“A gun is never empty” my dad told me.
He was looking straight at me.
He was looking into my eyes.
He had never done that before.
That I could recall any way.
“A gun is always loaded” he repeated, changing the words slightly but not the meaning.
It was the mid 1970’s. We were at the Olde Towne Mall, a turn-of-the-century themed indoor shopping and entertainment destination, waiting in-line to take a turn at the shooting gallery. We had about ½ hour to kill before our movie started at the Mann 4 Cinemas. We went to the mall that day to see the movie “Westworld”, a sci-fi film about robots gone astray at a futuristic amusement park.
“A gun is always loaded” he repeated.
I thought for a moment, and then said “bu...bu...but in Adam-12 the guns stop firing after they have shot all the bullets...”
“No!” He said firmly.
He rarely shouted. Instead he emphasized particular words by gritting his teeth as he said them.
“You DON’T understand. A gun is NEVER empty. A gun is ALWAYS loaded. Do you understand me?”
I nodded my head. I turned and looked at my brother. He nodded his head too. We pretended to understand. This was obviously an important idea my dad was trying to impart on us.
When we got to the front of the line, my dad took two quarters out of his pocket, and placed them on the counter next to the the shooting gallery rifle. He put one quarter in the coin slot, and his gun sprang to life. He picked up the rifle, pointed it towards the targets, laid the stock on his shoulder, leaned his head over, closed one eye, and squinted the other so he could see clearly through the cross hairs. He aimed for the infrared target attached to a beer can at the side of the gallery. He squeezed the trigger. From somewhere under the counter, a speaker reported the sound of a rifle shot. The can reacted immediately, jumping up three feet in the air on wire track.
My dad’s success did not change the serious expression on his face. “If this was a real gun” he said, “my arm would have been thrown back by the force of the shot. It’s called recoil.”
My brother and I looked directly at him, as if he was imparting the most important information in the world.
“In a movie, you can tell if an actor has ever fired a real gun or not by how he moves when he takes a shot. If there is no recoil, he’s a phony.”
My dad did not like things that were “phony”. He pointed them out to us at regular intervals. He was an actor, or at least, “was” an actor. He studied method-acting with Paul Mann in New York, and he felt he was an expert on actors “acting” genuine in movies. He appeared in several episodes of TV shows in the 50’s, but when the jobs dried up he went to work as a draftsman for an Aerospace company near Los Angeles.
The California Dream deferred.
My dad took the rest of his shots. He hit almost all, if not all of his targets. When he was finished, he put another quarter in the coin slot, and handed the gun to me. It was my turn.
My father felt it was his duty to teach me to shoot guns. Even though we lived in the heart of suburbia, he was certain that the skill of handling and firing a gun was one of the most important skills he could teach his young sons. However, I had some kind of mental block about them. By age six, we had gone into our garage at least a dozen times to practice shooting at targets attached to old phone books. In back of our property, with the garage door closed, firing a small calibre pistol sounded too similar to the “pop” of firecrackers popping for any one of the neighbors to pay attention to the sound. Kids lit-off firecrackers all the time in our neighborhood. It was no big deal. Still, the practice with a real gun made me very nervous. I only ever wanted it to end as soon as possible. This affected my ability to shoot straight. I’m sure, for my father, even those dozen times were not enough gun practice for him, so the shooting gallery at Old Towne Mall was a reasonable, but probably “panty-waist” (another favorite term of his) in his eyes, substitution.
The shooting gallery rifle felt much lighter than I expected, but it was long and unwieldy. It was connected to the counter via short black cord. I tried to put the stock on my shoulder just like my dad, but being 6 years old meant my arms were too short. I had to choke-up on the rifle, holding the barrel with one hand, the trigger with the other. I leaned my head over, squinted, and tried to see through the cross hairs. I could not see a thing. My dad and brother were waiting, so I pulled the trigger, hoping that my random shot would hit one of the many targets scattered around the gallery.
A shot sound boomed out of the counter that the cord was attached to, but none of the targets in the general direction in which I fired made any kind of movement.
