It's my mother's fault I became addicted to video games. She's the one that introduced me to Pac-Man and bought me Atari 2600 cartridges those many years ago. But I suppose she's not totally to blame. There were many other influences as well. Perhaps it was the games themselves. Here is a list of the most likely culprits (other than my mother), in roughly chronological order.
This is the first arcade game I fell in love with. It is also the first one I played that I can still remember the name of. I remember seeing some early black and white, primarily driving, games in a few stores when I was little. I thought they were neat, but nothing captured my attention like Space War. The simple vector ships always reminded me of an Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars and the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek. I only ever saw two of these machines. The one I played the most was in the city where my grandparents lived. Unfortunately, this meant I rarely had an adequate opponent. 8) The other one I saw at a Showbiz (when it and video games were in their heyday) many years later in Indianapolis, Indiana. Although there have been many imitators, I would like to see a completely accurate port of the arcade game.
My first Atari 2600 was actually not an Atari 2600, as you can see. My grandparents bought it for me, although I forget the occasion, if there was one. It came with Target Fun (a.k.a. Air-Sea Battle). I got very good at that game. Over the years, my parents added to my titles: Breakout, Maze Craze, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Venture, Reactor, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ms. Pac-Man. Some I learned to excel at (Maze Craze, Asteroids ver. #9, Reactor), others I did not (Breakout).
I remember getting some of the games. Breakout and Maze Craze were the first two I got, which is witnessed by the fact that they have text-only labels. I think Asteroids was a Christmas present the first or second Christmas after I got the Video Arcade. Pac-Man my mother bought for me very shortly after it was released. Although we were both disappointed with it, I managed to find a pattern on at least one version of the games that let me go far. If only I remembered it.
Donkey Kong, Venture, and Reactor were all games I particularly liked in the arcade. I was somewhat disappointed with them. Donkey Kong for only having two boards, the second having little in common with its arcade counterpart. Venture for only having two levels. I had only seen the third level a few times in the arcade and was looking forward to finding out about it at home. Reactor I was more or less pleased with, although it's just not the same without true trackball motion and stereo speakers blasting heavy metal music at you.
I should mention I come from a family of pack rats. We never throw anything out. This means I still had all of my games and controllers when I started collecting. However, the Tele-Games console eventually died. I still have it, along with the box and such, but I have been unsuccessful in my meager attempts to figure out what's wrong with it.
The Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade had two features I preferred over its Atari 2600 counterparts, both dealing with the difficulty switches. First, they were on the front, like the original 2600. (For what idiotic reason did Atari move them to the back?) Second, they were labeled "novice" and "expert," as anyone who's ever read a 2600 game manual knows. This is much easier to remember than "A" and "B." (My mnemonic device for telling them apart is "B" = "beginner.")
Now this is one of the major culprits in my seduction. Here's where we get back to my mother. (What would Freud say?) She came home one day and told me about this new video game she'd found in a little, out of the way deli. She found it because she frequented the shop next door. I don't remember the first time I saw Pac-Man any more because we made lots of trips to go play. At the time, this was the only place we knew of in Birmingham that had Pac-Man, which was the cocktail table version, by the way. It would be a few months before Pac-Man fever would sweep the nation.
My mother was better at Pac-Man than I. I was generally lucky to get to the first Apple. I'm not sure I ever got past the second Apple, because I didn't bother to learn the patterns. I don't remember how well my mother did, but I'm pretty sure she got to the keys. Part of this was an urge to see what came after the third half-time show. We were both disappointed to find out it never changed after that. Particularly since, at one point we had asked another man who plays at the deli about it. I still remember him saying something about Blinky coming out wearing a cowboy hat. Obviously he didn't know what he was talking about.
My mother stuck with the Pac-Man line, at least as far as Ms. Pac-Man, anyway. It was rather impressive to watch her play. I never much cared for Ms. Pac-Man. Probably because my mother could show me up on it. 8) I can do fairly well now, as long as it's a machine where Ms. Pac-Man has been sped up and the monsters haven't at least.
The only other specific memory of Pac-Man is when we had a yard sale. After it was over, I took at least a $10 roll of quarters and went and spent them all on that Pac-Man machine. As I recall, the owner of the deli had a simple arrangement with the owner of the game. When they emptied the coin box and split the quarters evenly. If there was an odd number, they just threw it back in until the next time.
Pac-Man really got me started video games, but Donkey Kong is what hooked me. I don't know why, but something about this game really appealed to me. And it still does. Perhaps it appealed to my adolescent fantasies involving beautiful women. Most likely it was the cuteness factor. If you examine this list, you'll notice most of the games fall into the "cute" category. Although I love science fiction, games like Defender and Robotron never really appealed to me.
