Posted on March 12, 2017
This is the second installment of “In The Wild”. In this series, I do first impression reviews of games I have added to my collection of carts for old Atari Systems. In the Wild refers to me having found these while shopping at local retro gaming stores, and other non-ebay sources.
This is my first time going to a very local store (that usually doesn’t have many Atari carts) and finding many carts for all three major Atari 8-bit Cart systems (no Jag or Lynx unfortunately). I clean and test everything on my 4 port 5200, my Atari 7800 (for 2600 and 7800 games), and my 130XE Atari computer. Today was a great day with so many finds and nearly 1/2 of them games I will play again and again.
All images were taken by me while playing the actual carts on the actual hardware. All quality wrinkles can be chalked to to real life, bad video connections, odd camera angles and the tired editing of a middle aged man playing with old video games.
Airlock (2600) – DataAge, 1982. AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 54%
There isn’t much of a game here. Now, I didn’t read the instructions, and rarely do for these first impression finds, but I did read a couple reviews to see what I was supposed to do. It seems like you need to get out of a submarine of some sort before it fills up with water. You start at the bottom of the screen and must collect some odd hanging object(s) on each platform before your air runs out. The graphics are terrible. And by terrible I don’t mean by NES or Playstation 4 standards, I mean by PONG standards. By this time the 2600 had been out for 5 years and some of the better titles were being made. I’m not sure my brother and I ever had this, and if we did, it would have been a $1-$5 KB toys pick-up after the crash. The sounds are ok, but the game play it is just about as bad as it gets. Play in emulation and you’ll see what I mean. You can try all 2600 games at Atarimania.com.
I was never able to get off the bottom platform (I’m the orange thing). For a 2600 game, if you can’t just pick up and play and have fun with a little bit of instruction, it probably will not be put back in the machine very often. I hope “James”, whose name is scrawled on the cart, got some fun out of it, but I did not.
First Impression score: 2/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.
Warplock (2600) – Dataage, 1982. AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 72%
Another game that “James” owned before I got my hands on it. This is a piss poor version of Activision’s Megamania that uses the paddle controllers. You have a single life and you are attacked by “waves” (1-3 enemy per game “level”) that I could get to. It might be my paddles, but I was not able to control the centering of the “gun” at the bottom well. (not that I’d want to really try too hard). You get 1 point for each hit on a “alien?” and your game is over if they hit you are you are hit by a “bomb?” that they drop.
What can I say, “James” had terrible games in his collection. This one I might go back to. The sounds and graphics are minimal, as is the fun.
First Impression Score 3/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.
Summer Games (2600) – Epyx 1987. Atariage Rarity 4 (scarce +). videogamecritic.com review score B+
This game alone was worth the trip to the game store. I don’t know the technical aspects of the cart, but it seems to add both ram and bank-switched ROM to the VCS (2600). You definitely need the instructions to play the 7 events, but very few are of the “joystick waggler” variety (I’m looking at you Activision Decathlon).
This definitely merits more play time. Very nice graphics and pretty decent sound. May very well be a sleeper top 20 game in the 2600 library.
First Impression Score 8/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.
Superman (2600) – Atari 1979. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 45%
Many people consider this an absolute classic (not the average review scores though) for the 2600. A pre-cursor to the classic Adventure. Without the instruction manual, this is game is an absolute mess. It’s from 1979, so consider it a peer of the Homerun, Football, and Golf era of 2K flickery Atari VCS carts. I had trouble doing much, but I think it will be better once I read the manual on AtariAge. I think there is potential here, but it certainly needs patience and at least a little reading to figure out.
Sound and graphic wise, it is a lot of a flickery mess of screens that seem to work like the Winchester Mystery House in placement and design.
First Impression Score 4/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.
Burger Time (2600) – Mattel 1982. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 57%
Since I play all of my games 2600 games on a 7800, i was initially fooled into thinking this cart didn’t work. They use the difficulty switches for the number of players and to the pause the game. So with both switches in the A position, the game would never start. I paused the game. (what?). I found a manual scan online and read through enough to figure out how to get the game started. This is one game where I seriously do not agree with the internet critics. Yes, the graphics are mostly just blocks, and when you throw salt the game freezes for a second, but by god does it play a fun version of BurgerTime. The music is good, the sounds goods, the animation and game play a little slow, but heck, it’s 10X better than Air or Warp Lock.
Don’t let the naysayers tell you the game is awful, research this one for yourself. You may not like it, but I sure did. This stays in the play again pile for a while!
First Impression Score 7/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B.
Smurf Rescue (2600) – Coleco 1982 AtariAge Rarity 4 (scarce +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 72%
Now, this is another game where I differ with the internet critics. It sucks! I give it a -1. Why? Because it I literally broke by original 2600 joystick trying to jump the first fence. Ok, That -1 is because I’m pissed, and I know of two CX-40’s at the local Book Off that I can get for $5.00 each, and will even super glue this one back together.
This actually is a very good looking, good sounding game that I just suck at. You walk from left to right through contiguous screens of nasties to finally rescue Smurfette. Very well made, but a bitch to play (at least for me and my CX-40)
First Impression Score 7/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B.
