So here’s the deal. I need something to write about. Teresa is convinced that I’ve got a book in me somewhere (Alice and the Mendoza Line will happen eventually) (I realize that Alice and the Mendoza Line is a horrible title) (maybe it isn’t?).
Every single piece of advice I’ve ever seen regarding writing is that the easiest thing to do is just start writing.
The only things I know to write about are my life (which won’t happen) movies (which gets written about all the time) and nerd stuff. And the nerdiest thing I can think of to write about are video games (I don’t know enough about dungeons and dragons to write intelligently—but I’m learning). And if you’re going to go nerdy on games, you have to talk about games that nobody has ever played…or games that nobody remembers.
So here’s my idea for this blog…I’m going to write about the 700 or so original games released for the NES, the granddaddy of all video game systems. The system that ruled my childhood. The very first thing I can remember saving my money for, and BEGGING my parents for TV time with. Started my unhealthy relationship with video games, and indirectly led me to this blog.
Anyway, the NES/FAMICOM wasn’t my first system…my uncle Doug* gave my family a Commodore VIC-20 around 1984/85. Oh, the VIC-20. You predecessor to the Commodore-64, with your 5K of RAM and your tape memory (NEVER made that work) and your Atari-sized cartridge games (which didn’t work with an Atari, but I couldn’t figure out why) and your integrated keyboard/CPU (take that Steve Jobs and your iMac).
Here’s my most vivid memory of the VIC-20. It had a basic graphical interface, a nice blue font on white screen, which you typed inputs on. I had almost zero idea how to do anything but start the limted number of games I had. But I knew how to type…and I would play that I was sitting at a command center somewhere and type commands and sitreps…using the £ symbol, using the symbol for “guys.” (I know, I’m a tool).
Anyway, Doug gave me the VIC-20 and it came with 2 joysticks and 2 paddle controllers. It also came with 2 games. I vividly remember GORF (Galactic Orbiting Robot Force!) and Clowns. Neither of these games are remotely memorable for anyone other than a 6 year old who suddenly had video games IN HIS HOUSE!
GORF is a Space Invaders clone, where you piloted a ship back and forth against a series of enemies…unlike Space Invaders, the enemies changed, and if you made it through the 4 or 5 rounds of each level, the next round got harder and you gained a rank. It’s how I learned to pronounce “colonel” (which, even after 20 years in uniform, I don’t know how the hell we ended with that pronunciation.)
Clowns used the paddle controllers to bounce your player up in the air and pop balloons at the top of your screen. It got faster the longer you played, but I NEVER really enjoyed it. It did have a 2 player mode, which meant I could school all of my friends on it.
Those 2 games, despite the fact that they are both universally panned, opened gaming up to me. I HAD GAMES IN MY HOUSE! And I could play them as long as I wanted. (within reason…thanks mom.) However, around the same time I got my kick ass VIC-20, my neighbor got himself Nintendo.
And my world was rocked. 8K of RAM! More than 16 colors! And a whole slew of games (there were rumors of at least 50!) and the games themselves were amazing. RC Pro Am, ExciteBike, Zelda and Mario. Games that made GORF look like a steaming pile of puke.
(the whole saving game things still blows my mind, even today, knowing that they had to put a battery inside the cart for Zelda in order to keep the tiny bit of memory the cart held charged. I’m mostly impressed the NES itself didn’t save the games…the games saved themselves. It’s a really, really smart work around to prevent people from having to buy some peripheral to save games).
After years of being the only person I knew who had a VIC-20 was the fact that SO MANY PEOPLE HAD AN NES! I could play games at Stefan’s house, then go to Dan’s house, or Murphy’s house. And people could trade games! I remember watching a kid trade Zelda for ExciteBike for a weekend and having my mind blown. (People can do that? REALLY?)
I knew I had to have one.
So I saved my allowance, did some chores, stole change from my parents and finally saved enough for maybe half of one. And my folks paid for the rest. I think we bought it at Sears at West County Mall. I can remember driving home with it. Holding it on my lap like it was made of gold and/or eggs. Starting it up, and playing Arch Rivals, a basketball game that also let you punch the other players to steal the ball.
It was amazing. (I’m sure it wasn’t really). I guess I’ll find out again.
Because that’s what I’m going to do here, among other things. I’ll write about the games, I’ll write about what’s going on in my head (it’s an election year and ALL of the candidates are fucking horrible) and if I get motivated, I may post my book episodically (which is a word Bill Gates recognizes, strangely enough).
Some of the games I’m really excited about. Others, not so much. I’m curious to see if Battletoads is as hard as I remember, or if the Muppets game is as bad as everyone says.
I’ll throw in some history of the games as I go. I’ll talk about the games I remember, and the games I think are amazing, and the games I think are horrible.
I’m very curious to see how some of the games have aged…I’m betting most of them haven’t aged well.
And a quick note on how I’m going to play them…I have SOME original carts and a working NES. I’ll play those games when they come up in order on the NES. For the others, I’m going to have to emulate the games. To that end, I’m working on a Raspberry Pi emulation station, and my NES usb controller shows up from Amazon tomorrow. (I’ll do a post on that too) I’m doing my best to play the games as close to the original as possible, without breaking the bank. Finally, I can’t play the games with the light gun. I don’t have a TV that’s compatible, and I’m certainly not going to pay for a CRT TV and a way to push from my computer or Pi to make it work. I’ll figure something out for those games.
There it is. The first of many posts regarding the glory of video games. Now to figure out how to post a blog on my website.
Here goes nothing.
* I will write a post about Doug at some point…he’s had more than enough of an effect on my life for that…I realized that when I was talking about him with child #1 over Christmas
Categories: Things that escape categorization