I’ve mentioned the role Atari played in my childhood a couple times before –
– so I love this timeline that Atari created, and which we’ve shared at GeekDad, in honor of the company’s 40th birthday today. (Below is just a peek – click through to see the whole thing, and enjoy some flashback cake.)
I had this game for the first computer I purchased as an adult – an IBM PS/2 with a 486 processor – and while I rarely played full games, there was much fun to be had just setting up and watching all the animated battles, like R2-D2 taking on a Scout Walker, or C-3PO knocking off the Emperor. The game was released during the Dark Times, shortly after my move to Florida, so, as with other bits of Star Wars‘ re-emergence into pop culture in the early 1990s, my memories of playing it are tied to strong emotions and a particular sense of time and place.
The pencil drawings I purchased illustrate Boba Fett’s death at the hands of Yoda, as seen at the 4:24 mark of this compilation clip.
At the time, I didn’t have the means to compile these into a video, but I was looking at these drawings today and realized that’s a much easier process than it was five years ago, so, here you go: (Looks best at 720p.)
Each element of the battle was animated separately – so Yoda and the laser blasts and even the crater at the end are not seen on these pages.
Each drawing is on a 10.5 x 12.5 sheet of paper, which is slightly larger than my scanner will handle, so to keep things aligned, the leftmost few inches of each page fell outside the scanned area. In most cases, this was blank, although there are a few pages with reference numbers that aren’t visible here, and there may be one drawing toward the end where a few bits of the explosion go out of frame.
I also created a version which holds each frame for a second to allow for a little closer look:
The sheet which begins the video came with the set and – for the viewers who noticed that there are drawings numbered 1, 1a, and 1b – clarifies that there are actually 42 all together.
Friday night, my younger brother came over and hung out for a bit. Then I dove into my first play of Dead Space: Extraction.
After lunch Saturday, Jenn, Kelsey, Kels’ friend A. and I all headed north for a long-planned get-together. Things kicked off with a ten person, nearly four -hour marathon Rock Band 3 session with excellent friends who accommodated a last minute upheaval in plans and did not throw sharp objects at my neck when I requested lead vocals on “Through the Fire and Flames.” Also, there were chips and salsa and Skittles. Lots of them.
With same friends, TACO NIGHT IN AMERICA, followed by several hours of general goodtiminess, including introducing my daughter and her friend to Better Off Dead. From 1:45-5 a.m., a four-man game of Castle Ravenloft in which a timely roll of 20 brought our party from the brink of doom – seriously: the Rogue who rolled it had just used a healing surge to go from “Mostly Dead” to “Leveling Up and Unleashing Hell in Dagger Form” at the toss of a die – to a zombie/skeleton/gargoyle/kobold sorcerer-crushing victory.
And have I mentioned that it’s sunny and close to 80 degrees here in Ohio today?
I’m in Raton, New Mexico, and it’s a gorgeous, breezy evening, and though it may rain sometime in the next hour or two, it’s supposed to clear up overnight, so I’m hopeful for a night in the tent. I also have the shortest drive of the trip scheduled tomorrow – just over 4 hours – so even if the tent gets wet, I can sleep in a bit and stick around and let it dry out.
Today’s journey began with about 40 miles of Arizona Route 89 , and the northern half of it was as incredibly beautiful as the southern half (between yesterday and today I pretty much drove the whole thing except for the part through Prescott itself), though without the 25 mile-per-hour mountain switchbacks into Yarnell that were fun to drive but made it all but impossible to really enjoy the views.
Then I did Flagstaff to Albuquerque on I-40, which I did on the way west, and I think having just traveled it made this stretch seem to go on forever. Easily the longest, toughest part of the drive.
I tried to break it up with a quick spur-of-the-moment detour to Meteor Crater, but the $15 admission price tag meant all you’re going to see from me is this view from its parking lot:
For all I know, Meteor Crater is a truly stunning experience and totally worth that fifteen bucks, but to get my money’s worth out of the climb to the rim and the museum and exhibits and bells and whistles would have taken more time than I wanted to spend on a day when I was already looking at almost 11 hours on the road.