Second Impression Score -1/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B. Broke my joystick and I can’t get by the first fence.
Dolphin (2600) – Activision 1983 AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 78%
Dolphin is an innovative VCS game that uses sound effects in interesting ways to give the player clues about what is occurring (particularity where the “hole” in the upcoming vertical line of sea horses, blocking the way, is located). This game makes the mistake of giving the player a side view perspective to control a creature that can see in front of himself (or herself). It’s kind of neat, but gets frustrating very quickly. High pitched tones mean the “hole” or “break” the Dolphin can swim through is higher up the screen and low tones mean it is further down. No matter what, I could never really dodge octopus that chases the dolphin easily, and never saw the seagull that does a Pac-man turn the tables and lets the Dolphin chase the octopus.
In any case, the game looks and sounds awesome. A very “Activisiony” looking game with a very “Activisiony” play mechanic (simple, but hard to master).
First Impression Score 6/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A
Fishing Derby (2600) – Activision 1980 AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 79%
Fishing Derby is an absolute classic and a joy to play. One of the Best looking and playing VCS games of the time, and maybe all time. You and a computer player or a second player sit on the docks, and use your fishing poles to try and catch fish. The lower they are in the water, the more points you receive for reeling them in.
There is a shark that will knock your line and free a fish that you are reeling. This is one of the games that put David Crane on the map, and turned Activision into a super star company.
First Impression Score 9/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A
Star Fox (2600) – 1983 Mythicon AtariAge Rarity 4 (scarce +). videogamecritic.com ratijng F-
From a couple of the best VCS games ever to one of the absolute worst. Now, I didn’t think it was an F-, but there is very little redeeming about this generic defender style clone. I like what your ship looks like. In fact, it looks like something I probably drew on graph paper back in grade school when I “designing” my own Atari games. The game play consists of you spastically trying to pick up crystals at the bottom of the screen and shooting at really evil baddies. There is a strange happy face in the top left that really creeps me out.
I was never able to pick up a crystal because as you near the bottom of the screen you can’t move horizontally any more. It makes the game suck. I guess you might be under water, because there seem to be row boats in the sky above.
I have no idea really. The whole thing is too fast, and really not fun. It gets a couple points only because of the design of the player ship.
First Impression Score 2/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A
Super Breakout (Atari 400/800/XL/XE) – Atari 1979 Average User Score 8.1 / 10 – Atarimania.com. Rarity NA
It doesn’t hurt that progressive Super Breakout is one of my all time favorite variations, and that the Atari 8-bit computer version is my favorite version of breakout. I was really lucky to find this cart. All Atari 8-bit carts are pretty rare, and no one spends much time calculating how rare, but in my local travels to the various game stores in out area (4) I have never found one. This game is an absolute, unadulterated classic.
This was The Tetris of its time. If you haven’t played a version, pick up an emulator, or try to get this or the 2600 version. The best way to play is with the original Paddle controllers. You will NOT be disappointed.
First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 2, Progressive
Berzerk (5200) – Atari 1983. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 92%
This IS the Arcade classic. If you have never seen or played Berzerk, look it up. This version is almost 100% identical to the coin-op and really shows what can be done with the Atari Computer/5200/XE Game System Hardware (all share the same chip set and code base, save for controller functions on the 5200).
What else can I say, but play this puppy. I didn’t experience any control problems, and had a blast (literally), kicking Robot Butt.
NOT TO BE MISSED!
First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 1, one player.
Space Dungeon (5200) – Atari 1983. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 97%
Space Dungeon requires 2 working 5200 controllers (and is a breaker of them also). I don’t have a “coupler” to hold two sticks at the same time, but the game is fun anyway. One stick is used to move and the other to shoot, giving you ultimate control (once you get used to it) Some people have called it a cross between Robotron and Venture, but I to me it is the best parts of Robotron, Berzerk, and and Gantlet.
You have a radar map that shows you the rooms you need to go to and in each you pick up treasure and blast enemies. There is a wide variety of treasure and enemy to shoot. This game is not rare, but I had never played it before. It shows off the best of what the 5200 can do, and just plain rips. You won’t want to put it down.
First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 1, one player.
Posted on March 2, 2017
(note: An edited version of this review originally appeared on http://www.gamerdad.com in 2003)
For the past 9 months, I have ventured passed the realm of the “Classic Game Fan” to a destination that can only be described as the absurd. I have been a fan of Atari since around 1977. I’ve owned every major system (and most minor ones) produced by the company in both its glory, and not-so-glorious days. I have been fascinated by it’s history and lore ever since I was 7 years old after played Combat! for the first time. in TV section in the back of Fedmart. In the past few years, books like Steven Kent’s The First Quarter , Wilson/Demaria’s High Score and Leonard Herman’s Phoenix have covered the early history of Atari in great detail, but have left out much of it’s fascinating and intricate second life (beginning in 1984) as Atari Corp. and Atari Games. Around December of last year, I decided it was time that someone rectify the situation. I’m not sure why I thought I, was that person, but delusions of grandeur might have played a small but significant part. In the span of a few weeks, using online and printed resources, I collected an 1800 page document filled with articles and stories, interviews and miscellaneous facts about Atari. In the ensuing months, I boiled down a subset of those pages into 180 page “timeline” of important Atari dates and events, with literally no end in sight. In that time, I collected 1000’s more articles, magazines, copyright, trademark, patent records, and haunted web sites like www.atariage.com, www.atariprotos.com, www.atarimagazines.com, www.atari-museum.com , all to help create a full-picture of this landmark and storied company. eBay stole much of my money as I bid on old Atari books, magazines, and catalogues. I emailed questions to dozens old programmers associated with Atari such as Scott Adams (Adventures) , Peter Oliphant (Mr. Cool, Wall War) and Chris Crawford (Easter Front, Energy Czar) just to see if they would answer my queries (most did). Some nights in the past 9 months I spent 5-8 hours straight sifting through BBS posts from the mid-80’s to find elusive release dates and trivia to add to the timeline. The online editions of Ebesco magazine and Proquest Newspaper databases became new discoveries, offering tidal-waves of headlines and articles that still call for my attention. I spent too many lunch-hours (some stretching the name “lunch hour” to it’s extreme) at the local library, scanning microfilm of long-lost newspapers for articles and advertisements that might have that one last piece of information to make MY history better than any others.
As I got deeper and deeper into this project, I started to neglect other “free-time” activities so I could add to the “document”. I stopped playing video games, programming, web site work, watching TV and anything that might get in the way of the my goal: the ultimate history of Atari. However, as each one of these sacrifices piled-up I started hearing a voice in my mind that would not go away. The voice kept asking “why am I really doing this?, what is this for?” It was just a faint whisper at the beginning, but as the months droned-on, I started hearing it more and more, at ever-increasing levels of volume. By June of this year, the sound of that voice rose to a level that could not be ignored. It was like all the projects and plans I had sacrificed for the “Atari Project” were clamoring to become important to me again. My original plan was to create a complete timeline of Atari, and then add to it my own numerous observations and experiences to make it the ultimate account of Atari’s effect on our culture. I questioned the whole idea of the “Atari Project” itself. I thought, “what kind of person spends this much time on something they suspect was a lost-cause to begin with? Just the idea of working on the document began to make me physically ill. When Mr. Andrew Bub. gave me the chance to write for this website, I took it as a opportunity to distance myself from the “Atari Project”, hone my neophyte writing skills, and try to figure out just what it was I was trying to accomplish in the first place.
A few days ago I finished reading an amazing book that put most of my “Atari Project” into the proper perspective. Lucky Wander Boy (Plume, 2003) by D.B. Weiss chronicles the fictional exploits of one Adam Pennyman, a 30-something dot.com copywriter with a gorgeous Polish girlfriend he seems incapable of pleasing, and nagging wander-lust that keeps him forever unsatisfied. This protagonist of Weiss’s brilliantly paced, and hilarious novel is a recently awakened classic gaming fan who is working on a book named the “Catalog Of Obsolete Entertainments” or “COE” for short. The COE when finished, promises to be a complete listing of important classic games each described in great detail as to their game play, artistry, and their significance alongside important literature, movies, philosophy, etc.
In other words, Adam’s project is not unlike a much more literate and well-read version of my Atari Project. At first this repelled me from reading too much of the story because if it was a full-on satire, it might “hit too close to home”, confirming my suspicions that my own project was completely without merit, nailing its lid shut forever.
Since I possessed a slight fear of the book itself, I eased into it’s pages. It took me several days to traverse the first few chapters. I was slowly convincing myself that this book was not something to be afraid of. About ¼ of the way through my outlook turned cautiously optimistic, taking me only a few days to reach the mid-point of the story. I still was not sure if the unfolding events would hit me too hard, knocking the wind out of my “Atari Project”, but I’d reached the point of no return. The book was so good, it didn’t seem to matter anymore what the sum-total affect would be. At that point, I was fully engulfed, my appetite for the text became voracious, and I managed to finish the rest of the book in just a few hours.
Whatever my fears might have been, this well-written first novel from D.B. Weiss got my attention, and it wasn’t just because of its classic video-game content.
Weiss blends several different writing styles (straight easy to read prose, undergraduate-level compare/contrast essays, technical writing, movie scripts) into a completely engaging first-person account of Adam Pennyman’s search for “meaning” while sifting through the nostalgia of his childhood. Adam’s work on the COE begins with MAME, but leads him to other emulators and bonafide classic games (Donkey Kong, Mr. Do, Pac Man, etc.), and finally to the game fictional Lucky Wander Boy, a machine so rare that no ROM is available, and few if any arcade cabinets are still in existence. It’s this game and the fact that Adam never reached it’s elusive 3rd level, that drives the story through three distinct “acts” to it’s satisfying conclusion.
The story is told in the first person, as Adam describes to the reader his introduction, and subsequent immersion into the world of classic video games. We learn about the most important game Adam played as young boy , “Microsurgeon” for the Mattel Intellivision, and why video games became so important to him. We travel to with from Los Angeles, across the country, and around the world. All the while we watch Adam get more and more immersed in his quest, and we see the effect it has on the people around him. We learn early on about the stability of Adam’s mind, and at points, begin to question his interpretation of the events that he is describing.
Lucky Wander Boy is filled with characters and locations that are so true to life, you can imagine them as real people: Adam’s uber-geek love interest Clio, the dot.bomb “Portal Entertainment” where Adam works, the guys who fill a classic gaming convention, the arcade Adam frequented as a kid. As well, the actual history and classic gaming details are mostly accurate, and better yet, chosen to have a maximum effect on the story. The promised land of destiny Adam visits with Clio at the end of the book’s second act is so perfect, you’ll think “yep, that’s where this HAD to take place” and at the same time kick yourself for not figuring out the location in the first place. The book finishes in a way that all my favorite books finish. There are no tricks or twists, or “she’s a he!” 180’s that turn your emotional investment in the material into a moot point. It ends that way it should end. All points in the story lead to its inevitable conclusion, and better yet, you probably will not see it coming until it all unfolds before you.
Initially after finishing Lucky Wander Boy , the fears for my “Atari Project” were realized. Not only did I want to stop working on it, I wanted to toss it out the window. Why did I even think I could complete such a thing? In some ways, Weiss’ book covers some of the same ground that I wanted cover, but in such a vastly superior and engaging way it would make any straight-telling of video game nostalgia seem ironic by comparison. I decided I needed to know more about the book. I contacted Mr. Weiss, and he agreed to an interview. He was kind and gracious enough to respond to me very quickly. The following is transcript (this contains a few minor spoilers).
Q: How did you get started writing?
I’ve always written things. I remember my first stories were written on that thick-lined, horizontal paper they used in grade school. I never really stopped.
Q: What kind of response has the book received?
It’s been overwhelmingly favorable — much better than I thought. A lot of people who don’t particularly care about videogames read it and wrote to tell me they liked it anyway. But I was worried that the gaming
community would have a lot of nasty things to say about it because I got ‘x’ or ‘y’ wrong, but 95% of the gamers I’ve talked to about the book haven’t been like that at all. They related to it, and were happy to be represented in a novel.
Q: What is your favorite part of LWB?
Ah… definitely the “bad movie script” excerpt. However hard I worked on the best-written five pages in the book, I worked four times that hard on those bad screenplay pages. Tons of research. I think those five or so pages really capture the essence of a hidden genre, usually (and thankfully) invisible to the public.
Q: Where did the idea for the “Catalog Of Obsolete Entertainments” come from?
I’d wanted to do a piece of videogame-related fiction for a long time, and I knew from the beginning it was
going to involve something like the Catalogue — i.e., a videogame obsessive’s thoughts about the games he’s played. The actual story came afterwards.
Q: The details of “Classic Games” are quite extensive and fairly accurate in LWB. You seemed nail the hardcore classic game fan “Classic. Video. Games. as well as the lore and trappings of conventions and attitudes. Are you a classic games fan, or are you just a great researcher?
I am a classic (and current) gaming fan, and it was my enthusiasm for the subject that pushed me through the research. There was a lot of research — at the outset, I wasn’t nearly involved enough with the games
to write the book (or hadn’t been for years). So it was a combination of the two. As research goes, playing 5 hours of Tempest is a pretty sweet deal.
Q: Anya Budna seems like the geek ideal of a “comic book” woman, while Clio seems to be the opposite “ideal” geek woman who not only likes the same geek stuff as a geek, but actively participates. Neither seem to be the answer for Adam. Were you attempting to show these two sides of the “geek ideal woman?
Well, I’ll just say that the questions Adam has to answer for himself before any kind of meaningful interaction with any woman (or anyone else, for that matter) are possible precede any questions about whatkind of woman is right for him. Necessary changes being made, he and Clio would probably work prettywell as a couple. The question is: Can (or should) the necessary changes be made? Okay, that’s pretty
muddled. I’ll stop there.
Q: At a couple points in the story I starting thinking that Anya might not even be a real character, but just a figment of Adam’s imagination. Was this intentional, or just a figment of “my imagination”?
Hmmm… I hate scotching any interpretation of the book that sounds better than what I had in mind… I did intend her to be real, but I also intended for his extreme unreliability (especially toward the end) to make his story as a whole problematic. So I guess my intentions were working at cross purposes there.
Q: The structure of the story starts out seeming very chaotic, but by the end seems finely tuned and crafted. Did you start the book knowing where it was going to end?
I did know more or less how it was going to end. Didn’t quite know how I was going to get there, but I
always like to keep some notion of an ending in mind, to get me through that long, dangerous middle.
Q: As well, the details of working for a “dot.com” type operation are far too close to reality to be mere figments of your imagination. Do you have any experience working in the environment?
I did some copywriting for an internet outfit that shall remain unnamed. They’re actually still solvent
and going strong, which sets them apart from the company in the book.
Q: Are there any other portions of the book that are autobiographical?
Some settings and physical details of people and places were stolen from life, but by and large the thing is made up. My life doesn’t have the excitement and/or level of obsession necessary for a good story. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I destroyed anyone’s place of business with a battle axe.
Q: Even though LWB is specifically about classic video games, so you think the themes are universal to other forms of “Geek” > (even as far as the “sports geek”) as described by Adam in one of his COE entries?
Oh, definitely. I think you could have written a very similar book about beekeeping, or wine collecting, or
even sports fixations… oh, wait. Someone did write that last one. Someone named Fred Exley. It’s called A
FAN’S NOTES, and it’s better than LUCKY WANDER BOY. Never mind.
Q: Do you liken the “surreal” aspect of classic games to that of early Hollywood movies, where the technicals kept the images from looking real, but added to the transcendental aspect of the stories?
I’ll still watch some silent movies — say, Murnau’s FAUST, or Dreyer’s VAMPYR — and feel that the
jury-rigged in-camera effects they used were more effective for conveying the particular altered realities they were trying to convey than any CGI could have been. And to use Marshall McLuhan’s terminology, they were “cooler” — they required your own participation to fill in the wonderful or horrible details, to bridge the gap between what you were seeing and what you would be seeing and feeling if you were in that situation. So yes, I think the exact same thing could be said about early videogames.
Q: Adam has many misconceptions about LWB that lead to his own inaccurate conclusions about its origins, and its meaning. Do you believe that media like games, books, movies, etc. have a life of their own, beyond what the authors/creators intended?
That’s why I don’t like to go into too much detail about what this or that aspect of the book “means.” The life books have in readers’ minds is often every bit as interesting and vibrant as the life they have in their authors’ minds.
Q: Do you think people tend to find meaning in things that are foreign or “mysterious” even if they might be rather mundane to the indigenous population?
They do if involvement with something scarce, foreign or unique is important to their sense of who they are. Things are often found in translation when something is taken out of its indigenous sphere and into some other context, I think.
Q: In LWB, Adam was affected by video games at a fairly young age (early teens). What are your views on the effects, positive or negative, that video games may have on young kids today?
That’s a big question. They’re not going to make anybody kill anybody if they weren’t going to do that
anyway, but beyond that, I’m pretty biased. I mean, my best friend’s son is 3, and I’m like the devil in the
corner, badgering them to let him come over to my house and play Xbox, even though the controller is 10
times too big for his hands.
Q: Do you think those effects are any different with today’s hyper-realistic games?
Ah, I don’t know. People were up in arms about Death Race, they were up in arms about Berserk, and Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat and Quake and GTAIII, and each time it’s “Okay, forget about that last one… this one is different.” The gory details are still so far from even the stuff you see on network TV, I
really don’t worry about it much at this point.
Q: If you had kids, what kinds of games would you let them play?
Well, not having kids (yet), that’s an easy one for me to shoot my mouth off about, isn’t it? I think it
would be so dependent on the kids themselves, especially once they hit 11, 12, 13, that it’s hard to
answer. I imagine that once they got to high school, I would no longer have the will (or the ability) to keep
them away from anything they wanted to play. I came from a home where the parental control in the
book/movie/music/videogame department was fabulously lax. If I wanted to check out NAKED LUNCH at 13… no problems there. I was forbidden to rent, say, a pornographic movie, or FACES OF DEATH… so I watched them at someone else’s house. Despite these years of mental poisoning, I made it through, with no police record that I know of, and am now a more or less productive citizen — because my parents were
parents. They were always there for me, they were always a part of my life, they always made sure the
lines of communication were open. I’d probably follow their example. Remembering back, it seems to me a lot of parental ‘culture proscriptions’ were a sort of quick fix parenting, in lieu of communication — which
is so much more difficult than Just Saying No.
Q: Are you working on another novel?
Yep. 17th century Germany. Not much in the way of videogames back then.
It took me a few about 24 hours to digest Mr. Weiss’ answers. I could not decided if he had inspired me to continue my “Atari Project”, or just forget it altogether. I tried to think of Lucky Wander Boy in terms of my own work, and an idea occurred to me. With my “Atari Project” I was trying to place “meaning” on my Atari experiences, but I was never sure if that “meaning” would arise from annals Atari itself, or instead, from my vigorous quest to find it. I quickly sent Mr. Weiss a follow-up question, asking him if the same was true for Adam in Lucky Wander Boy. I asked him:
Q: Do you think Adam actually found true “meaning” in Lucky Wander Boy, or
instead, did meaning arise from the quest itself, no matter what the final
discovery may have been?
He never responded, and I took that as my answer. Sure, he might have simply thought I was a raving lunatic (the jury is still out), but no answer can still be an answer. Like Mr. Weiss said in the interview, he hates “ scotching any interpretation of the book that sounds better than what I had in mind”, and that is all that mattered. I was getting my answer, no matter what the author intended, and while Lucky Wander Boy spurred it on, it really came from myself.
I began to understand that the story is not really about classic video games at all, but instead, it is a universal story about the need to search for your own feelings, and discover your own meaning in whatever it is you are exploring in life.. The book is less an indictment of fandom, than it is wildy funny and surreal journey of someone who starts on a video game “vision quest”, that turns into an completely self-obsorbed and obsessive journey to find “meaning” from nostalgia in the modern world. In that sense, there just might be space for anyone to write their own account of what their past has meant to them, and how it affects their present. Last night, for the first time in several months, I visited www.atariprotos.com, a web site dedicated to prototype Atari 2600/5200/7800 cartridges. There were a few new entries, so I broke out my “Atari Document” and filled in a few spots that had before been left blank. My Atari Project did not seem “dead” at that moment, but simply in hibernation waiting for me to return to it. There were real reasons why I wanted to complete the project and while there is no guarantee it will ever be finished, or that anyone will ever want to read it, I feel compelled to continue with it. I may never find “meaning” within the seemingly random facts, and dates of my Atari Timeline, but just like Adam in Lucky Wander Boy by taking it to it’s conclusion, I just might find the “meaning” within myself that compelled me to start the project in the first place.
Kid Factor: Don’t even try to read Lucky Wander Boy to your kids, it’s simply not that kind of book. Some of the material may be objectionable, but to be honest, most kids just won’t “get” what is happening in the first place. I think the book is best read by readers aged 25+ who are just starting to realize the actual sweating, claustrophobic, panic that nostalgia can generate. This is not just a good book, but a great piece of literature. Mature high school students who have “cool” English teachers, could probably get away with writing a paper on this book, as it’s as good or better than some of the “classic” literature I consumed “back-in-the-day”. I recommend D.B. Weiss’s Lucky Wander Boy to anyone who enjoys a little thinking with their reading, to any fan of classic video games, and especially to anyone who ever “geeked-out” attempting to find “meaning” in things that other might find silly or trivial.
Update: D.B. Weiss is now a writer, producer and director for Game Of Thrones on HBO. Lucky Wander Boy was released as “Video Games” in 2014 for the French Market. His book on 17th Century Germany, as far I can tell, was never released.
Posted on February 28, 2017
Let me just get this out of the way, I LOVE Nolan Bushnell. He is the visionary without which we would not have all that is and was Atari. Sure, if he did not start Atari with Ted Dabney back in the early 1970s’s, someone else would have eventually created the video game industry as we know it, but credit deserves to flow where credit is due, and Bushnell certainly had the personality and drive to make great things happen. At the same time, Bushnell is very very good at, shall we say, “refining his backstory”, and this interview is no different. Putting it simply, there are many thing in this interview I have not heard before, and i’ve been glued to interviews about Nolan Bushnell ever since I saw his biography featured on a game show in the early 1980’s
It’s a rousing good time listening to this podcast and hearing Bushnell, once again, talk about his early days, this time through the lens of 2017. Fact checkers should sharpen their pencils, because I’m sure there is much here to be dissected and discussed. However, in my mind, there is one thing that can’t be debated: Bushnell is a luminary and his influence on the world of video games, entertainment, innovation, invention,and Silicon Valley cannot be denied.
You can listen below:
Posted on February 26, 2017
Rocks Floating In Space
Insert Coin To Shoot. Collects
Quarters By The Ton
The Four Horseman Of
David, Larry Bob, Alan
The Seeds Of Apocalypse
For Atari Inc.
Posted on February 23, 2017
Phoenix IV : The History Of The Video Game Industry by Leonard Herman is the most well researched, historically accurate chronicle of the video game industry that you will ever find. Almost completely devoid of conjecture, hyperbole, and opinion, the books attempts (and succeeds) to posit an impartial, fact-based account of the inventions, hardware cycles, and business of video games from their early inception until very recent times.
In other words, “Fake News” this is not.
Herman chronicles the history of video games in straight-forward manner. The language is simple and to the point. There are few (if any) quotes from industry individuals, almost no metaphors, overall themes or points to be made, other than the exacting facts at hand. It’s an exhaustive, footnoted timeline of video game hardware releases from the commercial perspective with a viewpoint (mostly) from the USA looking out. It includes dates, sales numbers, and the key games (mostly first party releases to support console cycles) to help tell the story of the ever evolving and changing industry. Paralleling their importance, arcade video games are covered too, but mostly to explain the early years of game development, with smattering of highlights into the 90’s. The book also manages to find the right cadence and reverence and discussing the history of video game magazines, something I’ve never seen before in a tome of this type. Herman’s unique understanding of how the printed medium once drove the digital is a unique feature of his massive chronicle.
The only “fault” I can find is with what is not included. Herman says at the outset that his book does not cover “computer games”, because they are played on machines that are not dedicated to video games, but can play other software as well. It is understandable that Herman tried to limit the score of the book. At already 828 pages, the book is a beast of knowledge and information. However, his argument about “machines that are dedicated to games” doesn’t make sense for any game console since the 360/Wii/PS3 era, since those consoles include all sorts of functions beyond playing games (i.e Netflix, movie watching, web browsing, etc.)
I think in future volumes he is going to to find a way to cover computers, web games, mobile games, etc. because they have now become part of the whole story of video games. For people of my age, (and Herman’s), it’s okay that these things are left out. Since we have seen, pretty much, the whole of the video games industry from it’s inception, we can put the pieces together to understand the place of video games in that history and how they are carved out from the “game industry” as whole. However, if this book is to become the true, de-facto “history of the “video game” industry , then it will do a disservice to younger generations who do not understand the events and nuances in context. This would mean, in upcoming volumes, that Herman would have to tackle computers, the web, and mobile in some perfunctory manner.
Still, this is not a complaint more than it is a rallying-cry for this book to be recognized as what it is: the best book on video game history of it’s kind. It’s also a plea to take to the next level, because what Herman has here is the basis for an unimpeachable, historic record of the world’s last great entertainment medium. He’s on the cusp of becoming the grand-master of video game history, he just needs a bit of push to the next level.
The books is well-worth the price, and should be on the shelf of any self-respecting video game fanatic.
Posted on February 22, 2017
Here is my quest.
This has been bubbling under my skin for 34 years now, and this morning, while walking the dog, I finally understood what I must do.
In the summer of 1983, my brother Jeff and I sold a bunch of our Atari 2600 stuff so we could buy a GCC Vectrex. The details of the sale have been lost to time, but the purpose is crystal clear: at 13 years old, we needed money so we could trade-up in he fast moving area of video games. This would have been a fine choice, if that era of video games was not about to close-in a like Death-Star trash compactor and leave us high and dry. Soon, we were left with a dead console that had just a handful of games, wishing we had not sacrificed our Atari VCS in the process. Now, 3 decades and change later, I feel the constant pull of nostalgia to return to the golden video game days of yore with real games and real hardware.
To achieve this goal, I need to find all the games I once had in the in 1983.. To start, I’ve wracked by brain (with the help of AtariAge.com) to list all the games I believe I once owned, so I can try to locate them all.
Here is the checklist as best I can remember it. This might be updated over time, as the quest gets moving:
- Fantastic Voyage (20th Century Fox)
- Fast Eddie (20th Century Fox)
- Turmoil (20th Century Fox
- 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe (Atari)
- Adventure (Atari)
- Air-Sea Battle (Atari)
- Asteroids (Atari)
- Basketball (Atari)
- Battlezone (Atari)
- Berzerk (Atari)
- Bowling (Atari)
- Breakout (Atari)
- Canyon Bomber (Atari)
- Circus Atari (Atari)
- Codebreaker (Atari)
- Combat (Atari)
- Defender (Atari)
- Dodge ‘Em (Atari)
- E.T. (Atari)
- Flag Capture (Atari)
- Football (Atari)
- Galaxian (Atari)
- Golf (Atari)
- Hangman (Atari)
- Haunted House (Atari)
- Home Run (Atari)
- Human Cannonball (Atari)
- Indy 500 (Atari)
- Jungle Hunt (Atari)
- Kangaroo (Atari)
- Maze Craze (Atari)
- Midnight Magic (7800 Era) (Atari)
- Miniature Golf (Atari)
- Missile Command (Atari)
- Ms. Pac-Man (Atari)
- Night Driver (Atari)
- Othello (Atari)
- Outlaw (Atari)
- Pac-Man (Atari)
- Pele’s Soccer (Atari)
- Phoenix (Atari)
- Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Atari)
- Realsports Baseball (Atari)
- Realsports Football (Atari)
- Realsports Soccer (Atari)
- Realsports Tennis (Atari)
- Realsports Volleyball (Atari)
- Sky Diver (Atari)
- Slot Racers (Atari)
- Solaris (7800 Era) (Atari)
- Space Invaders (Atari)
- Space War (Atari)
- Street Racer (Atari)
- Superman (Atari)
- Surround (Atari)
- Vanguard (Atari)
- Video Olympics (Atari)
- Video Pinball (Atari)
- Warlords (Atari)
- Yar’s Revenge (Atari)
- Barnstorming (Activision)
- Boxing (Activision)
- Chopper Command (Activision)
- Dragster (Activision)
- Enduro (Activision)
- Freeway (Activision)
- Grand Prix (Activision)
- Ice Hockey (Activision)
- Kaboom! (Activision)
- Keystone Kapers (Activision)
- Laser Blast (Activision)
- Megamania (Activision)
- Pitfall (Activision)
- Plaque Attack (Activision)
- River Raid (Activision)
- Robot Tank (Activision)
- Sea Quest (Activision)
- Skiing (Activision)
- Sky Jinks (Activision)
- Space Shuttle (Activision)
- Stampede (Activision)
- Star Master (Activision)
- Tennis (Activision)
- Journey Escape (Data Age)
- Lost Luggage (Games By Apollo)
- Space Cavern (Games By Apollo)
- Tunnel Runner (CBS Electronics)
- Donkey Kong (Coleco)
- Venture (Coleco)
- Atlantis (Imagic)
- Cosmic Ark (Imagic)
- Demon Attack (Imagic)
- Dragonfire (Imagic)
- Firefighter (Imagic)
- Moonsweeper (Imagic)
- Riddle Of The Sphinx (Imagic)
- Star Voyager (Imagic)
- Armour Ambush (M-Network)
- Astroblast (M-Network)
- Frogs And Flies (M-Network)
- Lock N’Chase (M-Network)
- Super Challenge Baseball (M-Network)
- Frogger (Parker Brothers)
- Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (Parker Brothers)
- Reactor (Parker Brothers)
- Gangster Alley (Spectravision)
- Planet Patrol (Spectravision)
- Communist Mutants From Space (Starpath Supercharger)
- Dragon Stomper (Starpath Supercharger)
- Escape From The Mindmaster (Starpath Supercharger)
- Fireball (Starpath Supercharger)
- Frogger (Starpath Supercharger)
- Killer Satellites (Starpath Supercharger)
- Phaser Patrol (Starpath Supercharger)
- Suicide Mission (Starpath Supercharger)
- Fast Food (Telesys)
- Jawbreaker (Tigervision)
- Marauder (Tigervision)
- Polaris (Tigervision)
- Space Jockey (US Games)
The good news (at least for me, not sure about you-all) is that I don’t have to start from scratch. I have a couple boxes filled with old Atari stuff in my garage. Some of it dates back to 1983, some of if from when my brother and I received an Atari 7800 in for Xmas 1986, still more from when I bought a surplus Atari 7800 with a bunch of games in 1995, plus a few carts I have sporadically picked-up at 2nd hand shops in the ensuing 20+ years. The next step of my quest is to unearth what I already have, and see how far I still need to go.
So now it begins: Fultonbot’s 1983 Atari VCS Quest.
Posted on February 20, 2017
The the Wild #1 – Retro 2600 Finds 2/20/17
This is a new feature we will be doing here on 8bitrocket.com, In The Wild, where we describe retro gaming finds in the wild (at a store, flea market, etc), as opposed to an e-bay purchase. We might discuss those too sometime, but for now, at least this entry, is dedicated to some 2600 games I found at a local game shop. This is a shop with card board boxes filled with common Atari carts, and some gems found in the mix.
The photos of the carts are taken on my wood floor. The photos of the games come directly from my 7800 and the colors look off because that’s what I have to deal with. Look, this stuff is 40 years old in some cases. Yes I need to HDMI upgrade. Yes I need to position the camera better, yes, on a black background you can see the rest of the room reflected. At least I didn’t steal them from Google images. I had to re-do the Gangster Alley cart photo (light reflecting on the silver), but all the rest were pulled from the image above
The information about each game comes directly from personal playing, and examining the cart. No resource like Atari Age or Atari Mania was used. You get exactly what I get. I do look these things up later for reference. For example, the Non-double-ended Artillery Duel cost me about $4.00, but goes for at least 4x that on E-bay). I’m not in this for the rarity or $$, just the fun and preservation. No sales, please don’t ask.
I played all of the games one time (well Amidar like 15 times), with the difficulty on the A setting using my Atari 7800. Most of the carts worked perfectly, but a couple needed some cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip (Parker Brothers games usually need this).
GI Joe Cobra Strike (silver label. Parker Brothers 1983)- An odd shooter that uses the Paddle controller. Difficult to describe. You have two guns (one on each end of the screen) that cannot be fired unless your break out style paddle is underneath them. You move the paddle (really fast) between the guns and attempt to catch projectiles from a giant (well animated) cobra above. You are doing this to protect a few vulnerable soldiers in a trench below you from the cobra’s projectiles. When you move paddle to one of the guns, you can press the fire button for it to shoot straight up at the Cobra. First impression 5/10
Berzerk (Green text, picture label, Atari, 1982)- The classic, one of the best 2600 Arcade adaptions. Run through the maze-like rooms, kill to robots, watch out for Evil Otto. First Impression 9/10
Artillery Duel (single ended, Xonox, 1983) – This is a 2600 version of the classic computer game. It requires 2 people. Not bad. Graphics and sounds are pretty good. Aiming is a pain in the ass using difficult to control dials at the top of the screen. First impression 5/10
Gangster Alley (silver label, no picture, Spectravision, no date on cart) – This is a game that should use a light gun but does not. You shoot bad guys in windows of a building. it’s not easy to figure out who is bad and who is good (but a screen before the game starts does tell you, it just that all the blobs…err gangsters and civilians look kind of the same), but the obvious bad guy is on top of the building. You just keep shooting at him so he won’t drop a bomb that ends your game. There is no way to destroy him or the bomb. First Impression 6/10
Demons To Diamonds (Orange text picture label, Atari, 1982) – Weird kids game that I will need to read the manual to figure out. Also uses the paddle controllers. Not much fun. First Impression 3/10
Circus Atari (purple text picture cart, Atari, 1978) – The classic. My paddles seem jittery in the 7800 for this game. Going to the left they jitter, to the right, they work fine. Might be the 7800 because I tried two sets of paddles and Breakout., and they all had the problem. These are the first paddle games I have tried on this 7800. I might need a 2600 to go along with it. First impression 6/10 (if paddles worked correctly)
Amidar (Silver label, color picture, Parker Brothers, 1982) – The best game of the bunch. A cross between Qix and Pacman. Move your “hero” around the pre-defined path and close the boxes on the entire screen. I had a game like this for the Atari 800 called Kid Grid. I actually want to play this 2600 cart instead of writing this piece. That’s how much fun it is, if it does look a little primitive. First Impression 8/10
Squeeze Box (White Text on Blue with a color picture label, USgames, 1982) – Take all the best things about the color block shooting game in the Tron arcade machine, eliminate them and you have this weird piece of crap. You are a giant dude, stuck in the middle of colored boxes that are moving in from the sides of the screen. My games ended very quickly. First impression 3/10
I actually have about 13 more games that I picked up a couple days earlier. I will do those in the next post.