“Come on Steve!” my dad said in his angered, but annoyed, but disappointed voice. The same voice I can hear in my head right now, as I write this. The same voice I heard my entire life after I did something that did not make him happy.
I fired 6 more shots, all with the same results. I then handed the gun to my brother so he could finish the game. Even though we were twins, and nearly the same size, his stature was much better than mine. He held the rifle as if he had been holding rifles his entire life. My brother emptied the gun, hitting at least three of the targets he aimed at.
“You are could be a Marksman” my dad told him, as my brother put down the gun and smiled.
We started to walk towards the movie theater.
“What’s a Marksman?” my brother asked.
“It’s the first rank you attain when learning to shoot in the Army. The next rank up is Sharpshooter, and the next, Expert Sharpshooter” my dad replied.
“Did you get a rank when you were in World War II?” I asked.
“I was a Sharpshooter” my dad replied.
We left the shooting gallery and walked towards the movie theater.
It was almost show time.
Released in 1973,“Westworld” was a movie about humanity struggling with technology it had created, but couldn’t fully comprehend or control. It starred James Brolin and Richard Benjamin as vacationers at a futuristic amusement park named Delos. The park was filled with androids that acted like the characters from a chosen time period. In the movie, the pair choose the “old west”, but other time periods, like ancient Rome and Middle Ages, were also available.
As soon as the pair arrived at the park and made their decision, they were thrust into what amounted to, an alternate universe: a virtual “virtual reality” of sorts. The visitors were immersed in the world of gambling, fighting, and even sexual encounters. It was all good clean fun until something went horribly wrong.
When the movie started, I sat and watched it, hoping for an epic adventure. I wanted to see something “big”, and something amazing. Every year the movie “The Wizard Of Oz” was shown on TV. Even though it was a musical made in the 30’s, there was something amazing about it. It was a grand adventure. The characters traveled places, and overcame obstacles. There were sweeping vistas, and magical places. When I went to the movies I wanted every film to be like The Wizard of Oz, and to make me feel like I felt when I watched it.
With a name like “West World”, I hoped for the best, but what I saw was not unlike the other sci-fi movies and TV shows I had seen in my six years on the planet: Big ideas, shoved into cramped spaces. The universe of West Word was interesting, but the story told in the universe seemed small to me. It all boiled down to two “good” guys running from one “bad” guy. In the vast world of Delos, this seemed like a small, claustrophobic story. Still, the action was good, and the underlying idea of an amusement park filled with robots was really cool.
And the coolest thing about West World was the android played by Yul Brynner. Along with the other androids, he became sentient and tried to kill the humans at the park. Brynner had an icy stare, and palpable sense of committed digital dread about him. He was like a combination of the Terminator and Darth Vader, but those characters would not be invented for years to come.
Walking out of a movie theater with my dad always made for a difficult few minutes. While I liked Westworld for what it was, I really wanted to know how he felt about it. It was very important to me to have his validation on my feelings for movies. I could tell by looking at his face, that he was not totally impressed by it.
“What did you think daddy?”
He was silent for a few seconds. We were walking back through the mall, towards the shooting gallery. We passed by the comic book store, and I stared at the covers of the publications in the window.
“It was pretty good” my dad suddenly said. “The guns didn’t recoil exactly right, and the old western town buildings looked phony, but it was pretty good”
I was relieved.
It was okay for me to like the movie.
We walked past the silk screen t-shirt shop, the carousel, and the the flying bee ride. I took a good long look as we passed the cookie shop, a place I always wanted to visit, but my dad, a self prescribed “health food nut”, would never take us there.
We passed the dark ride, the stamp collecting store, and the 9 hole indoor miniature golf course, and come up towards the juice shop. My dad stopped there and got in line. Juice was good for us, and my dad approved of its consumption. When we got to the front of the line, I, as always, ordered a strawberry juice. My brother ordered the same. My dad got carrot and cucumber.
We found a small table, and sat down to finish our drinks.
“Daddy” I asked, “can we go through the arcade on the way out?”
