Posts Tagged ‘video games’


The Great Video Game Divide

August 24, 2009

I don’t know much about video games. This became clear when I listened to the latest episode of Nerd Hurdles, which was all about video games. Actually, it’s made clear all the time when I try to play Lego Batman with my kid, who groans and moans when I don’t understand what “hit right, triangle, triangle, square, Dad!” means.

By rights, I should love video games. I’m from the first video game generation. When I was a kid, pinball arcades started bringing in the first wave of coin-operated video games: Night Driver, Pong, Gunfighter … simply, basic games that caught my attention. Later, a friend received an Atari 2600; that was a blast. I had a VIC-20, a cousin had ColecoVision, and I spent a lot of time and a lot of money in arcades during those shiny, glorious early 80s, playing Tron, Vanguard, Gorf, Pac-Man, Pole Position …

But by the mid-80s, I had moved on to other interests, and I missed the so-called collapse of the home console industry, the rise of Nintendo and the spread of home gaming. It wasn’t until I bought my oldest son a Sega Genesis in 1993 that I realized how huge things had gotten. I remember playing NHL 94 on it and marvelling at the “realistic” graphics. Later, someone gave me Wolfenstein 3D for my Mac LC275, and I played it a lot while waiting for Mosaic to load early WWW pages.

Since then, though, I’ve never really played video games. I worked through HalfLife on the PC over the course of a year, and I did buy the Sims, although I lost interest fairly quickly. Now and then I’ll play something with the kids, and I’ll confess I’ve found the original Wolfenstein 3D online, and I’ve been playing that again.

I suspect my age has something to do with it. People under 35 grew up with video games everywhere. They were never new to them. People even younger think that Sega Genesis is “old.” But I was right at that age to take advantage of the early rise, then lose interest when things got shitty in the mid 80s. Remember Dragon’s Lair? All the hype about that? I think that was the end of video games for me.

No, I think the fact that I entered my peak rockin’ years — 16 to 24 — right as the gaming industry was in a slump was the factor. This is why I own more guitars than I do game controllers, and why I suck at Tetris. By the time the industry flared back up again, I was too old to learn new tricks. And while I was long-haired and wild, ignoring computers and gaming, a lot of guys stuck with it. They’re the ones making games now, or working in software development, or inventing BlackBerries. I’ll bet they’re still jealous of me.


The Dawn of Video Games

April 29, 2009

The first video game I ever saw was called Night Driver. It popped up in a pinball parlour in my town when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and it caught my attention right away. This was an actual computer, right? A quarter let me turn a steering wheel as I navigated an all-black screen, with little marker pegs indicating where the road was. It was pretty bad. But also the best thing I’d ever seen.

A couple of years later, the pool hall in the little town we’d moved to brought in a game called Battle Zone or Battle Tanks or something, plus Asteroids. Those machines ate up a lot of my quarters as my friends and I braved the smoky old room to test our skills. A friend had an Atari 2600, and his brother later bought an Intellivision; home video games were even crappier than the ones you put quarters into.

In 1982, we moved to the city, and I discovered Tron, Gorf, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and more. One of my favourites was called Vanguard, a space shooter. See, in those days, we went to arcades to play our games; big stupid rooms filled with loitering morons, run by sleazy old guys … the only other alternative was to head to the department stores and hope the salesdick in the TV department didn’t catch on that you were hogging the demo Ataris.

The games we played back then were pretty basic, but I will argue that they were better than what you people play today. Without the fancy graphics, cut-scenes, etc., it was really just about skill. Frogger, for instance, is more addicting than anything from UbiSoft. Breakout, Tetris, Dig Dug … simple concepts, crude graphics, but fun to play.

If you don’t know these games, you’re in luck. Someone has rounded up the top 95 old-school games, put them online, and here they are. Funny, the ROMs involved in games of that generation would underpower your mobile phone today, but back then they needed a housing the size of a refrigerator.

This site was fun to tour, especially when I got to Xevious; this is a game I played like a madman for most of the ninth grade, but I had forgotten all about it. I just tried it again and exploded several times … par for the course. Maybe this is why I don’t play or even enjoy video games now … I need that simplicity.

I’m going to go play Burger Time now. I’ll get back to you later.