnavox was our licensee under our video game patents and any relationship betwen Magnavox and Sanders (including me) was done at arm's length through mutual, contractual agreements (or by ignoring management and trying to help engineers at Magnavox because I figured that their success meant increased license income for Sanders, so to hell with management's distrust of cooperative arrangements, which is typical). I retired from Lockheed/Sanders in 1988 and have been an independent inventor, consultant and licensor of novel electronic games (like Simon, Maniac, ComputerPerfection and dozens more). ever since.
Steve Fulton Why do you think Maganavox and Atari in the 80's and Atari again in the 90's failed, while other videogame companies (i.e. Nintendo) were so successful?
Ralph Baer: Mostly because management did not have the courage of their convictions and would not spend the money required to develop new systems based on the latest semiconductor technology. It took Nintendo to step into the breach and resurrect the video game business.
Steve Fulton What invention are you the most proud of?
Ralph Baer: I have over 150 patents worldwide and even all of these reflect only a very small part of all the novel stuff I have come up with, much of which went into production. But how can you beat creating an industry with a novel product category. So obviously, the answer has to be video games.
Steve Fulton Did you ever play videogames with your kids?
Ralph Baer: Sure...I have three kids and they were between 10 and 16 when I brought early breadboard hardware (and later the Brown Box) home to see how they would react to the idea of playing games on a home TV set. My kids are all in the mid and late forties now and have their own children but they vividly remember playing ping-pong downstairs in my lab. So do some of their friends who came and visited...one of whom is my current primary physician now!
You didn't ask re. parent's responsibilities when it comes to their kids' choice of games...but I'll tell you anyway: It is up to the parents to watch what games their kids are playing. I do not intend to weigh in on what the practical problems with that need are. All I know is that grandkids are one's reward for not strangling one's teenagers. We have four of them and I now watch video games over their shoulders ...and sure enough, they play games which I really do not care for...but I'm not their parent.
Steve Fulton Since you basically invented home video games, and are a father and a grandfather, would you call your self an original "Gamerdad"?
Ralph Baer: I assume that Andrew Bub came up with that title. I like it. I guess, by definition, I must be a "GamerDad".
Steve Fulton If you could choose to do one thing in your life over-again, what would it be?
Ralph Baer: I would just like to pick up where I left off because I am still cranking out neat things (go to Toys-R-Us and see if they stock some of Hasbro's (Playskool) Talkin' Tools...they are based on my inventions...and I am still in demand among friends and others for occasional engineering design help. My favorite activity is analog circuit design (but I'll crank out logic designs, too, when I need 'em. Software is my younger partner's job, although I dabble in it, too). There aren't too many guys around my age (82) who still sit at the bench and cobble up circuit designs. It's just an art form and it's what I would definitely do if I had a chance to do it all over again....fat chance!
Steve Fulton Do you get tired of people asking you questions like these?
Ralph Baer: Are you serious? This is too much like work! The trouble is that once I start getting sucked in to answering the first question, I can't shut up. That must be obvious.
Note: I've been writing these little stories on the internet for the better part of the last decade. Out of my entire close and extended family, only a very few have taken the time to read them. One of those people was my Uncle Richard. My mom's brother, he was the only uncle I ever knew. He was in the Navy in WWII, and worked as an engineer in the Silicon Valley almost since it's inception. He was also a pilot, and the father of 9 kids. Since my mom is not on the internet, every time he read one of my stories that he enjoyed, he would print it out and send it to her so she could read it offline. When I was growing up, my uncle was one of the few people in my life that shared my love of computers and technology. I loved the idea that my uncle was sitting in far away location, reading my stories, and enjoying them enough to actually print them out sand mail them to my family. Uncle Richard died this morning, at 4:30 AM This story, in particular was one of his favorites, so I'm reposting it in his honor today. Thanks Uncle Richard for all your love and support over the years. I was blessed to have known you. I will always believe that you are out there. somewhere, reading my little internet stories about growing up and technology. One day, I promise, you will feature in one of these stories yourself. I've already written it in my head, I just need to get it down on paper,
Part I: Mr. Hughes
In the fall of 1982 I started 7th grade at Foster A. Begg Jr. High School in Manhattan Beach California. My classes were Homeroom, Honors English. Pre-Algebra, Honors Science, Honors Social Science, Drama, Spanish 1, and P.E. My Schedule was stacked with very difficult classes, and historically, that would have been perfectly fine. I was a pretty good student all through elementary school, wracking-up good grades and a fistful of dollars my dad would pay for every 'A' on my report cards. As 7th grade started though, my outlook on life chnaged. Just 9 months before, at Christmas, my brother and I had received our Atari 2600 VCS. Then, instead of spending our free-time reading or watching baseball on TV, we were playing video games. We played a lot of video games. However, it was not just playing, we also spent a lot of time designing our own games on the graph paper my dad brought home from his job at Hughes Aircraft, and with BASIC language manuals we had borrowed from the Manhattan Heights Library. Where once I had found school to be the most thrilling thing I had ever experienced, the idea of playing and making video games had taken its place.
It was no wonder then, that my first couple months of 7th grade did not go very well. I was doing OK, but the hardest class for me was Spanish. For some reason, while the idea of learning a computer language like BASIC seemed like second-nature, the idea of learning a foreign language simply did not compute. It started off badly, as Mrs Boerman (no joke) told me my Spanish name was 'Esteban'. I could never spell it right, and always got -1 for spelling it 'Estebaun' on every paper I submitted.. Even more difficult for me though, were the every day words. Mrs. Boerman called on kids at random to name something in the room using Spanish instead of English. I was absolutely terrified of her calling on me, but I simply could not commit many of the words to memory. In fact, the only word I memorized was El Reloj which meant "clock", because I was always staring at the thing in class, begging for it to move a little faster before she called on me.
When our grades came out for the first quarter, I got A's in every class, except Spanish in which I received a "B-". It was the worst grade I ever received in any class (up to that point any way). The day after grades were handed out, I sat in my home room almost in tears, trying to figure out what to do. I simply did not like Spanish. There was no way I was going to do any better in the class, and the subject simply did not interest me at all. Mr. Hughes, my homeroom teacher noticed that I looked pretty sad, and asked me to see him before I left for first period. Mr. Hughes was a very quiet man who taught reading. I too stayed quiet, reading at a desk in the back because I was scared of the older kids in the room. He had never asked me to talk to him before, and my stomach fell as the first period bell rang, as I had no idea what he wanted to say to me. Mr. Hughes had a reputation of being "mean". I'd never seen it, but then I was never on the receiving end of any of his anger either.