The arcade was at the far end of the mall near the food court, the opposite side from the movie theater. We hardly ever made it down to that end of the mall, usually stopping at the shooting gallery, or at the Paul Frieler’s Historical Model shop before we got there. In my 6 years, I had only ever walked by arcades. I had seen the pinball machines lined up against the walls, and newer looking video games standing up in the middle, with teenagers behind them, using the controls. I’d heard all the amazing sounds emanating from within, but I’d never actually seen any of the games working. However, the movie “Westworld” had inspired me. Even though it featured what I imagined to be “living video game characters” striking back against their human players, I was suddenly fascinated by the idea of electronic games, what they were, and how they were played. I’d only seen them from a far, and I’d never played one.
My dad did not answer my question, but as we emptied our cups and got up to leave, he started towards the arcade. When we reached the large, open store front crammed with video game cabinets and teenagers, my dad turned on his heels and entered the establishment.
The minute we entered, it was like visiting an alternate universe. The air was filled with a cacophony of bells and slaps from pinball and electro-mechanical machines, and grumbling digital tones from the video games. Like the androids in Westworld who came to life once the visitors played $1000 a day for the privilege of visiting their world, these electronic games begged for the change in our pockets, so they could come to life and let us enjoy the amusement they held inside. The lights were dimmed, but it was not dark inside. Every corner of the room was lit by flashing beacons.
We inched through the room, looking at the array of games on display. An 8-player auto racing game sat in the middle of the room, next to a section of Pong and Pong style games. There many machines with steering wheels and rifles attached.
On the south wall, next to a bank of Skee Ball machines was one of the most interesting things I had ever seen. It was an enormous machine, that was at least 8 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 10 feet long. It had a counter in the front with a 6-shooter and holster attached, and a giant 8 foot screen in the back. It was named “Wild Gunman”, and it was amazing.
Nintendo released Wild Gunman in 1974. It was not exactly a video game, but instead, it used a projector to display film clips of actual “cowboys” itching for a gun fight. The machine included a bank of 5 stars on the front. they would light up as a reward if you were successful when battling the armed bandits.
The player would put on the gun belt, and keep the 6-shooter holstered until it was time for a fight. When the game started, it would choose one of four film sequences (A,B,C,D) with five scenes each.
The player would watch a filmed scene start, and then wait for the on-screen bandit’s eye’s to flash. At that point, it was the player’s job to quick draw and fire before the bandit could fire back.
The game would either show a scene of the cowboy firing back at you (“You Lost”), or the cowboy falling to his death “(You Won”). After the 5 scenes played out, you would know your score by how many stars were lit-up on the front of the console.
“Wow, look at that!” my dad said.
He pulled some change from his pocket, and headed towards the machine. My brother and I followed. My dad put on the gun belt, inserted his quarters, holstered the gun, and waited for the action to start.
The words came up on the screen:
“After the eyes flash on the screen, shoot!”
“Put your pistol in the holster and prepare to draw”
In the first scene, a cowboy was skulking in the doorway of some old west buildings. He moved through two of them, then his eyes flashed. My dad did not draw quick enough, firing just a bit late. The cowboy shot back.
The words “You Lost” appeared on screen.
My dad looked flustered.
The words “Replace the pistol in your holster and prepare to draw” flash on the screen.
He holstered the gun, and got ready for the next bandit.
A cowboy walked onto the screen carrying a saddle. He put it down, and suddenly, he noticed my father. His eyes flashed, and he drew his gun. Before he had a chance to shoot, my dad raised his 6-shooter and and fired. The cowboy slumped over. A star lit-up on the console.
At once, it clicked in with me what I was seeing. My dad was successful, and the machine responded. It was like the shooting gallery, where the cans flew over wires when they were hit, but so much better. Actions were not solitary and unrelated. They connected to one another so a story could be told. The machine reacted to my dad’s actions, like a robot might respond. It could see what he was doing, and the realistic characters responded in kind.
My dad shot the third bandit, and missed the fourth. This set-up the final showdown. With two wins and two losses, the confrontation would settle the score.
“Replace the pistol in your holster and prepare to draw” flashed on the screen.
The screen changed. A door opened, and the final bandit strode confidently towards my father.