I also considered breaking up the monotony by stopping to stand on a corner in Winslow, but then I found out on the radio that it’s already been a cheesy tourist thing for awhile. No kidding. According to the radio ads, you can even get your photo with the girl in the flatbed Ford.
I did see the Fight Obesity Ride guy heading east on I-40, and eventually I crossed into New Mexico and had to give back one of those hours I picked up on the way to California.
Fortunately, reaching Albuquerque meant traveling a new road – I-25 (so, yes, I turned left!) northbound, and I was surprised at how the landscape changed again. More green entered the picture, dotting and then covering the hills, although the mountains kept their distinctive western shapes.
At one point, I was treated to a storm off to the west of the highway, on a broad flat plain between me and a distant mountain range. What made it cool was seeing lightning strikes that were actually in front of those hills. Most times, back home the horizon is much closer, so even close-range lightning strikes are behind just about everything you can see. Seeing the bolts link the ground and the clouds in the middle distance rather than in the background was awfully neat.
I was listening to a Retroist podcast about The Dark Crystal during this stretch, and the wide grasslands that opened up to the east , coupled with the hills that still ran alongside to the west, somehow fit the moment.
I got into Raton about 5:30 p.m. during a light rain and bought myself a K-Bob’s steak sandwich for supper, since it had been a really long day of driving and I could feel a hunger headache coming on.
Now I’m going to post this and reward myself with some arcade time – the game room here actually has a working Side Arms – Hyper Dyne, which Aaron and my brothers and I used to LOVE playing at Aladdin’s Castle in the mall (sadly, the Pole Position game has sound but no picture) – and maybe even some ice cream after that. Here’s the view from my campsite:
My brother Nick showed up yesterday to watch The Greatest American Hero (courtesy of our new Netflix Wii disc!) and as if that weren’t flashback enough, he brought this over, too:
Now, that’s not our first Atari, obviously, but it is the cheap second-generation 2600 that Mom and Dad got after we apparently played the first one to death. And let’s see … >countcountcount< I’m positive that 15 of these cartridges are from our family’s original collection. (Others, I’m guessing, are games that belonged to friends which were loaned or traded and just never made it back to their homes.)
I have no explanation for the duplication of E.T. cartridges, although as far as the two RealSports Football games go, I have a hunch one of them might actually contain Combat, because at some point, I got adventurous and thought I’d see if I could switch the boards between cartridges, just for fun. (Because come on, how fun is it to imagine your friend’s face when he goes home and pops that borrowed game into his Atari only to see Combat show up? That’s classic, right?)
Sadly either the console or the power supply is shot, because I couldn’t get the system to fire up, but in my brain, it was like dynamiting an avalanche.
As with things like Star Wars figures and trading cards, there’s a fantastic tactile memory embedded in holding these cartridges and feeling their particular weight and texture. And the label art and the fonts and even the different casing structures that different game companies like Activision and Imagic and Coleco used once they entered the market – all these little things just trigger recollections and sensations, and I can see myself turning to this picture for some throwback writing in the not-too-distant future.
Every so often, whether it was while visiting the Aladdin’s Castle arcade at Belden Village, or the Goodtime Pizza place next to Children’s Palace, or even among the two or three periodically-changed video games inthe youth lobby at the YMCA, I’d see something magical on an unattended screen.
A quick look around – just in case someone had put a quarter in and then taken a few steps away to grab their jacket or a Coke or something – and if nobody seemed to be Next In Line, well, then FREE GAME ON!
And it didn’t matter what the game was: If it was free, I gave it a shot, even if it was something I never played or that I sucked at. A free game was a quarter saved, and a few extra minutes of video gaming I couldn’t have bought for myself.
It was its own particular sort of thrill – different, somehow, from finding a quarter or a token, which gave you a free game of your choice, sure, but you still had to turn around and spend that coin.
Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve been reminded of that eye-widening moment of fun: Free game!