"Steve, I noticed you look pretty upset today, what's up?", Mr. Hughes asked me as I slung my Wilderness Experience backpack over my shoulders in an attempt to to get out of the room as fast as possible.
"Umm,I err, I...I..I". I stuttered. I did that a lot in those days. Trying to get the words out of my mouth was sometimes the hardest thing in the world for me.
I tried again.
"Sp..Sp...Sp...Spanish" I finally blurted out, "i...i...i...it's too hard for me"
He looked at me for a second and then he looked down at the book I was holding, Computers For Kids - Atari, and back up at me and said "you know, Spanish is an elective. You don't have to take it. Let me find out if there is something else you can do that period"
"Oh...Oh...Oh Kay, great" I said back, and ran out the door to Drama class.
My response masked my complete and utter joy at the idea. I might be able to get out of Spanish! The idea was breathtaking. I spent the rest of the day in joyous daze. I could not wait another minute to hear what Mr. Hughes might have for me to do instead of Spanish class. The next day I nervously entered home room. I was hoping that Mr. Hughes had remembered what he was going to do, but I did not dare ask him. I propped up my Atari book and tried to concentrate on the basic programs inside, but it was very difficult to digest any of it. All I wanted to do was to hear what Mr. Hughes had to say. About 10 minutes before home room ended, Mr. Hughes called me up to his desk. This was it.
"I talked to Mr. Donalou..." he started.
Crap. Mr. Donalou was the Principal, I did not think it would have to that far.
"...he will call your mom call later today. He wants to speak with her.".
Crap crap. I had to wait the whole day again, and now for a call from the principal. My heart sank.
When I got home, my mom told me that she had indeed been called by the principal, and they had a discussion about Spanish class. She told me that Mrs. Boerman did not want me to leave class, and that there were no others elective classes I could take at that time. I'd have to wait until the end of the trimester, and then I could be a library aid. For now, the only thing I could do was be a teacher's aid for Mr. Hughes, or continue Spanish. I suppose they thought this would make me stick with Spanish, but they were wrong. I chose teacher's aid, and wanted to start immediately.
The next day I began my new job working in Mr. Hughes' class. He taught reading to 6th and 7th graders, and my job was to grade papers and quiz kids on the books they had read. Since we had read the same books the year before, the job was pretty easy for me. The only hard part was talking out loud, which I still feared like nothing else on earth and I found painfully difficult. However, I got to know Mr. Hughes pretty well in the next couple months. He always told me about the books he was reading, and he seemed interested in whatever I was reading myself (usually an Alfred Hitchcock And Three Investigators book, a Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Golden Treasury Of The Civil War, or a computer manual. Far from being the "mean" teacher of his reputation, I found him to be the type of teacher who loved to see kids light-up when they discovered the same things he discovered in the books he taught. The problem was, there were not too many of those at Foster A Begg in those years. I found him coming back to my aid's desk more and more often to talk about my books and what I thought of the 6th grade material. Over time I got pretty comfortable talking out loud because Mr. Hughes treated me like any other person. My stuttering and fear of speaking were not cured, but our conversations had gone a long way to prove to me that my ideas were worth speaking, and others might like to hear them.
When the first trimester was almost over, Mr. Hughes came to ask me about my plans for the upcoming trimester. I could stay as his aid, or work in the library. He told me he would look into some other possible options, but no matter what, I'd have to choose by the next day.
When I got home from school that day, my mom told me the school secretary had called. She said I needed to choose a new elective: teacher's aid, a Library aid or... Computer Lab aid.
I was shocked. Computer Lab Aid had never been discussed before. In fact,I had no idea what it was, but it sounded amazing.
My mom called the secretary back and told her that I wanted to be a Computer Lab aid.
It was exciting to think about. Even though I read books about computers, I did not have access to one. My friend down the street had one, but I rarely got to use it now that we were in Junior High and he was still in Elementary School. Having access to computers meant the possibility of programming one, which meant I might be able to some day get some of my game ideas up on the computer screen.
The next day in home room, Mr. Hughes was silent to me again for the first time in weeks. However, I read my Atari Basic book even more feverishly than ever. I had no idea what was in-store for me when I started my job in the computer lab, but I needed to prepare the only way I knew how, so I just kept reading and reading. A few minutes before first period, Mr. Hughes came back to my desk.
"So what are you going to do about your elective?" he asked.
"Umm...I'm going to help out in in the Computer Lab" I replied.
I looked up from my book, and I saw something on Mr. Hughes I had rarely seen before.
He always sported a stern, yet concerned, yet scholarly look. Not mean mind you, just serious, and it rarely formed into a smile.
"Good, I thought you might choose that" he said back to me, and then he turned and went back to his desk.
Part II: Computer Lab
A few days later, day, instead of going to Room 22 to help Mr. Hughes, I slipped down the Room 23 ( next door ), and walked into my future.
Inside this little room were about 10 Apple IIe computers, all humming away running Bank Street Writer. There were about several different women who helped in the Lab, while Mrs. Brown, a math teacher, ran it as the faculty administrator. I handed her my transfer paper, and told her that was supposed to be there.
"Of course you are!", she said with a wild flair. "This is our lab. We have a class set of Apple IIe computers (one for every 3 kids), and look at this over here, our new Apple Lisa!"
She pointed towards what looked like an IBM PC on a desk separated from all the other computers. One of the adult aids was fiddling with it, trying to get it to work.
"We are still setting it up" she told me, "Now, look over here, we are setting-up for a writing class."
Mrs. Brown showed me around to all the Apple IIe computers that were running Bank Street Writer.
"Your job today will be to help anyone who needs it when they are writing."
Crap. I'd have to fake it. I's never used Bank Street Writer before, and I guess someone had told Mrs Brown that I could help teach it to other kids. Looking around, I spied a laminated card on one of the desks that listed the key combos for doing thinks like saving, loading, bolding, etc. I picked it up and studied it. If I was going to be successful I'd have to learn quickly. I felt my hands sweat a bit around the card. I could not blow this job on the first day.
Soon, the Lab filled with 30 6th graders, all fighting to sit in front of a computer. The lesson that day was to write a few sentences and save them to a 5.25" floppy disk. I floated around the room with my laminated card, trying to be helpful. Most of the kids were too busy pushing each other out of their chairs to even try the writing program. I did manage to help a couple kids get their work saved, but for the most part it seemed like an unmitigated disaster. After the kids filed out, I was afraid of what Mrs. Brown was going to say to me. Did she think it was my fault that my younger peers were such idiots when it came to computers?