His arm was arched at his side, his fingers itching to pull the gun from the holster and take-down the final bad guy. The on-screen bandit’s eyes flashed, and he pulled his gun and fired. He was too quick. There was not enough time to react. My dad drew his pistol and fired but he was not fast enough.
He tried to fire again, but nothing happened. The trigger clicked, but the game did not respond.
He motioned the gun towards the screen, as if he could push a bullet out and win the duel by sheer force.
His gun was empty.
The projection on the screen showed the result.
My dad put the gun back into the holster, took off the gun belt, and walked away from the machine.
My brother and I followed him.
As we walked out of the door of the darkened arcade and into the sunlight, one word came out of his mouth.
But I was not so sure.
As we drove home, a feeling washed over me. It felt like I was living in a new age. An age that not only imagined robotic, electronic amusement parks in movies, but one that was just on the cusp of creating them for real. An age where interactive amusements were just creeping out of their digital hiding places to find a place in the sun, their eyes blinking, ready for a fight. For a moment, it felt like I was looking at a window, straight into Delos. My mind was racing back and forth, connecting the electronic worlds I had just visited in Westworld, to the one behind the movie screen in Wild Gunman. It was a moment of discovery that I have never forgotten. A fleeting, yet very real moment of transcendence, where, for just a few seconds, I felt like I understood my place in the world, my place in time, and where the future might take me.
Then as suddenly as the feeling appeared, it evaporated
And there I was sitting next to my dad in the cab of the big white pick-up, my brother seated behind us, as we traveled to our small suburban home, back in the real world.
Note: Here is a piece of creative non-fiction. I've changed the names, and compacted some events, but everything is true that happened. I've been toying with the idea of creating a fictionalized diary based on real events for a long time. The article in the last section is the real article printed in the newspaper. This was also inspired by The Diary Of Adrian Mole.
Thursday Nov. 17 1983
A weird thing happened to me today in computer lab. I was helping a class of kids in my grade with a writing assignment on Bank Street Writer. I always hate to work with kids in my own grade. It’s much better to help 6th and 7th graders. It’s easier to be someone else around them. To kids in my grade I will always be me, but to younger kids I can be like a superhero, showing them how to do things they can’t do on their own. Anyway, there are not enough computers for every kid, so the classes pair up. After the last time a class of 8th graders came in, Ms. Brown told me that I “had to” ask everyone if they need help.
I walked around behind everyone, whispering advice about loading files, and saving text.
As it turned out, Bryce and Chance were working together, a dangerous combination. So I waited until the last possible minute to see what they were up to. Predictably, they were both struggling over a single paragraph about surfing.
I asked them if they needed any help.
“Bro, how do you spell ‘barrel’?” Byrce asked, not turning his head
“Dude, I don’t think ‘gnarly’ starts with an ‘n” Chance interjected although not actually responding to his question.
I told them that they should use the spell check. I reached over them to the keyboard and I selected the word “narlly” and pressed the Apple key.
Bryce looked at me and said “Smell check!”, and then snorted a laugh. Chance joined in, and laughed like it was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.
When they were finished, Bryce looked at me.
“Seriously bro, what happened to you?”
“Yeah dude, you could still be cool” Chance continued,
“Get rid of this black sweatshirt, cut your hair”
“And stop playing with these computers all the time” Bryce added
They both laughed again together again.
“Okay guys, sure” I told them. Then I left as quickly as possible. I hid in the last row of computers for the rest of the period. I put my projects disk in the Apple disc drive and loaded up the Koala Art program to work on my drawing. When Ms. Brown looked over, I pretended to help the kid in the computer next to me. From her vantage point at the front of the room, Ms. Brown could not see that the seat was empty.
Friday Nov. 18th 1983
Actual school classes were uneventful today. I played one game of handball at snack time, but at lunch I spent my time by volleyball court #8, you know, the one way at the end by the old shed that holds broken lockers. The court with the sagging net and ripped upper-right hand corner. We’ve been coming down to practice sometimes at lunch since the beginning of the month. John Sheldon has this idea that we should enter the March tournament as a team. To be honest, we’ve been force-fed volleyball since the day we entered 6th grade, all of us: John, Dave Gregory, Christian Bolden, Shane Tanaka, Barry Kendon, Rich Marksson, my brother and I, we are pretty good at volleyball...for a normal school. However, this is not a normal school. The high school we feed into regularly wins State Volleyball Championships. The city prides itself on volleyball. The beach is filled with pro volleyball players on any given day. If all we did was play volleyball every minute of our lives, we still would not be good enough to compete on any level. Still though, John wants to play in the tournament, and, secretly, I do too.
As we were playing the second game today, Brad Fenders and Brent Jacobs grabbed the volleyball from the sideline as they walked by.
“Hey look, the ‘tards are playing a game” Brad said.
“Give us the ball back” John replied. He said it in a tired, bored voice. The kind of voice that said ‘we’ve been through this many times before and it got old in the 6th grade.’
Then John did something I’ve never seen him do. He walked right up to Brad and tried to take the ball.
“Woah there Godzilla!” Brad said
He passed the ball to Brent in the air, just out of John’s reach. who proceeded to hold it behind his back, again, just out of John’s reach.
The rest of us stayed silent and still. I wanted to help John, but I also wanted to stay out of firing line of Brad and Brent and their group. I think everyone else felt the same. We liked John, but we also didn’t mind that he was the focus of the wrath and not us.
Brent taunted John, “You volleyball stars gonna enter the tournament year?”
John did not answer.
“What’s your team’s name gonna be?” Brad demanded.
“Just give me my ball back” John said, ignoring the question and lunging towards the ball.
“I bet it’s The Metalers!” Brent yelled back to Brad as he held the ball high.
“Come On Feel The Noise!” Brad said, as he pulled the ball away from John yet again.
“Quiet Riot is not even a metal band, now give me my ball” John yelled. jumped higher than ever, just missing it.
I think Brad and Brent sensed that they had squeezed enough out of the their ball kidnapping, and finished with a final shot.
“Whatever spaz” Brent said, as he turned and drop-kicked the ball to the lower soccer field.
“Faced!” Brent yelled.
“I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”
They both laughed and walked towards the #1 court.
John and Rich ran down to get the ball. By the time they returned, lunch was over.
Saturday Nov. 19th 1983
I was up most of the night thinking about the incident with Bryce and Chance. I had been good friends with both of them in the past. Bryce, my twin brother and I started the 5th grade pretty much inseparable. Bryce invited us to an open house at his dad’s work (a defense contractor that made satellites). All three of us plus Ricky and Mark were in the talent show together We performed a skit we wrote named “What happens when your mother is away.” My brother and I played the kids, and Ricky was our dad. He kept messing things up, and he did stuff like leave the iron on too long. Bryce played a door-to-door salesman who ended up getting a pie in the face. Mark played the pie machine. As far as I could tell, it was a huge hit. Bryce also performed a solo version of “Puff The Magic Dragon” that his mom insisted he sing.
Soon after, Bryce’s attitude changed subtly. He stopped calling to hang out. However, he still responded when I called, so I thought everything was okay.
That same year, Chance invited my brother and I over for sleep-over, and we trick or treated on Halloween together. He seemed like a really cool guy, and it was nice to have a new friend who filled some of the gap left by Bryce.
Later in the year, things changed. Bryce and Chance hung out more and more.
They both cut their hair, and rode skateboards everywhere. One time in class our teacher was talking to us about how to be nice to people that you don’t like. Bryce shared his method. When he didn’t like someone any longer, he stopped calling them. He would still respond if they called, but he would not go out of his way to call them.
I felt like a garbage truck hit me. Bryce was not my friend any more.
The nice thing is, that realization is like a bee sting. It only really hurts badly the first time you feel it. Once it happens over and over with different people. you get used to it. These days, I expect it. When I meet someone new, I try to figure out how long it will be until they are no longer my friend. If they last longer than I expect, it’s like a win all around!
I spent the morning watching cartoons in a daze. I played “ghetto baseball” with my brother outside. I didn’t even attempt to take nap, as I have not been able to fall asleep during the day since I was 3 years old.