The first was at PAX East, in the American Classic Arcade Museum‘s room. I took a quick look into the place on day one, but didn’t get to go back and play until Saturday afternoon when Paul & Wendy and I went up there to spend some time. When we asked one of the staffers just inside the door “Quarters or tokens?” he grinned.
“None. They’re all on free play.”
I froze and looked around. Dragon’s Lair jumped out at me. Ms. Pac Man. Holy crud – a Flash pinball machine. We beelined for the first machine we saw open: a sit-down Buck Rogers: Planet of Doom.
I jumped in, and my blocky little fighter was screaming through space, and then over a dizzyingly-green-striped featureless landscape, where I had to swing back and forth between pylons that looked straight out of a 1950s sci-fi B picture. I don’t remember the game sucking this bad, I thought, but who freaking cares – FREE GAME!!
We hit Atari’s Food Fight next, and then Paul and I teamed up for a go at Joust 2. (Joust was a game I was never really good at but loved like hell to play.) We’re in there mashing buttons, swearing good-naturedly half under our breath – incidentally, my quip of choice when I’ve knocked off a video game enemy, flying bird or otherwise, comes from Die Hard: “Eat it, Harvey!” I find it underappreciated. – there’s eighties music playing, the room is bathed in that dim red-orange glow and the swirled reflected light of the screens.
Wendy took this shot of us playing, and while I could have adjusted the color levels and brightness, this really kind of captures a feel I like, of remembering hours spent in this kind of place, watching over someone’s shoulder, waiting my turn to play.
Then, last weekend, we went down to my mom’s house for an Easter dinner.
A couple years back, my mom inherited a house and a couple actual arcade games therein. The Baby Pac-Man machine has worked since day one, and while we’ve gotten a lot of use out of it, I was always much more hyped about the Black Knight pinball machine.
The first time I remember being really excited about a new pinball machine was when the YMCA in North Canton brought in a Williams’ Flash like the one I just saw at PAX. I remember two things about this game that made it supercool: One, it had all these really bizarre sound effects, not just the bells and buzzers and clatters of a typical pinball machine. (According to the Internet Pinball Machine Database, Flash “was the first game from any manufacturer to have a dynamic background sound during gameplay. It is also the first game from any manufacturer to use Flash Lamps, which provide a temporary burst of flashing light intended primarily for the sake of its visual effect…” So yeah – awesome.)
I also remember that it had a third flipper, way up on the right side of the playing field, which I’d never seen in a pinball game before, and that was cool, too. I remember racing from the locker room after swim lessons hoping to get in a game or two – or even just watch some older kid who was, you know, good – before mom or dad would come pick me up.
And then along came Black Knight. Honestly, I can’t remember where I saw it first – I think it may have been on a family vacation to Florida with my friend Jacob along, but I’m not sure.
This thing was so unlike any pinball game we’d ever seen. It had two levels, with a pair of flippers on each, and tunnels and ramps and these magnets beneath the playing field which I never quite figured out how to use and a thing called “multi-ball” where you could actually have three balls in play at the same time, and did I mention that IT TALKED?!? I mean, it really just blew my whole concept of “pinball machines” out of the water.
And it was gorgeous, all black and red and gold and kind of Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque, and lined up next to other more garish and bright machines, Black Knight just looked like a badass.
Of course, it also cost fifty cents, twice as much as a regular game. And you only got three balls instead of the usual five which I seem to think was the standard at the time. And it seemed really, really hard.
But man was it fun.
Pinball machines got more complex, of course, but I’ve never felt like anything made the quantum leap like this one did, and over the years, no matter where I found an arcade, if this machine was in it, at least two (or three) of my quarters were destined for the Black Knight’s coffers.
So mom’s had this thing in the basement for awhile now,and though I’ve tried to help her with finding a suitable repair technician and all, it’s spent the entire time dormant and silent.
Not anymore. Mom found a guy who did a check, popped in a fuse, and –
THE. BLACK. KNIGHT. WILL. SLAY. YOU. HAHAHAHA!!!
