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8May/120

The Day “Retro” Became Cool or R.I.P. MCA

By Steve Fulton

In 1994, about a week after I moved out of my parents house and into an apartment with my brother, our cable TV was installed.   For the first time in my entire life, I could watch MTV any time I wanted.    When I turned on MTV for the first time, this is the video that was playing:

I was 24 years old, and all of sudden I felt something I had never felt before: Nostalgia.   Seeing this landmark Sabotage video by the Beastie Boys did what it was supposed to do: it  made me recall all the cheesy cop shows from the 70's we watched because there was nothing else on TV. Shows like like Starsky And Hutch, The Steets Of San Francisco, Hawaii Five-0 and SWAT.    The Beastie Boys made a song that was sounded completely new and modern, but the video took inspiration from the past: looking back while looking forward.  The song still sounds as good and relevant today as it did almost 20 years ago, and the video still works amazingly well.

As I watched the video that day, I recall my thoughts turned to one of the great, amazing things that came from the 70's that made me forget all those terrible  TV shows: the Atari 2600.  I had forgotten my Atari for many years.  In a stream of 16-bit computers, Japanese  consoles, and 386 DX computers, the glory of the old VCS was left behind.   However, seeing that video made me think of it again.   There were no video games in the video for Sabotage, but that was not the point.  It was the fact that this video made seem okay to dig into the past again.  I had spent so much time rushing through the old War 80's and and embracing the promise of the  90's, that I had forgotten how cool my childhood of the 70's had been for me.  Atari was a huge part of that.

Now, I can't say the video for Sabotage was the only thing start started me down this road of nostalgia, but it was certainly part of it.  This was still a couple years before video game nostalgia went mainstream, so  prices  of old equipment were still very low.  I checked the back of some magazines an saw that you could could buy a brand new Atari 7800 with 100 new games from a mail order place in Florida for about $125. Inspired,   I bought it as wedding gift for my wife and stored it until our big day a year later.

After that, I was hooked, and I've never stopped looking back as I looked forward either.

In a very big way, the Beastie Boys made nostalgia cool in the 90's, and it helped form the spark  I needed to find my roots again.

R.I.P. MCA, you will be missed.

 

9Apr/120

R.I.P. : Commodore Legend Jack Tramiel

According to Forbes, Jack Tramiel has died at the age of 83.   Most Atari fans know Jack as the founder of Commodore who skillfully outwitted the first video game company in the early 80's by beating the pants off the Atari computer division  with the low-priced Vic-20 and C-64.   Later in 1984, when Atari was in a financial meltdown , he snapped up the company for little more than a promise to pay back some bad debt, and went on to make the whole shebang profitable again by 1987.

Among other products, Tramiel's Atari released, developed, or licensed: The Atari XE line of computers, Atari ST line of computers,  The Atari XE Game System, The Atari Lynx, the Atari Jaguar, The Atari 2600 Jr, The Atari 7800, The Atari TT line of computers, The STacy, The Atari Portfolio, and the Atari Falcon030.   Tramiel's Atari went of out business in 1996.

For years, many Atari fans had a negative opinion of Tramiel,  his sons and how they ran their version of Atari (Atari Corp.).   The common belief at the time was that  the Atari of the late 80's and 90's had good products, but did not market or advertise them aggressively enough to the public.   However, history tells a different story where the lack of advertising takes a backseat to other factors.   In 1987, just as Tramiel was pulling Atari back to life, the worldwide DRAM shortage cut off  his ability to produce hardware at the rock-bottom prices that were the cornerstone of his strategy. At the same time, the tastes of gamers and computer enthusiasts changed dramatically and Tramiel's Atari was simply not able to keep up with the times.     Kids wanted video games from Japan, or at the very least, with modern designs and the ability to save their game. Computers went mainstream with PC compatibles, leaving custom computers with unique operating systems (like the Atari ST) destined for for a short life.  In hindsight, Tramiel did the best he could with what he had, and probably kept Atari alive far longer than if anyone else had been in charge.

Jack Tramiel should be remembered as a pioneer who gave computing power "to the people".   His cost cutting and aggressive business tactics might have been unsavory at times, but the result was net postive.  Tramiel's adage "Power Without the Price" allowed for millions of kids (of all ages) around the world to taste the freedom and exhilaration of owning their own computer, and by extension, helped pave the way for our modern, digital, and online connected world.

-Steve Fulton

 

 

 

7Sep/110

Rest In Peace Bill Kunkel: Video Game Journalism Pioneer

By Jeff Fulton

Bill Kunkel, part of the duo of Arnie Katz and Bill Kunkel who created Electronic Games the frst magazine about video games, Electronic Games, died on Sunday at the age of 61.

We were big fans of Bill Kunkel.  One of the first stories I wrote for 8bitrocket.com was about  Electronic Games magazine and how much it meant to me when I was a kid.  I also interviewed him for this site a couple years ago.

Back in 2006, after reading Bill's biography, Confessions Of The Game Doctor,  I invited him to Mattel Toys to teach a 2-day class on game design.  This was not a normal thing for the Mattel I.T. team that built web sites and games.  Usually all of our training came from places like The Learning Tree.  As the manager of the game development team, I tried to get classic game personalities to speak whenever possible, using a discretionary portion of the training budget.  Besides Kunkel, we also had Chris Crawford and Rob Fulop come in for enormously successful seminars.  As long as I told my bosses the class would be about something that sounded "I.T", they were fine with it.  They never spent any time watching what we were doing, anyway, and these classes were always the best ones of the year.  The games we were making for the web needed to have simple graphics so great play mechanics were required to give them mass appeal.  There was no better place to look than the Golden Age of video games for pioneers who knew how to make something simple into something really enjoyable.

At first Mr. Kunkel  thought I wanted him to work for free, but of course, that was not the case.  The only thing better than meeting your heroes and gleaning their insight, is having the ability to pay them for their time. Bill  also got a kick out of the fact that he would be speaking to people from Mattel.   I never felt better about myself or my job than the moment I heard Bill Kunkel's voice on the phone get giddy about the prospect of speaking at Mattel, the place the brought Intellivision into the world.

Kunkel spent two days telling about his past, about his ideas for designing games for kids,  and his tips for making games in the classic mold that would work in the modern age.  At the time Bill came out, the main site we were working on, hotwheels.com has about 2 million monthly visits, and was ranked about 50th in kids web sites.  After he left we started making games in earnest, and his ideas were part of the reason why, one yearlater, we had 10 million monthly visits and were ranked in the top-10.

For a couple years afterward, I followed Bill's posts over at J2Games.com where he was a  regular contributor.  In the past year, I stopped visiting most of the my stand-by sites, and J2Games.com was one of them. When I read about his passing, I clicked over there to see that Bill has been writing continuously about games the whole time.   I'm now kicking myself for not keeping up with his impressive body of work.

Anyway, I can say, seriously, the Bill Kunkel was one of the most interesting, gracious, funny, and intelligent people I have ever met.  The world has lost a great mind, and a great person.  Bill, you will be missed

-Steve Fulton

 

 

 

 

   
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