Donkey Kong was the first game for which I learned the pattern. I got quite good at it, too. The only real obstacle I faced was the upper level elevator screens. Once I got to level four or five, I had problems getting past the jumping jacks to the ladder and up to the girl.
I also enjoyed the sequels to Donkey Kong: Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, and Mario Bros. I got pretty good at Donkey Kong Jr.; probably close to the same level of proficiency as Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong 3 wasn't widespread enough for me to get very good at, I'm afraid. I also did okay at Mario Bros. I've never particularly gotten into the Super Mario Bros. and beyond games. I have finished the original Super Mario Bros. and I've played some of the others a little, but that's the extent of my forays. I will admit that Donkey Kong for the Gameboy and Donkey Kong Country for the Super NES, although having little to do with the real Donkey Kong, are rather fun. I don't know how much I'll continue to play them now that I've finished both of them, though.
Joust is another game that got more than its share of my quarters. My mother thought whoever created it must have been insane or something. What kind of person puts a "flap" button on a game? Although I don't think she cared for it much, I loved it. I remember a friend and I playing together often. We almost never went for the Gladiator bonus because we wanted to see how far we could get.
My best performance at Joust, though, was solo. I remember after a football game, most likely in Middle School, a group of us adjourned to a local pizza place. They had a Joust machine, so of course I had to play. I don't remember what level I got to, but it was one of the best games I've ever played. And I had an audience, including a rather attractive girl from my grade. I don't know if she was impressed or not, but I know some of them were. Of course today I doubt anyone remembers but me.
Needless to say I'm thrilled with the Williams Arcade Classics package. No more pumping in quarters, plus I can set the difficulty level. I only have two wishes. One is for them to do Joust 2. The other is that they'd included both versions of Joust, that is, with and without the pterodactyl bug. I didn't learn about this bug until recently, long after I saw my last Joust coin-op.
One of the last games I did very well at. I pumped a lot of quarters into it learning the moves. I also spent a lot of time trying to watch others play. It also inspired me to buy my only issue of Joystick magazine, which I still have. It featured hints on Dragon's Lair.
I remember there was one room, I think it was the tentacles, that continuously gave me fits. I just couldn't get the last move down. Once I finally did, I had to learn all the moves in the Dragon's Lair itself. I finally got to the point where I could make it through the entire game on one life. Then I'd disgust people by going for the highest score I could by not performing the one final move until I got down until my last life. Several people walked away without seeing me finish.
After I was at this point, I remember coming over to Huntsville from my grandparents'. (This was before I had any idea I'd be living there one day.) The arcade had Dragon's Lair, so I thought I'd show off for a new crowd. Unfortunately, they had the difficulty cranked up to maximum. You didn't know what screen you were entering until it was time to make the first move. I lost my lives fairly quickly and left in disgust.
A few years after my Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade had broken, I saw an Zayre ad with 2600 Jr.'s on sale. I convinced my parents to buy me a new one, since it was fairly cheap. I believe once we got there, we had to take a rain check. I did finally get it. This is the 2600 I still use to this day. In fact, it may not have been until I got the Jr. that we got Ms. Pac-Man. I don't remember any more. Just a few years later, I started buying up cheap games at the toy stores.
This game almost renewed my passion for arcade games. I discovered it one summer when I was home from college. I started going to play it at least once a week, often more. I'd like to say I got quite good at it, but it may have just been because I'd continue my game to the end.
Unfortunately, as I understand it, because the T-shirt contest was over by the time I discovered this game, you couldn't finish any more. I remember that it seemed only I and one other guy would have their names in the high scores. One night, after watching a guy play, I saw that he was the one. I introduced myself. We talked some that night about video games. I believe we met each other at the arcade a few more times. After that, I never saw him again. If you happen to be him (whose name I've even forgotten, but it may have been David Melton), please drop me a line. Just tell me the name of the arcade and the mall it was in.
This newsgroup is the whole reason I'm writing this. I discovered it around my sophmore year of college when I discovered Usenet. Actually, at the time it was alt.g.v.c. I don't guess I became a regular reader until my senior year. Somewhere in there, although I may have missed it, it became rec.g.v.c. Now I try to read it regularly, although my service provider has a slow link and I often get behind over weekends. If it weren't for this group and discovering there were others interested in old video games, none of my Web pages would exist.
So, I guess in the end, it's not entirely my mother's fault. It's the game manufacturer's, game creator's, and your fault. If you've read this far, you obviously have an interest in the classics. It was because of people like you that r.g.v.c was created. It was for people like you that I created my Web page. And it was people like you that unknowingly encouraged me to get into this hobby. Thanks to you all, especially Mom.
I could probably go on forever listing games I've played and enjoyed, but I'm probably lucky if you're still reading at this point. If you are, thank you for indulging in my reminisce. Please indulge a few more, and then I'll have a brief anti-reminisce.
I must not forget the establishments that housed these wonders. Each arcade seemed to get a few games that the others didn't. I don't know why, but that's the way it worked. I'll list some of the ones that have stuck in my mind as being at each one. I will probably enlarge this list later, whenever I find my old arcade token collection.
"On the curve" in Homewood
The only arcade within biking distance of my home. I was in heaven when it opened. I don't want to think about how many quarters I pumped into the games, especially Donkey Kong. Others I remember were Megattack, Kick, Armor Attack, Centipede, Krazy Kong (Donkey Kong pirate), Streaker and Condor. Condor was really Phoenix, just with a different marquee. I seem to recall the owner saying it was from South America or something. This arcade had these great murals featuring the cabinet art from various games. The only one I know was included Tempest, which I believe was at the left end. A Revolutionary patriot was at the other. It's design and the name was taken from the school mascots for Homewood Middle and High Schools. I knew it was in trouble when they started giving out eight tokens for one dollar.
This was another arcade near my home, but not within bicycle range. Being in a mall, it stayed open for years, surviving the crash. The ice cream parlor/restaurant next door was not so lucky (they also had a few video games up front). It had actually opened before the video game craze was really big. I remember playing a cockpit Star Fire here. They went through all kinds of games over the years, but for some reason, they didn't get all the good games. I could probably go through most of my favorites and Honorable Mentions here, but the ones I remember playing best were Astro Blaster, Star Trek, Wild Western, Tempest, Dragon's Lair, Trivial Pursuit, Discs of Tron, Liberator, Mappy, Pac-Land, Gravitar, and S.T.U.N. Runner. This Aladdin's Castle closed sometime while I was away at college. Another arcade opened in its place. I'm not sure what is there now.
A little farther away than the other two. This was actually the arcade in a movie cineplex. Some games here were Arabian, Star Wars, Joust, Pac-Man Plus, Super Pac-Man, and Bubbles. (Yes, I've actually seen Bubbles outside of Williams Arcade Classics.)
Even though it was farther away than the three above, this was another arcade I frequented. They went through lots of games over the years, too. I remember them having Atari Football (with X's and O's), Astro Blaster, Crazy Climber, Mousetrap, Donkey Kong Jr., Wacko, and Space Invaders Part II.
Another far away arcade, but in the other direction. Did I mention doing the report card circuit of most of these arcades when report cards came out? I remember having to turn it in before making to Diamond Jim's once and taking in a photocopy of my card. Unfortunately, they wouldn't accept it since I could bring in any number of them. Games I remember here are Reactor, Seicross, Discs of Tron (environmental cabinet), Marble Madness, Return of the Jedi, Space Zap, and Anteater. Although the mall's been completely remodeled, Diamond Jim's is still there, albeit in a different spot. It's the last place I remember seeing Toobin'.
Those are the arcades I frequented the most, but here are a few others I went to:
Aladdin's Castle in Century Plaza had Gauntlet, The Pit, and Frenzy. I think it's still there, but in a different spot.
I only went to the Rainbow Arcade in Mountain Brook (Crestline) a very few times, but I think it's the only place I ever saw a coin-op Breakout. It's also the only (strictly) arcade I knew that served fast food. (Putt-Putt in Hoover did, too, but they were in to a bit of everything.) I don't think it lasted very long.
I went to Pirate's something up in Decatur (where my grandparents lived), outside the Twin Theatres some. They had Pleiades.
The Showbiz Pizza in Indianapolis was the first one I ever saw. (Interestingly, as we were leaving Birmingham for the trip, we saw a truck carrying the sign for another one.) I got to reacquaint myself with Space War there.
A second Diamond Jim's opened with the Galleria in Hoover (Riverchase), but by then I was in high school and getting out of video games. It was also just after the arcade market crashed. I don't have the fond memories of it I did of the others, but I remember seeing a Choplifter there. They also used tokens with two grooves cut in to one side. The coin slots had little spikes so you had to put the tokens in a certain way. And of course, other coins wouldn't fit.
There are some games that seem to be legendary in rec.games.video.classic and rec.games.video.arcade.collecting that I've never seen or, believe it or not, don't remember any more. I was such a video game fanatic, though, that I wrote a BASIC program for my family's Apple //e that was nothing more than a list of all the video games I'd seen. This is my only way I have of knowing that I saw some of these games.
Thanks to those from whom I stole images.