The synthesized speech and the sound effects poured into my ears, struck those chords of memory, and it was on.
Kelsey and my brother and I took turns, re-learned the mechanics of the game, how to get the multi-ball, what targets and lights to watch for, and even how to activate the Magna-Saves which had mystified me as a kid.
It was simply fantastic.
In February 2006, I was staying with my friends Ivan and Alexa while on assignment to cover Toy Fair in New York. The Saturday night before the show’s opening day, while a snowstorm dumped a couple feet on the whole region, Ivan showed me to the spare bedroom and also pointed out a stack of books he figured I might like. They were the first three volumes of Player vs. Player, and reading page after page after page of 1980s pop-culture references and nerd jokes and geek-tuned humor, I was totally hooked.
So it was very cool meeting PvP creator Scott Kurtz at PAX East on Saturday morning, pretty much just a few minutes after getting Wil Wheaton’s autograph. Scott drew a picture of Scratch Fury: Destroyer of Worlds on the title page of the PvP collection I bought from his table, and when I mentioned that my wife and I happen to share a wedding anniversary with Brent Sienna and Jade Fontaine, he actually knuckled up for a fist bump. (Yes, I know May 4 is also the birthday of PvP itself, and that’s why he made it their wedding day. It’s still cool, like having 1138 as a street address would be.)
And right next to him was Bill Amend of FoxTrot, who helped me complete an awfully neat trifecta that morning, signing both a really worn-out book I brought along, and a print of his own Penny Arcade/FoxTrot mashup.
Both of these guys were very generous with their time and I really enjoyed meeting them and getting the chance to tell them in person how much I like their work.
Paul & Wendy and I had spent this whole morning together, and while they were at Paul and Storm‘s table talking about the upcoming concert that night, I saw a T-shirt I wanted, despite having only a little familiarity with the duo’s musical stylings. It just says “cheese” in sign language, semaphor, and French. Nothing else. And I do like me some cheese. And the shirt was on super-sale, so, Bonus.
After a lunch in the food court, Paul & Wendy and I took a stroll through the Expo Hall for awhile, and then decided to hit the Classic Arcade for a couple rounds before I needed to drive back to Rhode Island. Lessons learned: Free-play games are awesome, even when they suck, so I enjoyed the sit-down version of Buck Rogers – Planet of Zoom despite the fact that the game itself was far lamer than I remembered.
We played some Food Fight, and then Paul and I teamed up for a good round of Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest, even if we couldn’t figure out what the hell good transforming into a Pegasus was. (Turns out you’re heavier and can drop quicker for attack purposes. I looked it up for the next time I’m time traveling to the arcade at Twin Pines Mall.) With the ’80s music playing and my fingers mashing the “fly” button and my desperate attempts to avoid enemies and scoop up giant eggs, I could practically hear the whine of a DeLorean revving in the distance, and it seemed as good a way as any to finish up my time at PAX East.
I’ll be spending most of my waking hours today on the road back to Ohio after a flew-by-way-too-fast sixty-some hours here in Providence and Boston.
Day Two of PAX East, though it was a shorter day for me, was another treasure chest of Hyrulean Silver Rupees, but I don’t have time to list all the reasons why right now
It has been an awfully fun visit for many reasons, and while I wish it wasn’t coming to an end, it’s also been so exciting and energizing that I’m glad for the road time ahead which will allow me to organize the memories and ideas and inspirations I spent the weekend cramming into the Mental Backpack until I can get home and figure out what to do with them all.
Safe travels today, everyone, wherever you’re going.
Meeting five of my fellow GeekDad writers, thus setting a new record for largest real-world gathering to date.
Wil Wheaton’s keynote.
Standing room only in the GeekDad “Bringing Up the Next Generation of Geeks” panel. (More on this when the weekend is over, but heartfelt thanks to everybody who came, because YOU MADE IT AWESOME.)
Running into Penny Arcade co-creator Mike Krahulik and getting a “special” snapshot for a friend back home.
Meeting and talking writing with Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf.