"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

...Raster Screen.

Yeah, I've got a Nintendo Wii. Thought it would be cool to have and, for the most part, it is. But, I am not a hardcore gamer by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the games you see these days seem to require either an advanced degree in physics or a serious meth addiction to just get past the opening animation, much less play the damn things.

No, I am a child of a different age. The age of 'The Square vs. The Circle.'

State-of-the art tech back in 1975 when a pocket calculator weighed 80lbs. and was the size of a Buick Skylark.
One Christmas, back in the mid-70's, we got the Coleco Telstar home video game system. It was a pretty big deal back then. It played four or five different games...all of them Pong. It was a really great gift. Unless you were an only child and your parents had no time to sit with a hyper ADD child who moved the paddles with the accuracy and speed of a rabid mongoose.

Suck it, Atari! The Intellivision kicked you right in the joystick.
Most kids my age upgraded to the Atari 2600 by the end of the decade.  Somehow, I missed that train. Everyone I knew had an Atari, but it just seemed kinda lame to me.  The games sucked and when they tried to emulate an arcade game, the results were really underwhelming.  Now, when the Mattel Intellivision came out in 1979, I was pretty impressed.  The games looked great and I knew this was the game system for me.  So, I contacted my lobbyist inside Santa's Workshop and made a generous donation to the Elven Labor Union Local 119.  Lo and Behold, sitting under my tree that year was a brand new Intellivision.  It was awesome.  It came with a great Blackjack card game and I figured once I mastered that, look out Vegas!*

Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Fun Not Included!
Having an Intellivision was cool, especially when most of my peers were stuck with their silly Atari units and crappy versions of Pac-Man and Defender.  Alas, it was still a pyrrhic victory, since no one ever came to my house to play games because I smelled bad, was short and bad at sports.**

Still, my thirst for a true arcade experience at home was not yet satiated.  Even the superior ColecoVision which came a few years later could not compare to the thrill of spending countless summer hours at the many arcades on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ. Ah, the constant blaring of disco music perfectly synchronized with seizure-inducing strobe lights!  I must've pumped more quarters into that damn Dragon's Lair game to keep the economy of most third-world nations afloat.

Cry, Havoc!
My true obsession during the 80's arcade boom was an obscure game from Atari called Major Havoc.  I spent many an hour wasting my youth, health and eyesight on that goddam machine.  It was a vector graphics-based game where you control an astronaut through multiple mazes inside a space station, and setting off a reactor to destroy the robot-guarded facility.  Hardest. Game. Ever.  It made Tempest look like frickin' Frogger.

Major Havoc was my first real love/hate relationship.  I needed to play it. I couldn't stop. I got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome before they even had a name for it.  It took me a long time to get over that addiction.  Oh, sure there were other games... Bump'n'Jump, Venture, Mr. Do, BurgerTime, Tapper.  None could drive me as batshit insane as the Major.  However, as with all things, one day the machine was gone from the arcade and eventually, I got better.  The Great Video Game Crash of '83 came and with it, my obsession.  It would be another decade before I would own a home video game system.

As for the arcades themselves?  Well, the games got more complicated and the kids got more militant about playing them.  I found new and more interesting things to obsess over; Girls, comics, girls, movies, girls, music, girls, sci-fi, girls, the Internet...you get the idea.

You never forget that first love, however.  On August 10, I went to the American Classic Arcade Museum.  I felt a wave of nostalgia pass over me like a cool breeze.  For a little while, I was back on the boardwalk, not a care in the world except where my next roll of quarters was coming from.  As I looked around the old machines, a familiar sight caught my eye.  There it was...an original Major Havoc game, still in working order.  I got some tokens and took a little trip back to the 80's.  

F***ing game still pisses me off..


*Of course, I moved to Las Vegas a decade later and never once sat down at a Blackjack table.  Go figure.

**This information came from an article in my grade school newsletter, ironically titled Tommy Feeney Smells Bad, is Short and is Bad at Sports.

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