Lee's Personal Video Games History

It's My Mother's Fault

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.

Space War

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.

Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade

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.

Donkey Kong

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.

Dragon's Lair

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.

Atari 2600 Jr.

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.

S.T.U.N. Runner

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.

Honorable Mentions

Star Fire
I probably only still remember this game for two reasons. One, it was obviously a Star Wars rip-off, right down to the title lettering. Second, it was featured in a movie I like called Midnight Madness, which stars, amongst others, a young Michael (No "J.") Fox.
I have to mention this game for one reason. It was in the comic book shop I frequented when I first started collecting comics. One day, I took all the quarters out of my bank and went down with a friend to beat the game. I wasn't aware until later that those had been silver quarters. They were old ones my parents had intended on keeping for me because they contained no copper like modern quarters. Oops, sorry, Mom.
Astro Blaster
I don't remember a whole lot about it any more, but I liked it. The speech was fun, in particular.
Don't be surprised if you don't recognize the name. As far as I know, it was only produced locally in the Birmingham, Alabama area by the owners of the Patriot Arcade, formerly "on the curve" in Homewood. It was yet another attempt to break in on the Pac-Man/maze game craze. You controlled a supposedly naked women (the graphics weren't very detailed on her) running around a maze, avoiding four police officers. Occasionally a piece of clothing would appear under the box the police came from (shades of Pac-Man's fruit). Running over it would give you points, plus you'd put them on. I seem to recall bra and panties. I'm pretty sure there was a shirt and pants after that. I no longer remember what the energizers (or equivalent) did. The game came as both a cocktail table and upright. I think they both featured plain red sides. I don't remember the marquee.
One of the first and greatest puzzle games, as far as I'm concerned. I still enjoy playing it, but it's really too bad the home versions don't have a thwacker in them.
I particularly liked the music and zoom-in effect on this game. Did you ever wonder if Winky and Evil Otto (from Berzerk) were related? 8)
Haunted House pinball
Okay, so it's not a video game. I've never really been in to pinball games, either. But this one, besides having three separate levels, is cool because it plays Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which has become synonymous with Phantom of the Opera. Another instance of my mother influencing me.
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
I like Star Trek, so this one is a natural. For this one, I didn't even mind all those buttons like I did in Defender. I have to say that the 2600 version is also quite good.
Crazy Climber
I think everyone liked this game, so add me to the list.
Blue Print
I think I've only ever seen one of these, which was in a convenience store. You just can't match that surge of adrenaline you get when you come out of a house with a bomb instead of a machine part with anything else.
Hamburgers have always been one of my favorite foods. I remember doodling new characters in my notebooks in middle school to go along with the hot dog and egg. There was Mr. Mayonnaise, Mr. Ketchup, Mr. Mustard, Mr. French Fry . . . .
Domino Man
Another game I think I only saw in a convenience store (although a different one). Whoever created this one must be an interesting person, as well. Love those Joplin rags, too.
I never cared for Missile Command, to which this game was basically a sequel. The reason I liked this one so much was that it featured the name Atari Force on the marquee and side art. I remember reading about the game in the letter column of the comic, but didn't see it for a while after that. I'm probably lucky I saw it at all as this game was never very popular.
This game, like many of its time, was unique. I've finally found the new, multi-game version locally. My failing memory had previously made me think Mappy had wallpaper in the background, but that was Flicky. Regardless, this is still a great game.
I don't remember this game as well as I want to, but I particularly liked the detail in the background (especially the wallpaper). Yet it didn't detract or make the game any harder to play.
Discs of Tron
What can I say except . . . "wonderful"? The graphics and variety of levels were superb. And the stand-in version was a excellent.
This game really caught my attention when I pressed a button in attract mode and it started blaring hard rock music . . . in stereo! It turned out it was fun to play, too. And I wasn't half bad at it. I'm still not quite sure why they had the energy button (or whatever it was called). I don't know anyone who didn't just hold it down all the time.
Space Ace
Another laser disc game from Don Bluth. I did my best to learn this one, too, but I never quite got it. I got down to the final fight, but couldn't quite make it through. I guess I need to try the PC CD-ROM version.
Okay, so it's not cute and it's not a classic. This is one of the few post-Crash games I've enjoyed. It was certainly innovative. I was never good enough or willing to put enough quarters in to get to the end, though.
I was almost too late in finding this one. I had seen it in the arcade for some time, but didn't play it until shortly before they removed it. Sure, it's a Pac-Man rip-off, but I love the "playmation" graphics. I went so far as to buy the PC version. Unfortunately it keeps locking up after I play for so long. Does anyone else have this problem? Also, it's so close to the arcade version that I find the missing elements really irritating in their absence.
Dragon's Lair II
Another Don Bluth laser disc game. Did it come out late or was my local arcade just incredibly slow getting it? I never did manage to finish it. I couldn't get past Eden. When I got the PC version, I was finally able to finish, but I don't think I would have then if it hadn't had a save and load feature.
Prop Cycle
I don't know what it was about this game that appealed to me. Probably just it's weirdness. I first saw it in a bowling alley. I went back one day just to play it and not to bowl. Then the arcade in the mall got it, but it seemed to be broken most of the time. I never did finish the entire game. *Sigh.*
San Francisco RUSH Extreme Racing
This was the game that got my money in 1998. I don't know exactly why I like it, but I do. Actually, I was only addicted to it for a few months. I seemed to reach a plateau in my ability and mostly stopped playing. I'd say I had the most fun going to play in on my lunch hour with a co-worker.
Crazy Taxi
Now this is an original game. Get your passengers to their destination as fast as possible in your indestructible taxi. And great graphics to boot. Surely this is destined to be a classic.

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.

Honorable Arcades

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.

Patriot Arcade

"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.

Aladdin's Castle

Brookwood Village

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.

Cobb Green Springs


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.)

Putt-Putt Golf and Games


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.

Diamond Jim's

Eastwood Mall

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.

Honorable Unremembered

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.

Bubble Bobble
I haven't checked my list for this one, but I don't recall it. It seem to be a favorite on r.g.v.arcade.collecting.
Joust 2
Despite the fact I loved the original, I never saw the sequel. I guess this is what happens when you don't live in a one of the nation's biggest cities. Or perhaps it's just a testament to its rarity.
Major Havoc
Another favorite on r.g.v.arcade.collecting. Although I saw plenty of Tempest games when I was young, no arcade near me converted one to this. I finally met a local coin-op collector who has one "recently."
Mr. Do! series
According to my list, I've seen both Mr. Do! and Mr. Do!'s Castle. I remember neither and apparently saw none of the others in the series. (Update: When I first played the game via MAME, I did remember the sound of collecting cherries, but that's it.)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Being a fan of Star Wars, I'm rather upset that I never got to see this conversion for the original Star Wars game. In fact, I never heard of it until I discovered the newsgroups.
It's on my list, but I don't really remember it. Even after playing it via MAME, it only seems vaguely familiar.


Thanks to those from whom I stole images.

Return to Lee's classic video game info.
Created: 23 Feb 1996; Last Modified: 19 Dec 1999