This is the first in a series of articles reminiscing about the early
years of video games. Before Nintendo & Mario, Sega & Sonic, and Body &
whatever that mascot/bandicoot thing is, there was ATARI, Mattel,
Magnavox, Coleco, and a slew of others jockeying for time on your
television screen. Jouney with me back to the glory days of home video
game systems. Step into the...ARCHAIC ARCADE.
We will start with everyone's favorite machine, the Atari Video Computer
System (VCS), affectionately known as "The 2600." Originally released in
1977, this is the Godfather of living room games. Sure there was pong and
its many variations before it, but until this baby came along and unified
the consciousness of the world's youth, there was notehing else like it.
Everyone had one. If you didn't get one for your birthday, by Christmas
there was one under your tree. Two joysticks, a set of paddles, and a
console streaight out of the hit movie of the same year, StarWars--your
"other" toys never saw the outside of the closet again! You could now play
games by yourslef and when you wanted to. No need for friends when you've
got Arari! What other toy offered such unified versatility?
Occasionally, the TV lost its grasp over you; you heard the phone ring
and a REAL PERSON invited you to come over. Time to play with someone
else's collection of cartidges! With close to a hundred games in Atari's
catalog, no one had them all. Independent manufactures began springing up
to add to the abundance of choices on toy store shelves. Activision, with
Dragster, Boxing, and Checkers, and Imagic with Trick Shot and Demon
Attack were two of the first on the scene. competition soon became stiff
as the quality of third party software soon surpassed Atari's own
programs. Things started to get real interesting. More and more
improvements gave us classics like Activion's River Raid, which blew
Atari's Combat off the map, and Activision's Pitfall, whose beautiful
colors and smooth motion made us feel the same way about Atari's
Adventure. Every day another designer found a new trick to take the game
player's experience to another level.
With today's game systems, "secrets" and "cheats" consist of pounding an
array of buttons in a manic sequence in hopes of getting unlimited lives
or a special ability not allowed in standard game play. Not so with
Atari's "Easter Eggs." These were little software surprises either thrown
in by disgruntled programmers who never received credit for their work, or
just little perks for the curious explorer in all of us. One of the most
famous, the hidden phrase "created by Warren Robinett" popped up in
Adventure when you pulled a dot from the black castle and placed it in the
room just above the orange maze. Add two more objects, and you could walk
through the line on the right of the screeen. Onto the screen came
Warren's signature! Pretty harmless, huh? Atari didn't think so, and fired
him. This action was one of the major incidents that caused programmers to
leave Atari and start up Activision, where each author was given credit
for his software.
Other types of glitches utilized the power switch to "fry" a game and
throw it into a flipped-out frenzy. Almost every cartridge would act crazy
using this method. Some of the results were unlimited play, invincibility,
and wild color shifts. There is a complete listing of these quirks at
The Internet has a slew of old video game information. The
aforementioned site has an extreme concentration of data. Greg Chance has
collected data from all areas of the net concerning home video games,
arcade games, collector's lists and catalogs, and my personal favorite:
ROMs!!! That's right! Two downloadable zip files jam-packed with just
about any 2600 game you can remember! He has broken down video game
history by year, so if you really want to get picky about what games came
out when...there's where you need to be. After downloading a batch of
ROMs, you will need an emulator to play them. There is a very cool (check
out that logo!) VCS emulator called "Stella"
(http://www4.ncsu.edu/~bwmott/www/2600/) which looks and plays amazing.
The only thing missing is the sound [ed: sound works now]. They also have
a large ROM collection at this site, in case you have a problem getting
ones on Greg's page to work.
With so much interest in the old games, as with all things nostalgic,
there has emerged a collector's market for the machines and cartridges. My
favoite hunting ground for this stuff is Keith's Computers (813) 935-7879.
He has a great "starter kit" that includes a reconditioned Atari 2600, two
joysticks, a power supply, a TV switch box and one cartridge for only
$20.00! Tell Keith that Marshall sent you when you call. He has a great
selection of games as well. A sweet mail order list is available by
sending a self-addressed envelope to: FMH Games, Box 493, Chesterland, OH
44026. They have full systems and cartridges from almost every major
manufacturer. Very friendly.
So now that you realize how much you miss the old games where you could
sit down next to your kid sister and not have here whip your ass with a
double-half-axle-reverse-kick-freeze move, go dig out that old system!
It's probably up in the attic at your mom's house, but if not, throw a
sawbuck at Keith's, move the Play Station aside and let the games begin!
And, if while digging around you find old cartridges you would like to
part with, drop me a line. I am sure I can help them find a happy home!
Tempa, FL 33682
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