However, Mrs. Brown came back told me that I did great. "It was one of our better classes!" she told me.
The class period was still not over, so I sat at one of the Apple IIe computers and typed a few key presses into Bank Street Writer. Within a couple minutes I had several paragraphs written describing how difficult it is to teach 11 year olds computer skills. When the bell rang, I saved the file to a disk, cleared the screen, and got-up left for my next class.
The following day I walked to the computer lab wondering just what they would have me do. However, when I got there, Mrs. Brown was absent. I asked one of the other ladies, the one who was trying to get the Lisa to work the day before,what I should do. She just looked at me coldly and said something that sounded like: "not mess things up for me." I had no idea what she was talking about, but it was enough to get me to cocoon-up for the day. I sat down at one of the Apple IIe computers in the back and looked through the disk-box next to it. I filed through the floppy disks until I came to one that looked really intriguing: Sands Of Egypt. I put the disk into drive A: and rebooted the machine. Soon, the hi-res title screen for the game came-up, and I was playing a full-on adventure game on a computer in the middle of the school day. I'd never done anything like it before, but I did not want to stop. No one came back to talk to me that day, so I just kept traveling across the desert near Cairo until the bell rang, then I got-up and left.
For the rest of the week, Computer Lab was mostly the same as day #2. Mrs. Brown was not there, and the other ladies either ignored me, or like the mean one, treated me like I was stealing food from their mouths. At one point the mean one asked me to get a printer set-up on one of the computers. I had never done that before, however, there was chart on the wall that Mrs. Brown had created that explained how to do it, and I got it done quite quickly. This seemed to make the mean lady even meaner. When she wasn't in the back fiddling with the still dormant Lisa, she complained that I had done everything wrong. This sent me to the back of the room again, where that I spent most of the rest of the week playing Sands Of Egypt. It was OK though, I was so engrossed in the game, I pretty much shut everything else out.
Anyway, within a couple weeks, things started to settle down in the lab and I worked into a routine. When Mrs. Brown returned, I was back to helping out in classes, connecting printers, showing kids the key combos for Bank Street Writer, and avoiding the mean lady. In my spare time I played Sands Of Egypt, Murder On The Orient Express, and a couple other games that were squirreled away on the floppy disks in the back of the room. I slowly proved my worth to Mrs. Brown and some of the other ladies. I became very adept at getting software set-up, and helping in the classes. In my spare time, as well as playing the games, and I started programming in Apple Basic. Not huge programs mind you, but small things like text displays, math calculators, and anything that would provide a nice graphic effect that could be produced in the few minutes a day I had to work on a program.
In home room during that trimester, Mr. Hughes was uncommonly quiet, even for him. We still spoke a bit, but it seemed that now that I was not his aid, I was back to just being another kid in class. I did see him talking to Mrs. Brown a couple times, and once he stuck his head into the computer Lab to see what I was doing. but for the most part he disappeared. I was never quite sure if he was mad at me for abandoning him as his aid so I could play with computers every day. He was so quiet it was hard to tell.
Back in the computer lab, things were starting to settle down. I think the programming work I was doing sent the mean lady over the edge. One day she asked me to come over and look at a program she was loading onto the computers. It was LOGO, a programming language that used graphics instead of text, designed to teach kids computer skills. I hated it. It made no sense to me. I got it to work, but it was obvious that I did not care about, so I failed to learn it. However, since I could not get into it it, the mean lady held it over me for the rest of the year. "BASIC is a dead end" she would say to me, just out of Mrs. Brown's ear shot, "LOGO is the future."
Still, Mrs. Brown was impressed with my little programs. She started having me do more and more intricate work, and even told me that next year she wanted me to teach programming to some of the kids. As I continued into the 3rd trimester, the computer lab became my refuge. As long as I avoided the mean lady, I could play in a world on computers for 52 minutes a day. Without Spanish class dragging me down, I did pretty well in most of my other classes too. To stay as an aid you needed at least a B average, and I was pulling that down with no problems. By the end of the year I had the run of the place, and except for the still unusable Lisa, I could perform almost any task asked of me, and still manage to play games and program most of the time.
For all intents and purposes, The Computer Lab had become my favorite place in the world.
Part III: Cold Reset
On the last day of 7th grade, I came to home room with a box of Italian candy. Mr. Hughes wanted us to have a "food of the world" party for the last day of school. We needed to bring food from a country our ancestors had come from. Each of us put the food on our desk, and the other kids came around to sample everything. My Italian candy was not very popular, so I sat most of the time by myself with an almost full box in front of me. In the middle of the period, Mr. Hughes came back to talk to me. We had not spoken very much for months, ever since I stopped being his aid. I had chosen to think Mr. Hughes really did not try to be quiet towards me, that instead, without me helping in his class, there was just not time to talk about anything at length.
"How was Mrs Brown this year?" he asked me.
"Great! I loved it! I think I know what I want to do when I grow-up."
"What?", he replied laughing, "teach in the computer lab, or program computers?"
"Hmm. Both I suppose!" I laughed back at him.
"Steve, Next year, I'm going to get my own Apple IIe computer in this class. "
"Really?", I replied, genuinely surprised. I never knew that a regular classroom could have it's own computer.
"Sure!" he replied, with a bit of enthusiasm I had not witnessed since I was his teacher's aid. "We'll put it right back there next to the window" he said, pointing towards the back of the room.
"Start thinking of the stuff we can do with it, because it's going to be great!"
Mr. Hughes looked at me like he meant it and I could tell how much he wanted it to happen.
"Cool." I said back to him, trying stay calm even though it seemed really exciting.
Underneath it all, I was really happy because it seemed like Mr, Hughes was not mad at me after all. I always suspected that he might have had a hand in getting me the job as Computer Aid. He did seem to know Mrs. Brown pretty well , and now he was getting a computer in his room, so I knew he was interested himself. I left that day with high hopes for the next year and 8th grade.
Over the summer between 7th and 8th grade my brother Jeff and I worked very hard to convince my dad that we needed a computer of our own. We focused on an Atari 800xl, the shiny, sleek new entry to the Atari 8-bit line. We played a lot of video games too, including tons of games on the Vectrex we bought ourselves with money we made from selling a bunch of our Atari 2600 cartridges.
When the time had come to choose my elective for 8th grade, I instantly chose Computer Lab aid. Even though I felt guilty for not choosing Hr. Hughes class room aid again, the Computer Lab was where I really wanted to be. I knew he would understand. Furthermore, with the new computer in our home room class, I could help Mr. Hughes in the period too, and get almost double the computer time I had in 7th grade. Just the thought made me want to skip the summer and just start school right away.
However, when my class schedule arrived in the mail the week before school, I was shocked to see that my home room had been changed to room 3, Mrs Davis. I still had computer lab 3rd period, but I had no idea why I was not in Mr. Hughes' home room. Had he kicked me out? I had Mrs. Davis for 6th grade English class. She scared me in 6th grade,and the idea of her scared me again. On the first day of school I sheepishly entered her home room, and told her that I used to be in Mr. Hughes' home room class. Her usual stern demeanor changed for minute, and she softly welcomed me told me where to go sit-down. Mrs. Davis treated me that way for the first few weeks. At the time I never really understood why, but I just went with it. I questioned a couple of the other kids that had been in my home room with Mr. Hughes, but none of hem knew why they were not in his class any more either. In fact most of them were quite happy to be in other rooms. To be honest, Mr. Hughes was not terribly popular teacher at Foster A Begg Junior High. It was probably the reason we got long so well in the first place, but it should have been clear to me why not many people cared about the change.
While home room was confusing, Computer Lab with Mrs Brown started better than the prior year. The mean woman was still there, but I had more free reign to do what I wanted while being an aid. Even better though, a new wrinkle had been added. A Company named Pertech had decided to donate a set of 24 high-end CPM workstations to our school. By the second trimester they would arrive, and it would be our job to explore them and make them work.
Still, I could not help wondering why I was not in Mr. Hughes' home room. A couple weeks into the school year, I decided to go ask him. Instead of going to room 23 immediately for 3rd period, I decided to visit him in room 22. However, the door was locked. It suddenly occurred to me Mr. Hughes did not kick me out of his home room at all, Mr. Hughes was not working at our school any more. I have no idea why I had not figured that out before, but I just had not even considered the possibility. I asked Mrs. Brown about him, but she only mumbled something I could not hear, and told me that I needed to load LOGO on a couple computers for a class the next period.
A few weeks later, there was an announcement in the daily school bulletin that there would be a memorial service during 3rd period. It said that any student who had known Mr. Hughes could come and say goodbye.
I never made it to the service. I found out later that Mr. Hughes had died of cancer over the summer. The same summer that I had spent dreaming about getting a new Atari Computer for Christmas, he probably had spent dreaming about how to keep on living just one more day.
I was not mad at Mr. Hughes for not telling me he was sick. In fact, I had no idea what to feel about him. I suppose I should have been sad, but I wasn't. I was just numb. It took about 25 years for me to really understand what he meant to me as teacher. Years later, as I recounted this story in my mind, I realized that Mr. Hughes was the first teacher (and also one of the last) who actually cared about me as an individual as well as a student. He helped me get my start in computers by supporting my interest in them, even though he never got the chance to have one of his own. Actually, in a way, he did get a computer of his own... 24 to be exact. When the Pertech workstations arrived later that year, the only classroom available to house them was Room 22, Mr. Hughes' old classroom. Instead of one Apple IIe, Mr. Hughes received 24 of the best looking computers I had ever seen. He never got to see them in action, but I like to think he smiled the day they were wheeled into his old class room.
Sometimes, when it's quiet, and I'm working on some web site, program, or game, my mind slips back to the final day of 7th grade, and my conversation with Mr. Hughes. I remember the look in his eyes when he told me about his computer plans, and what would happen the next year. It's an image in my mind that I can't shake, nor do I want to. Often, it occurs to me that those were not real plans at all, but the dreams of a man who knew his time was limited and they could never possibly come true. He must have known he was sick already, and he told me about his computer dreams for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Hughes handed me those dreams on that day in room 22, hopefully knowing that I'd keep them safe, that I was one kid who could steward them them into reality. Later that year I did get my first computer of my own and it launched my life as a computer nerd, an Atari Nerd, that still lasts to this day. I like to imagine that the thought of my eventual success in the computer field put another rare smile Mr. Hughes' face, and that he knew that a simple act as teacher, like maybe helping getting a student into Computer lab as an aid, changed that very kid's future, and set him on a path to success for the rest of his life.
I (sort of) keep this list running in my head all the time. It changes often, and usually one of the most recent games I've played moves up higher (see Torchlight 2). These games come from every platform I've ever owned or played (arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 800, Vectrex, Atari ST, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, PS1, PS2, GBA, Wii, DS, XBox 360, PC). It's weighed down haevily by RPGs and arcade games. It turns out, as I look at 40 years in gaming, that's what I like to play. (this was inspired by a discussion on http://www.quartertothree.com)
- Dungeon Master (ST)
- MULE (800)
- Escape From The Mind Master (VCS)
- Ultima IV (800)
- Fallout (PC)
- Torchlight 2 (PC)
- Final Fantasy I (GBA)
- Food Fight (7800)
- Star Castle (arcade)
- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
- Dune 2 (PC)
- Xenon 2 : Megablast (ST)
- River Raid (2600)
- Temple Of Apshai Trilogy (800)
- Desert Strike (Genesis)
- Lost Dutchman Mine (ST)
- Oids (ST)
- Wolfenstein 3D (PC)
- Wing Commander (PC)
- Skyrim (360)
- Medal Of Honor (PS1)
- Crash Bandicoot (PS1)
- Galaga (arcade)
- Phantasie II (ST)
- 7 Cities Of Gold (800)
- Star Wars : Rogue Squadron (PC)
- Time Pilot (arcade)
- Dragon Stomper (VCS)
- Pinball Construction Set (800)
- Outlaws (PC)
- Anco Player Manager (ST)
- Boom Blocks (Wii)
- Sly Cooper (PS2)
- Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance (PS2)
- Red Dead Redemption (360)
- Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (PC)
- Excalibur (800)
- Zolar Mercenary (Lynx)
- Battlehawks 1942 (ST)
- Swimmer (arcade)
- Threshhold (800)
- Asteroids (arcade)
- Super Breakout (2600)
- Stanley Parable (PC)
- Star Wars Jedi Knight (PC)
- Might And Magic III (PC)
- Peggle (PC)
- Bookworm Adventures (PC)
- FIFA 2014 (Xbox One)
- Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
- Bosconian (arcade)
- Paper Mario : 1000 Year Door (GameCube)
- Midtown Madness (PC)
- Motorcross Madness (PC)
- Lego Star Wars (PS2)
- Scribblenauts (DS)
- Microleague Baseball (800)
- Full Throttle (PC)
- Interstate '76 (PC)
- Pinball Arcade (PC)
- Blue Max (800)
- Archon (800)
- Arkanoid (ST)
- Castle Wolfenstein (Apple II)
- Phantasy Star (Master System)
- Tetris (arcade)
- Star Wars The Arcade Game (arcade)
- The New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
- Namco Museum Vol. 1 (PS1)
- Ali Baba And The 40 Thieves (800)
- Gates Of Zendocon (Lynx)
- Wizard's Crown (ST)
- Legend Of Grimrock 2 (PC)
- Mine Storm! (Vectrex)
- Pinball Hall Of Fame: Willams Collection (Wii)
- Katamari Damacy (PS2)
- Miracle Warriors (Master System)
- Puzzle Quest (DS)
- Airborne Ranger (ST)
- Bit. Trip. Beat. (Wii)
- Guitar Hero (Wii)
- Scott Adam's Adventutres (800)
- Wargame Construction Set (800)
- Demon's Winter (ST)
- Command And Conquer (PC)
- Might And Magic VI (PC)
- Gamestar Baseball (800)
- The Dragons Of Hong Kong (Apple II)
- Crush Crumble And Chomp (800)
- Burnout 3 (PS2)
- FIFA International Soccer (Genesis)
- Simpson's Hit And Run (PS2)
- Twlilight 2000 (PC)
- Half Life 2 (PC)
- Road War 2000 (ST)
- Bard's Tale (ST)
- Pac-Man Championship Edition (360)
- Crimson Skies (PC)
- Warcraft (PC)
- Behind Jaggi Lines/Rescue On Fractalus (800)
Note: In the light of some more recent events in the gaming world, this seems even more relevant today than when I posted it in 2011. So here it goes again.