TV tonight was all about NBC. On Silver Spoons Ricky daydreamed that he was the president of the United States and then proceeded to start WWIII! Weird. There is this movie named “The Day After” that everyone is talking about. It's on tomorrow. It’s about World War III. I can’t wait to see it.
Sunday Nov. 20th 1983
I poured over the ads in the sunday L.A. Times today. Still, no one was selling the Atari 800XL yet. It was supposed to be released months ago. How could I get one for Christmas if no one was selling it? My dad finally caved in and told my brother and I he would get us a computer this year, but everything seemed to be against the idea. Where are the computers Atari?
I sat on the couch all morning watching The Tom Hatten Popeye show. It bled into The Family Film Festival’s showing of The Swiss Family Robinson before I realized 1/2 the day wizzed by.
I thought about Chance and Bryce again. I decided that, in their own way, they were trying to be nice. I mean, they suggested ways for me to be more like them, right? The trouble is, I don’t want to be like them. Why would I want to act stupid all the time and spend lunch time at school pouring over issues of High Times looking at photos of marijuana buds? Plus, to me, surfers were the enemy. My older sisters had told me over and over again how the surfers had ruined everything. The surfers were the ones who threw food at them at school. The surfers were the ones who beat-up their friends. The surfers were the ones who invaded the punk clubs and invented slam-dancing. The last thing I wanted to be was a surfer. The one thing I admired about them though, was that they had chosen something to be. When will I find my thing to be?
Listened to Dr. Demento tonight. The top-5 were as follows
- #5 Stinky Breath - Doctor Badbreath
- #4 The Scotsman - Bryan Bowers
- #3 Marvin I Love You - Marvin The Paranoid Android
- #2 My Bologna - "Weird Al" Yankovic
- #1 Ice Box Man - George Carlin
Note: “Ice Box Man” by George Carlin may be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
“The Day After” was just about the scariest thing I’ve ever watched. Even scarier than “Carrie”, and that’s saying a lot.
I can’t get this one scene out of my head. The nuclear bombs hit, and then there is a flash, and seconds later, people just disappeared. Like they never existed.
Monday November 21st 1983
Still reeling from “The Day After”.
I only had dreams about nuclear war last night.
Not much else I can say today.
Wednesday Nov. 23rd 1983
This was printed in the Begg Flyer today. My first published work. Note: my job in the lab is a computer aid, so I really tried to pump up my work.
It not this glamorous, believe me.
Computer Lab : Begg Flyer, Nov. 23, 1983
By Steve Fulton
In the back right hand corner of the Learning Lab, Room 23 are the Begg School’s very own Apple computers. Although not used to their full potential, these computers help students with learning problems, to do better in whatever subjects they are sent to work with. They also provide a course of information retrieving never before available to Begg School. This source is called software. Software is the disk program that can be run on the computers. This software includes science programs, math programs, English programs and many others.
How can these computers be operated? How can students be taught how to use the computers or programs? The answer is Computer Aides.
The Computer Aide is one of the small groups of students that have been trained to teach other students how to use computers.
A Computer Aides job are as follows: 1. They must see if any student need help using the computers. 2. They see if the teachers need any help. 3. They use utility programs and work on their own programs.
Most of the Computer aides use the third job, to play games or use Logo (a graphics program), but the Aides that are really into computers and programming make their own programs. Two of these programs are Spelling Magic, a spelling educational game, and Arithmetic Clash; a mathematical space game.
The prime reason of the computer aides is to introduce computers to students at Begg School, and in my opinion, they are doing a pretty good job of it!
So the next time you are sent to the Learning Lab, ask the teacher if you can use a computer. It might change your life!
Begg School has recently received 25 new computers donated by a company named Pertec. As soon as they are set up, you may be using one with your English class.
I spent much of last weekend attempting to get a multi-player games started with someone, anyone, on the internet. It was not a game of Star Wars Battlefront, or Words With Friends, or even Clash Royale.
It was a game of Atari 2600/VCS Basic Math.
Let me back-up a bit.
Basic Math was released as part of a new Steam-only, PC-only release from Atari named Atari Vault. When Atari Vault was released last Friday, my initial reaction was negative. While it includes 100 games (18 coin-ops, 82 Atari 2600/VCS games), they are pretty much the same games Atari has been publishing for the past 2 decades.
My thoughts ran like this: "Why do they always release the same old batch of unlicensed 2600 titles and arcade games?"
Atari has a rich history that goes far beyond what we've seen in past titles like Atari:80 Classic Games and Atari Anthology.
"Where are the 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar games? Why can't Atari let people try the 8-bit computer version of 'Star Raiders', once called the best computer game ever made, or judge for themselves if 'doing the math' would have helped the Jaguar succeed?"
" Where are the odd an wonderful coin-ops from the 70's and early 1980's? Where is Shark Jaws, one of the first violent coin-ops? What about X's and O's Atari Football or Food Fight? Where are the licensed coin-ops like Pole Position and Did Dug? Where is the remarkable Rick Mauer designed Space Invaders for the VCS, the game that arguably jump-started the console era?"
" Where is the Star Wars coin-op, maybe the best golden age video game ever produced?"
To me the Atari story cannot be told unless people can play the whole history of Atari. They need to the play VCS/2600 versions of E.T. and Pac-Man and judge for themselves whether they are "the worst games ever made" (hint: they are not).
However, I'm a bonafide Atari Nerd, so there is no way I would pass-up this collection. I also love Steam, as it has revolutionized my enjoyment of PC games. Atari Vault was developed by Code Mystics, who have been involved in many emulated retro collections over the years, so I knew there was a pedigree of knowledge and quality to back-up the title.
When I was searching through the games list in Atari Vault, I noticed one named Basic Math that I vaguely recall playing at my friend's house in 1978, the first time I played an Atari 2600. It was one of the first games that Atari produced with the original VCS in 1977. I had not thought about Basic Math (also known as Fun With Numbers) in almost 4 decades.
As I recalled, all you did was use the joystick to answer simple math problems. I maybe played it once, because even back then, I was not easily amused by educational video games. It had to feel like an arcade game or I was out.
However, the interface for Basic Math was intriguing. The 3D box spun in-place pleasingly. The interface and visuals developer Code Mystics created for Atari Vault are very well-done. I felt them tugging me gently back to a specific time and place in my childhood, which I suppose is the goal in a nostalgia product like Atari Vault. They made me want to "open" the box and see what was inside.
As the years passed, I never had access to the programs that Eric, my brother, and I typed into the Apple II. They are locked on disks that Eric still owns, 1000's of miles away. However I do recall one of the very first (if not the first) real "games" we wrote together. It was a "Guess The Number" game. After building elaborate ASCII rockets with "PRINT" commands for days, Eric's dad (A computer engineer at Hughes Aircraft) taught us about about "IF-THEN" and "GOTO" statements and then we went to town.
Because I have not seen the game in 35 years, I rewrote it using the emulator. My favorite discovery was the "FLASH" command. I had forgotten about it, but when I saw it in the reference guide, it sent me back decades. It was a magical command to me when I was 9 years old. It seemed like, with "FLASH", I could create a real "reward" for winning the game. Finding the roots of my love for computers, programming, and making games does not take an extensive search. It's pretty much right here in these 20-odd lines of code.
10 HOME 20 INVERSE 30 PRINT "NUMBER GUESS" 40 NORMAL 50 MAGICNUMBER% = INT(RND(1)*100)+1 60 LET TURNS% = 0 70 PRINT "I'M THINKING OF A NUMBER (1-100)" 80 INPUT "GUESS:" ; NUMBER% 90 TURNS% = TURNS% + 1 100 IF NUMBER% == MAGICNUMBER% THEN GOTO 170 110 IF NUMBER% > MAGICNUMBER% THEN GOTO 130 120 IF NUMBER% < MAGICNUMBER% THEN GOTO 150 130 PRINT "<<LOWER" 140 GOTO 80 150 PRINT "HIGHER>>" 160 GOTO 80 170 FLASH 180 PRINT "YOU WIN!" 190 NORMAL 200 PRINT "YOU DID IT IN " ; TURNS% ; " TURNS" 210 PRINT "HIT KEY TO PLAY AGAIN" 220 GET K$ 230 GOTO 10
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Phrase: Flappy Birded (Verb)
Definition: Used when a the internet-at-large destroys an honest and earnest individual because said person had the audacity to become successful. Usually occurs when said person is not already famous or is not deemed to be "legitimate" or "worthy" of success, and or when the product they have produced is deemed to be not "of consequence." This can happen most often when the requirements to become "legitimate", "worthy" and "of consequence" are arbitrary or not clearly defined.
