Search Results for: atari

For a neglected console, back to school at last

8x4t.jpgA personal note: After lugging them around for many years, I finally found a better home for my Atari VCS, its many controllers, and the sixty-odd game cartridges I had collected for it while I played it throughout the mid-to-late 1980s. Last Friday, I donated the whole lot to the GAMBIT Game Lab in Cambridge. At right is the one last family portrait I snapped on my phone before packing them all away one last time and heading to the subway.

I’d been considering doing something like this for long time, but what finally tipped me over the edge was seeing Toy Story 3. I found myself unable to avoid humanizing my poor Atari system, stashed away in the dark for so long, holding out hope after all these years that someone, anyone would set it up once again play with it.

For years, I could dismiss such thoughts by telling myself that I’d get around to it myself, someday. But it occurred to me only this year that I’ve irrevocably lost this ability. The Atari VCS cannot, by definition, work with flat-screen LCD televisions. Like other early home videogame systems, it displays video by, essentially, hacking the television it’s connected to. Lacking any modern notion of video memory, the VCS uses a variety of tricks that all assume the presence of an electron beam sweeping across the screen, painting pixels row by row. VCS games must carefully time their internal operations to the relentless march of that beam.

I bid farewell to my last such television in 2008, giving it to a friend the same day I bought my Xbox 360 and my first LCD HDTV. I didn’t think at the time about what else I gave up along with it.

I could have responded to this belated realization by trashpicking an old CRT TV, setting it up in the corner of my apartment somewhere, and finally building my own little Atari shrine. But, faced with it, I found myself thinking: why emulate Al’s Toy Barn when I could instead pass it along, where it could do some good?

I’m pleased with its new home, and have great faith that the faux-woodgrained little box and its dozens of boxlets have a bright future ahead of them as an object of study for today’s game students. Most of them wouldn’t even have been born yet when I received the system from my older brother’s friend in a big paper Stop ‘N Shop bag; he had loved it for years before that, but gave it away to a game-loving kid he knew when it was time to move away. Maybe I should have done something like that myself, perhaps when I myself went away to college. But I’m happy I finally did it now. (And I used a canvas Stop ‘N Shop bag, this time around.)

Confidential to Clara: I meant what I said about being willing to take on all comers at Indy 500. I still have my one-button driving-controller chops, even after 20 years. I just know it.

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Meeting my complain-about-consoles quota

I just got my second Xbox RRoD in three months. This is kind of ridiculous. It appears to be the power supply this time, rather than the internals, and the phone rep I just spoke with said he can get a new one to me within two or three weeks. (Since I called, the power supply graduated into a flickering sorta-kinda working state, but I don't expect it to hold out much longer.)

I'd be less sad about this if Microsoft were more like Apple (ha ha) when it comes to repairs. If your under-warrantly MacBook dies, the truck delivering your repaired machine nearly runs the truck picking up the broken one off the road. Microsoft's Seattle attitude is rather more shall-we-say relaxed than that of their high-strung Californian competitors, and you can expect a solid month to pass between the day those red lights start flashing and the day you can once again get down and dirty with whatever your high-def poison is.

A more astute comparison might be how my Atari VCS lasted a good 11 years before it experienced any kind of hardware failure... but that was a rather simpler device. Are modern consoles' hot-running guts just too complicated and failure-prone for users to expect to work for any long stretch of time?

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Quick Links (Spring Cleaning Edition)

Not so much with the posting lately; a new (game-related!) project that I can't talk much about yet has sprouted in my middle of my life like a delicious and fecund springtime mushroom. You see what it's done to my sense of metaphor? You don't want to see my writing right now, anyway.

But for now, it's time to close some tabs!


The Waxy.org fellow got his hands on an ancient hard drive from the offices of Infocom, the long-defunct (but Cambridge-based!) publishers of the most well-known text adventure games in the 1980s. He shares some details from "the best parts", including design notes and swirling, dramatic internal emails regarding a never-released sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


Because this received so many links from more timely game-news blogs (cough), a lot of the Infocom alums mentioned in the story showed up in the attached comment thread to flesh out the details personally, and one of them's apparently been move to pen his own view of the saga for Wired magazine. (See? There is an advantage in waiting a week to link to it. Mm-hmm.)


Lost Cities is out for XBox 360 now (as a US$10 download), and here's a video (using some whackjob MS-proprietary format, sorry) about the team adapting the tabletop party game Wits & Wagers for the platform. Word on the street that the numba-one game on Microsoft's "Live Arcade" downloadable-game service is not any sort of action-fighty game, but Uno, which has put away around 1.5 million copies through it.


So, yes, Microsoft has thrown down and put forward this console as embracing the world of tabletop games that are more obscure to American audiences than Risk. The examples I've gotten to see so far have been fairly decent and faithful adaptations, so I cautiously salute this.


Archaeologists in Iran have indentified some grid-shaped rock carvings on Khark Island as being the play surface of a millenia-old board game. No word on what kind of game it was, though the article seems to imply that it could be some relative of Backgammon. No additional commentary from the original designers this time, sadly. Anyway, an interesting antidote to the last time Iran showed up in this blog.
Andrew at Grand Text Auto describes another interesting never-was game from the 1980s, an Atari VCS game where you had to program an on-screen robot to complete tasks, such as navigating a maze. Yes, it looks like a totally bomb-ass cool version of Secret Collect. I would have loved this. Apparently the original designer is releasing some homemade cartridges with the game software on it; see article for details.
Via Play This Thing, we see that several of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf pick-a-path adventure game books from the 1980s have become free downloads. I played and enjoyed these as a kid, and as Greg notes in that post, they're an important evolutionary step in the development of single-player role-playing experiences, even though nobody(?) is publishing books like them nowadays.

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Episode #1 - Medieval Games

View or download a high-quality version.

For our first full-length episode, we look at three medieval-themed games.

  • Shadows over Camelot, a (mostly!) cooperative board game that pits the (more or less) valiant knights of the Round Table against the forces of Evil. And quite possibly against each other, as well. Published in 2005 by Days of Wonder and widely available, especially in game shops.
  • Rampart, an arcade game from 1990, widely available these days on the console disc Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 1.
  • Peasant's Quest, an amazingly faithful parody/homage of the famous King's Quest adventure games that Sierra published in the 1980s. Published by those crazy guys at Homestar Runner.
  • Black Knight 2000, a classic pinball machine from the late 1980s. Not really a featured game, but it's seen hanging around in a few scenes. I note this mostly because Jason Joy dug up an MP3 rip of its great background music, which you can hear a little of in the show's closing credits.

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