I was looking through my old copies of Electronic Games, and I happened upon an editorial by Arnie Katz from the March 1983 issue. It lists the "standards" that the publication had decided to employ to make sure that they were creating the best magazine for their audience. IMHO, I believe these became the defacto standards for game journalism until the "preview" era of the 1990's turned everything on it's head. It did not get much at the turn of the 21st century, when the web made everyone "a game journalist". (By the way, for this exercise, the first three items, while interesting, are not as important as the last three).
By the was, we here at 8bitrocket.com are going to try to live by these standards from now on as well.
February 12th, 1985. That's the day Nintendo won everything.
It was the day the 2nd to last issue of Electronic Games magazine was published in the USA. Electronic Games had been, since 1981, the defacto standard for video game news and information for the Golden Age of video games. The creators of Electronic Games Magazine, Arnie Katz, Bill Kunkel, and Joyce Worley pioneered video game journalism. In the pages of their magazine, the rise and fall of the first great video game age was chronicled and recorded.
However, by the end of 1984, a huge shift was occurring in the gaming world. Video game companies were going of of business at an astonishing rate, and the zeitgeist at the time held that consumers were all moving to low-cost computers like the Commdore 64 and Atari 800XL. Because of this, the publisher of Electronic Games Magazine decided that the services of Katz, Kunkel and Worley were no longer needed. Even though the team were a trusted group of journalists who had built hard-won credibility with the gaming public, they were shown the door. Their expertise in video games was no longer necessary.
The last few issues of Electronic games published in 1985 (February, March and April) were used to burn-off a backlog of stories written by the original creators, while prepping the magazine to shift full-time to computers with new publication named "Computer Entertainment." Even though magazine started as a dedicated publication for video games, the March 1985 issue had very little coverage of gaming consoles. Besides a handful of "clearing the plate" style reviews for inconsequential end of life video games like Congo Bongo (Colecovision), Beamrider (5200), and Frogger II: Threedeep (2600), there was only a single news item about video games named "Nintendo's Final Solution."
Besides having an amazingly insensitive and, as history would show, totally ironic title, the story was about the imminent release of the Nintendo "AVS" (Advanced Video Entertainment System..an early name for the NES). The new editors of Electronic Games felt that this might be a "miscalculation" because the "video game market in America has virtually disappeared." Obviously, using all available information, this is the only story they could have written about the "AVS". They had recently fired the only people involved with the magazine that knew anything about video games. Would Katz, Kunkel and Worley have treated the story in a different way? The trio always heralded the arrival of new console with a sense of awe and wonder that matched their gaming enthusiast readership. Would they have dug into the story, found out about the Famicom in Japan and followed-up the story with an interview and in-depth report about the console? We may never know, but we also know they were never given a chance.
Personally, I don't recall reading this news item about Nintendo. I had my subscription to Electronic Games at the time, and I was still reading every issue, but maybe not as thoroughly as I had in the past. I too was seduced by the power home computers, and I believed they were the key to my future. Even though I had grown up with arcade and console video games, by 1985, I spent nearly all my time playing games and writing programs in BASIC on my Atari 800. I probably skipped the news section of Electronic Games that issue to jump directly the Bill Kunkel's in-depth report on computer software piracy (the last in-depth story of his every published in Electronic Games) or the Strategy Session coverage of computer action RPG Gateway To Apshai.
There was one more issue of "Electronic Games," published in March of 1985 (the April issue), but it was effectively the first issue of "Computer Entertainment". The last vestiges of the original Electronic Games had been wiped away. The focus of the magazine at that historic moment was the home computer revolution. Any story about console video games was just an unfortunate distraction to their goal of re-launching a magazine for a new era.
And that was that. That little story about Nintendo became the last of 1000's of stories Electronic Games Magazine published about video games. It just so happened to also be a report about the video game system that would one day take over the world. The release of "AVS" , arguably the most important event in the history of video games, was brushed-off as inconsequential also-ran, not even worth investigating further. The pioneering voices of the video game revolution had been silenced. It would be many years before another mainstream publication dedicated to video games would arrive on the news stands in the USA In the absence of an independent magazine dedicated to video games, in-depth and investigative journalism was replaced by magazines published directly by console manufacturers. All the information was controlled. The enthusiasts had no voice. The war was over before it even started.
In an alternate universe, Atari released the 7800 in 1984
In an alternate universe, Warner Brothers did not sell the Atari consumer division in 1984, but stuck with it.
In an alternate universe Atari battled with Nintendo throughout the 80's and 90's
In that alternate universe, some amazing games were released for the Atari 7800
In that alternate universe, these are some of the game I would have loved to play on my Atari 7800
The Best Role Playing Games (that pre-date Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy by several years)
The Best Strategy Games
The Best Games From Synapse Software
The Best Games From The Atari Lynx
The Best Licensed Arcade Games
(Note: My dad died 3 years ago today. This is story I've written reminds me of everything my dad stood for in life, and in death. I apologize for its' length. )
Claw Hammer by Steve Fulton
When I was 7 years old my dad gave me a claw hammer.
It was summertime, just after a particularly wet spring. So wet in fact, that the roof of our garage leaked in several places. My dad decided to fix it himself.
It was a Saturday morning. I was on the couch watching The Superfriends.
“We are going to Builder’s Emporium” my dad declared.
He was in the kitchen, going through his normal routine before he left the house.
He finished his coffee.
He opened the vitamin cupboard, and took out a handful of pills to supplement his day.
He grabbed a handful of raw pecans, a banana, and headed out the screen door.
My brother and I followed behind him.
We climbed into my dad’s white, 4-door, International pickup truck, and headed out on whatever quest he had in mind.
As we drove, my dad told us the plan.
“We need to fix the garage roof, and you two are going to help me.”
My brother and I stayed silent, listening to hear what this meant.
“Before I met your mom, I was worked on roofing job in Seattle. We can fix the entire garage roof ourselves.”
I had no idea what this plan entailed, but if my dad was into it, then I was going along with it, no questions asked.
We drove a couple of miles, down to the corner of Inglewood and Manhattan Beach Blvd, and parked in the Builder’s Emporium parking lot.
At the store, my dad filled a cart with all the things we needed for the job: rolls of roofing tile, tar paper, and a huge box of roofing nails.
As he pushed the cart towards checkout, he said “wait, one more thing.”
He took a detour down the tool aisle, and stopped in the hammer section. He looked around a bit, and then chose two identical hammers from the racks. They both had iron claws painted black, with solid wood handles. He gave one to my brother, and one to me.
“Tools of the trade” he said, “There is nothing more useful, than a good claw hammer.”
He turned the cart around, and we headed to the checkout lanes. My brother and I each carried our new claw hammers to the checkout.
“I’ll pay you each 50 cents an hour, but you have to do everything I say.” My dad told us.
My brother and I were standing in the back-back, behind the garage, next to a pile of roofing supplies, listening.
“First thing, get your hammers”
My brother and I both went for the supplies at the same time. I reached for my hammer, but my brother was sure it was his. We were 7 year old twin brothers who shared everything. Sometimes we just wanted to stake claim to something of our own.
We started to argue.
“That’s mine!” I said.
“No, it’s mine!” my brother responded.
I grabbed the handle, and my brother grabbed the claw, each pulling in the opposite direction.
“Stop!” I said.
“No!” my brother said.
My dad quietly watched this for a bit, then he spoke.
“Do you want me to get you two girls a couple purses so you can fight this one out?”
It was inappropriate.
It was not politically correct in the least.
It was totally my dad.
And It worked.
I stopped in my tracks and let go of the hammer. My brother took it, and I picked up the identical one next to it. We both stood at attention and listened to what my dad said next..
He started-up like nothing had happened.
“First, we need to remove the existing tiles from the garage. You do it like this...”
My dad climbed onto the roof of the garage. It was a very short climb, as the back-back was about 8 feet higher in elevation, than the ground the garage stood upon. This meant you could easily access the roof from there. Even 7 year old boys could do it with the help of a step stool. My dad stood up on the roof, and walked over to a row of tiles, sat down, and started pulling-up on one of the rectangular pieces. The tile gave-way just enough to pull the end of the existing nails out. He then slipped the claw of his hammer underneath them, and pulled them out. Then he grabbed the tile with a gloved hand, yanked it out, and tossed it in the brush of the back-back. He put the old nails in an empty Folger’s coffee can.
“One down, a thousand to go!” he said. “Now, get up here and get started”.
Besides a hammer, my dad supplied us both with a pair of gloves, and a pair of goggles, just in case something got near our eyes. My brother and I both climbed up on the roof using a step stool, and started working.
The first tiles were difficult, but after a few, we got the hang of it.
I jammed the claw of the hammer underneath a tile, and twisted it down, pushing the handle towards the garage roof. The tile sprang up, exposing the nails that had once held it in place. I removed the naisl with my gloved hand, and put them in the coffee can, just like my dad showed me.
What would have been impossible for a 7 year old kid without without the tool, became a simple task, repeatable task with a claw hammer.
After an hour, my dad announced “You each just earned 50 cents!”
The idea of getting 50 cents and hour was as much motivation as my brother and I needed. Even though the sun was hot and beading down on us, we kept going for at least another three hours before we stopped for lunch.
After lunch we spent the rest of the day up on the roof with my dad, pulling up tiles with the claw side of the hammer, removing the nails and putting them into the Folger’s can, and throwing the tiles into the back yard.
As we worked, my dad told my brother and I stories about his childhood.
“Your grannie and gramps sent my brother John and I to a boarding school named Manumit when we were kids. “ he started.
“Why did they send you there?” I asked.
My dad took a long pause before he answered. He pulled out the tile he was working on, and tossed it off the roof. It hit the ground a bit harder than the ones he had previously thrown.
“Umm, because it was the Great Depression and they didn’t have any money to keep us around. The school was on a farm in New York state. It was like an orphanage for kids whose parents had to work in the city. As long as we worked on the farm, we could go to the school for free.”
“What did you do there?” my brother asked?
“Well, we farmed, we camped, we fished, we even got to ride horses sometimes. There was a movie theater and a store in town where we could buy 6 pieces of candy for a penny.“
“It sounds like fun” I said.
“I hated every minute of it.” My dad said. “They sent me there when I was four years old. One day My mom, dad, John, I, and Poochie my dog were a happy family, and the next day my mom drove us out to the end of a road and dropped us off. She never told us what was happening. She just drove away and the people at the school took us in. “
“How long were you there?” my brother asked.
“Eight years. Until I went to high school. I never saw Poochie again. My parents moved to a small apartment in New York, so there was no room for us. We were allowed to come home just a couple days a year. “
I could not imagine this. I’d lived in the same house with my twin brother, two sisters. mom, dad, and two cats for 7 years. It had always been that way, and would always be that way.
“I recall, the first winter, when I realized we would not be going home for Christmas. I begged my mom to send me my ice skates, so at the very least, I could skate on the pond at the school. She never sent them. In the summer we didn’t go home either. Instead we were sent to live with family friends in Pennsylvania. My brother hated me for it.”
“Your brother hated you?” I asked. I looked over at my brother. We argued sometimes, but we never hated each other.
“Oh yeah. He was older than me. He blamed me for having to go away. He said ‘everything was fine until you came along.’ He beat the crap out of me any chance he got. “
My dad stopped pulling up nails and looked up at my brother and I. We had both stopped using our hammers so we could hear what he had to say.
“I told myself at the time” he started “ if I ever had kids of my own, I would never send them away and I would never make them go to boarding school. “
He continued his pause, and then he reached down pulled up a fresh tile, removing the nails.
That conversation was over.
My brother started back up too. We worked the rest of the afternoon. We managed to pull all the tiles off the roof by about 5:30 that evening.
“Time to knock off. “ my dad said to us.
“ Good work men. That was 10 hours today, so you each earned $5.00. Let’s get out early tomorrow so we can get up here and finish the job”
My brother and I went into the house and ate a dinner of chili and hot dogs, our usual Saturday meal. By 7:00 that night, both my brother and I were tired and sore and ready for bed. We went into our room and got out our Stat-O-Matic baseball game.
“Five dollars each!” I said as I pulled the first batter from my stack of player discs.
I layed down Babe Ruth on the spinner, and flicked the arrow.
“Yeah!” my brother said, “what should we do?”
“Hmm. Maybe we can go to Toys R’ Us? tomorrow” I said.
“Toys R US!, yeah!” My brother replied.
The spinner stopped on “Strikeout”. Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs in his days, but struck out even more.
“Ok!” I said, “We’ll see if mom will take us tomorrow afternoon. And don’t forget, If we work hard enough, we can make even more money.”
As always, I went to sleep in my own bed that night. It was not much of bed mind you, as it it was just a ½ a piece of a foam mattress laid on-top of a piece of plywood. My brother had the same. Yet sleep felt comfortable, and nice. I was in my own house, with my brother, sisters, cats, and my parents. It was not the Great Depression and I was not at some boarding school in New York, away from everything I knew and loved.
We woke up Sunday morning, and both jumped out of bed ready for the work day.
It was still early when we went out to the kitchen to see what was going on. My mom was at her seat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and playing solitaire. My dad was at the the counter, grinding corn to make his own corn cakes. Next to the grinder was bowl of my dad’s most infamous health concoction: grape juice, egg whites and pecans. We kids affectionately called it “Dad’s Pink Party Puke.”
“We will start working in an hour boys” my dad said.
This gave my brother and I just enough time to get dressed, eat a couple corn cakes, and watch the a ½ hour or of Tom Hatten’s Popeye show on Channel 5. My dad made corn cakes with blueberries that time, which meant I spent a lot of that time eating around them, as the texture was a bit like biting into a dead spider on piece of cardboard.
Just after an episode of Super Chicken, my dad announced that it was time get back out and finish the job.
My dad spent the first 1/2 hour preparing the tar paper for the roofing job. We watched him roll out the the tar paper to approximately the length of the roof, then then cut it. He did this several times until he had enough to cover the whole thing.
My brother and I climbed up onto the now bare roof from the back-back, and helped my dad lay down the tar paper in long strips, then nail it into place. After starting each nail with a few taps, my dad showed us how to swing the hammer down with the whole of our forearms, instead of just bending the swing at the wrist. By using the whole forearm to swing, we could knock most nails in with a single hit.
As we worked, it was hard to think of anything else, but what we might buy at Toys R Us that afternoon with the money we made from the job. What could we get? Would there be any toys from that new movie “Star Wars” everyone was talking about? What about some new dominoes so we could build an even longer trail to knock down? The possibilities seemed endless.
As we worked, my dad started his stories again, after some prompting from my brother and I.
“What was it like to live at a boarding school dad?”
“We played lots of games like hide and go seek and kick the can. I loved those games, but my brother hated them. “ He said.
“Why did he hate them?” I asked?
“I don’t know why John hated them. He just did. I always felt that if he liked those games more, and played them with us, he would not have gotten killed in World War II”
“Uncle John was killed in World War II?” My brother asked.
We were nailing the ends of the tar paper down, making sure to pull it straight so that it left no creases where rain water could slip inside.
“In Belgium” My dad said, “In 1944. He was killed by sniper. He won a Silver Star for bravery. ”
I stopped to think about think about that. I had an uncle named John. He was my dad’s brother. He died 33 years before I ever had a chance to meet him.
We finished laying down the tar paper in a couple hours, and it was time to roll out the the actual roofing tile, and nail it down. My dad rolled out the long strips of tile on the driveway, and measured them. He cut them with a large pair of shears, rolled them back up,and had my brother and I carry them up the stairs to the back back. My dad then laid them long ways across the garage roof, and we all helped nailed them down. We made sure to overlap them to so any water rolling down the roof would not fall through the cracks.
“Did you fight in World War II dad?” I asked him.
“No, no. I was in the army, but I did not fight. I was only 17, so I lied about my age to join-up. I was in the 11th Mountain Division. We were sent to Italy. Our troops were getting mowed down in the mountains, and our turn was coming. The night before they were going to send our entire unit to the front, I snuck out with some guys and we got caught. They sent us back behind the lines, and I never saw any action.”
“Oh.” I replied. It was the only thing I could get out.
My dad showed us how to line up the nails and space them out to get just enough coverage, while also making them look uniform. Since the tiles was thicker than the tar paper, hammering the nails took two or three tries with my new hammer, but after I got the hang of it, it became a two step process: start the nail with tap while holding it, let go and slam the nail in with a good wallop using the forearm approach. The feeling of the nails going through the tile, paper and and into the wood was intensely satisfying. Each one felt like little accomplishment, like real work was getting done.
As I hammered, I tried to fathom my dad’s last burst of information. This is what it sounded like to me at 7 years old:
My dad was one day away from dying in World War II, and then by some random chance, he was saved, and that’s the only reason I exist right now, up on this roof, hammering nails with him and my brother on this very day. Any slight change in what had occurred, an order that came a day late, a stray bullet, a torpedo from submarine, and my dad would have ended up dead like his brother. None of this, not the hammer, the roofing tiles, my family, nor me would be here right now.
The whole of the universe felt like it was suffocating me at that moment. The world felt fragile, yet vast and lonely. Big things were out of my control and I wanted to scream.
But before I could get out a sound, I felt the hammer in my hand. I looked at the roof we had spent the weekend fixing. The image helped me calm down. I hammered in the the nail I was holding in my hand, then reached for another.
We finished-up the roof by 4:00 in the afternoon that Sunday.
My dad did not say anything directly to us, but I could tell he was happy with our work. We put in 6 more hours that day, which meant we had worked a total of 16 hours that weekend. At $.50 an hour that meant we each made $8.00.
We put our tools in the garage, and my dad took us directly to his room, and paid my brother and I immediately. He gave us each the $8.00 in Bicentennial quarters.
“Mom is going to take us to Toy’s ‘R Us” now!” my brother told my dad in an excited voice.
My dad gave us both a concerned look.
“You worked hard for that money,” he said”, “but don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket.”
My brother and I didn’t respond, but just stood there and looked at him. After a moment, he spoke.
“I have a migraine”.
That was our cue to leave his room.
He laid down on his bed and closed his eyes.
“Turn off the light and shut the door when you leave” he instructed us.
And so I did.
Soon were in my mom’s Datsun 710 station wagon, on our way to Toys R. Us. I felt the stack of quarters in my pocket. I’d never had that much money in my entire life. It felt good and hefty. I slipped my hand between the quarters, and let them fall between the spaces in my fingers.
I’d never been to Toys R Us before with my own money to spend. I imagined all the wonderful things I could buy with my money. Money I had earned working with my dad and my brother.
When we got to Toys R Us, I was overwhelmed by all the things on the shelves,
The aisles were crammed to the ceiling with amazing looking boxes and packages. All of them made promises of the joy and fun they held inside. As I walked down each aisles, I kept my hand in my pocket, making sure the quarters were still there. Making sure it was all real.
Thoughts swirled through my head:
Did I really work all weekend and earn all this money?
Did we really just re-tile the entire garage roof?
We zig-zagged down the aisles, up one, and down the other, looking at everything. The shelves were stacked with things I’d only ever seen before in a Sear’s catalog: art kits, wood-working sets, erector sets, chemistry sets, rows and rows and rows of die-cast cars, play sets, GI Joe, plastic soldiers, stacks and stacks of board games, and too many other things to fathom. We turned down the sporting goods aisle looking at the bikes, and fiber glass skateboards. Most everything was more expensive than the $8.00 I had in my pocket, but the possibility of it all was still thrilling. Then, next to the roller skates I saw a pair of ice skates, on clearance because they were far out of season.
The ice skates reminded me of the pond at Manumit school, and how my dad probably never had $8.00 in his pocket when he was a kid, how he probably never worked all weekend with his dad and brother, and how he probably never took a trip to a store like Toys R Us with his mom.
More thoughts swirled through my head.
My dad really did live at a boarding school when he was four years old.
My uncle John really did die from a German sniper in World War II.
I found myself getting less and less enthusiastic about spending my money.
But I couldn’t leave empty handed.
In the back of Toys R Us, we found the bargain aisle. Lots of old toys, with their orange Toys R Us prices tages slashed with a red marker, and new prices scribbled on.
My dad had a love for bargains. He told us all the time to search for quality things at good prices. The bargain aisle in a toy store was his type of place.
My brother and I looked up and down that aisles until we found found a couple pretty cool toys for cheap: a cardboard Planet Of The Apes play set, and a 8” Wild Bill Hickock cowboy action action figure. Together they cost $1.50 plus tax.
They were also both things I thought my dad would like and approve of. We had watched “Planet Of The Apes” together on TV, and he loved cowboys.
We showed them to my mom and she agreed that the toys looked good for their price.
My brother and I bought one of each, and left the store.
When we got home, my dad was asleep with migraine in his room. My brother and I opened our toys on the living room floor, and played with them for the rest of Sunday until it was time to take a bath, and watch Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
When my dad emerged from his room, just before bedtime we showed him the action figures and playsets we had bought with the money we had earned over the weekend.
His migraine had broken, and I saw a rare smile on his face as my brother and I showed him our purchases.
“It’s from the Planet Of The Apes! and it only cost fifty cents!” My brother told him as he looked over the cardboard apes fortress.
“Not bad…” he said, nodding his head, and pushing his lower-lip out to show that he approved.
“And this is ‘Wild Bill Hickok’” I said as I raised my new action action figure in the air, “he only cost a dollar”
“Very good purchases boys” he told us, “and the best part is, you have most of your money left-over for another day”
Within a couple years those cardboard playsets and 8” actions figures were just a memory. The Planet Of The Apes fortress got mixed in with Hot Wheels, Tinker Toys, Erector Set pieces, and beams from a Girder and Panel set. The apes got lost or broken, and the cardboard snaps that held the walls together stopped connecting. Wild Bill Hickok (who was joined shortly after by “Cochise” and “Davy Crockett”, also from the bargain bin), lost his weapons, and then lost his place in my heart, which soon had room only for Star Wars, LEGO and Atari.
The Builder’s Emporium is gone now, sent to Chapter 11 many years ago by the likes of Home Depot and Lowes.
The Toy’s R’ Us is also gone, closed many years ago to make way for a mall expansion. An expansion for a mall that no now longer exists either.
The tile roof on the garage is gone too, replaced, 20 years later when the roof began leaking again.
And my dad is gone, but I still have the stories of his youth, his brother, and World War II and still find myself thinking about them every day.
But that hammer, it’s still with me.
It hangs in my garage as I write this, waiting to be used on my next project.
The same hammer my dad bought for me one summer day so we could fix the garage roof together over a long, hot, and unforgettable weekend in 1977.
The claw hammer my dad gave me when I was 7 years old.
By Jeff Fulton
Today we are going to take a look at one of a small handful of Atari 8-bit computer game cartridges that I have stowed in my attic. This time the game is Demon Attack, one of the most popular Atari 2600 games, but this version is for the Atari computers. Without a translator disk, this will not work on an XL or XE computer.
Originally released in 1982, this is the original Atari 8-bit Computer version of Demon Attack - Full Boxed Edition. Rob Fulop was the original designer / programmer for the Atari 2600 version, while Dave Johnson is credited with coding effort on this version.
There were many fewer of these produced for the Atari computers than for the 2600, but it is essentially the exact same game. It is an excellent title for both systems. It was also released for these systems (according to Wikipedia): Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Intellivision, Odyssey², PC Booter, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, TRS-80.
Below this comprehensive set of photos of the un-boxing, you will find you-tube videos to compare some of the various versions.
Video of just the Atari 8-bit computer edition (by Highretrogamelord89):
A comparison of the 2600 and Intellivision versions (by IntellivisionDude)
Super Demon Attack for the Ti-994a (niceandgames)
Next time I'll be tackling cassette from my collection by the band the Jam.
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