Usage: "That forum just flappy birded a guy on youtube with 20,000,000 views of his video of a cat walking on a piano"
See Also: Jealousy, Envy, Cult of Personality
By Jeff Fulton (@8bitrocket on twitter)
To the majority of the public, Atari died in 1983 and is relegated to hipster t-shirts and trucker hats with ironic joysticks on them. While 90% of the USA and 70% of the UK gamers were playing with their C-64's, Nintendo's, Spectrums, Amigas, and the like, there were a large number of game players who stuck by the various Atari incarnations and their machines of varying quality. The first Lucas Arts games were actually made as a partnership between Atari and Lucas to create the most advanced games possible for the Atari 8-bit machines (800XL computer and 5200 console). If you read thorough (the otherwise fantastic) Retro Gamer magazine you would be hard-pressed to even know that Atari existed after 1984. The Magazine has the Amiga, Speccy and c=64 so far up its butt (in a nice way) that incredible titles released for the Atari 7800, ST, Lynx, 2600, Atari-8bit and even the Jaguar are relegated to the "Spinal Tap Where are they now radio ads". To help rectify this injustice slightly, I have compiled a list of the Lucas Arts titles released for the Classic Atari Machines (actually there are no non-classic machines other than the Flashback consoles).
Atari 8-bit Computers (Most released by Epyx, produced by Lucasfilm Games
Atari 5200 (Releases by Atari, developed by Lucasfilm games)
Atari 7800 (Released by Atari)
Atari ST Computers (Developed or Published by Lucasfilm/Lucas Arts Games)
Yes, there were many more titles released for the Amiga and C=64, but it seems like the Atari computer titles are always relegated to "Oh yeah, there might have been other versions also". If they name the ST version at all, it is usually with a disparaging remark like "The Amiga 500 version was nothing more then an ST port", never actually talking about the quality of the ST games. In fact, in most instances I will see a game comparison in a magazine (looking at you Retro Gamer) where it will show a 3 color ugly screen of blobs (Speccy version) along with a colorful ST version and seemingly the Speccy version is always called out for being the better port. There is so much Atari ST and Atari 8-bit computer hate and indifference out there in the magazine and on-line world that it sometimes makes me ill just to read retro reviews or publications. Yes, the Amiga was an awesome machine, but the ST certainly was no slouch in the game department. We happily played our original 1040 ST from 1987 all the way through 1993, when we finally had to get a PC for work reasons. Even then, there was no game as good as an ST game on the 386DX40 until Wolf3d came out.
The current company that holds the Atari brand and assets is filing for bankruptcy and planning to sell everything to the highest bidder That fact is not as much news as an update to the "when will Atari go bankrupt again" section of the Atari entry on Wikipedia. What *is* news is the fact that we now live in the D.I.Y., crowd funded, Kickstarter era that allows for "crazy ideas that just might work". In the case of Atari, it's the loyal fans who have spun up an idea that is simply too good to fail, but probably will anyway:
The fans want to buy Atari.
Over at AtariAge.com, the preeminent spot on the interwebs for Atari enthusiasts, an idea was sprung today to take back Atari for the fans. The effort is being spearheaded by Curt Vendel (recent co-author of Atari Inc.: Business Is Fun). The idea is to buy Atari' assets when they go up for auction, then start a new company then embraces fan efforts and the true history and legacy of the company.
Even though the idea seems outlandish, what if it came to be? What if every dollar you contributed to a Kickstarter.com campaign turned into a share of stock in a video game company? I'm not sure the SEC would let it fly just yet, but that's a matter for others to figure out.
For now, my thoughts (and my $20 or so) are behind owning a piece of video game history. Will it work? You can check out the idea and the progress here: