In the court of public opinion, bad videogames are considered especially heinous. In the world of classic gaming, these games are often ignored by two separate, but equally important groups: the collectors who hoard them; and the gamers who avoid them. Now, a dedicated gamer, a member of an elite squad of DP columnists, will investigate one of these vicious travesties. This is his story.
JUDGE: (Judge squints while reading the docket) Hmm, Coleco. This is quite unusual. Prosecutor, approach the bench.
PROSECUTOR: Yes, Judge?
JUDGE: (whispers) What are you tryin’ to pull here, son?
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, I know I was supposed to bring a single game before the court, but to try Intellivision Donkey Kong would be like…like shooting fish in a barrel, sir.
PROSECUTOR: (gulps) Your Honor, Intellivision Donkey Kong isn’t good enough. For God’s sake we must have sixteen of them rotting away on a shelf in the DP store. If we get Coleco we get Intellivsion Carnival, we get VCS Venture…
JUDGE: (angry) Watch your tongue, boy!
PROSECUTOR: (louder, so the jury can hear) …we get VCS Zaxxon! It’s time someone put that one away! It’s heinous!
(The judge angrily slams the gavel)
JUDGE: You control yourself! (sighs heavily, and whispers) Son, you better watch yourself here. Ain’t gonna be no triple jeopardy in this court. You don’t put Coleco away today it’s over. (gets right in prosecutor’s face) You hear me boy? (grabs him by the necktie) Over!
(The judge gathers himself)
JUDGE: (loudly) The defendant, Coleco, is hereby charged…
(The judge stops reading as the jury gasps.)
(The jury becomes quiet. They give one another puzzled, worried glances.)
JUDGE: The defendant is hereby charged with intentionally creating bad videogames for its competitor’s consoles, specifically, the Atari VCS and Mattel’s Intellivision. Prosecutor, call your witnesses.
WITNESSES FOR THE PROSECUTION:
P-Dot, Digital Press Forums: “I think their earlier titles were indeed a case of deliberately trying to make the other consoles look lousy. It's hard to look at Donkey Kong on the Intellivision, and then see Beauty & The Beast, released the same year, and not come away with the impression that Coleco was trying to sink Mattel's battleship.”
Arcade Antics, Digital Press
Forums: “2600 Mr. Do! alone really
makes it look like they made poor quality games on purpose. There's no
reason it should have been released.”
Adam King, Atari Gaming Headquarters (Donkey Kong Jr. review): “Coleco didn't put much effort into the 2600 and Intellivision version, but an excellent port on its own system. Granted, the ColecoVision is the more powerful of the three, but something isn't right here!”
THE PROSECUTION: The prosecution calls the
key witness, “THE BIG RAGU”, to the stand.
THE BIG RAGU: Sup?
THE PROSECUTION: Let me just show you
“Sup” there, sir. Ladies and Gentleman, Exhibit A.
(The prosecution presents a Donkey Kong
cartridge for the Intellivision. A fat woman in the jury screams.)
THE PROSECUTION: Played this game lately?
THE BIG RAGU: Yes sir.
THE PROSECUTION: Yeah, you fancy yourself an
old-school feller, don’tcha?
THE BIG RAGU: Yeah I have an Intellivision
THE PROSECUTION: I’ll bet you do. And
I’ll bet a hardcore, old-schooler like yourself has played just
about every version of Donkey Kong out there, am I right?
THE BIG RAGU: I never played the Adam
version, and I think there’s a TI-994A version I never checked out.
THE PROSECUTION: I’m sure we’re all very
impressed. So…ever play the Colecovision version?
THE BIG RAGU: Sure.
THE PROSECUTION: I’ll bet that made you
one happy little boy, didn’t it? Made you feel like you had a Donkey
Kong machine in your own living room, right?
THE BIG RAGU: It was impressive.
THE PROSECUTION: Impressive, you say! Since
you seem to be fond of brief responses to my questions, give us one
word that summarizes your feelings about the Intellivision version.
THE BIG RAGU: Almost adequate.
THE PROSECUTION: That’s two words.
THE BIG RAGU: Cloying.
THE PROSECUTION: Cloying. What does that
THE BIG RAGU: Don’t know, just like the
sound of it. (The Big Ragu smiles at the jury and they laugh)
THE PROSECUTION: We’ll let “almost
THE BIG RAGU: How about “serviceable”?
THE PROSECUTION: Fine. That’s what you do,
eh, you play games that are “serviceable” and “almost
adequate”. That your idea of fun?
THE BIG RAGU: You forgot “cloying”.
THE PROSECUTION: Your Honor, can you bring
this evasive witness under control?
JUDGE: The witness clearly means the game is
average. Move along.
THE PROSECUTION: So the Colecovision version
is outstanding and the Intellivision version is average. That is your
THE BIG RAGU: Actually my opinion is they
are both pretty much unplayable because of the lousy controllers.
THE PROSECUTION: We are not interested in
your opinion of the consoles’ controllers. Despite your attempts to
avoid my line of questioning, you clearly believe the Intellivision
version is inferior. Let’s move along. Ladies and gentleman, I give
you Exhibit B.
(The prosecution presents a Carnival
cartridge for the Intellivision. People start getting sleepy.)
THE PROSECUTION: I know that you have played
this game. Give us your impressions.
THE BIG RAGU: My impression is it’s just
THE PROSECUTION: You don’t like it?
THE BIG RAGU: It’s not that I don’t like
it. It’s just…there.
THE PROSECUTION: All right, you little
wiseass, what do you think of THIS?
(The prosecution produces Exhibit C, a VCS
Zaxxon cartridge. The jury averts their eyes. The Big Ragu winces as
if he has been struck in the face.)
THE BIG RAGU: Is he allowed to call me a
JUDGE: Prosecutor, finish your questioning
and stop wasting our time with these theatrics.
THE PROSECUTION: Tell me, if I were to show
you a screenshot of the Zaxxon arcade game and the Colecovision
version, could you tell the difference?
THE BIG RAGU: I don’t know. Probably not.
THE PROSECUTION: What’s the matter? I
thought you were SO hardcore. I thought you were the kind of old-schooler
that could pick out any Colecovision screenshot based on the score
(The defense objects to this as
“badgering”. The prosecution withdraws the statement.)
THE PROSECUTION: Now tell us…, if I were
to show you a screenshot of the Zaxxon arcade game and the VCS version, could you tell the difference?
THE BIG RAGU: Of course.
THE PROSECUTION: Of course? Of course
because the VCS version is so hideous? Of course because the VCS
version is unrecognizable as (faces the jury) EVEN BEING ZAXXON?
THE BIG RAGU: It isn’t pretty.
THE PROSECUTION: Mr. Ragu, tell us, in your
many many years of Activision patch wearing, Konami code activating,
Space Invaders frying, Electronic Games reading, Eugene Jarvis
worshipping, 1541 drive repairing, Vectrex overlay collecting, Maze
Crazing, hardcore, old school, retro, classic gaming existence, have
you ever, EVER, seen an arcade port executed so shoddily that it does
not even remotely resemble the original?
THE BIG RAGU: No, just this one time.
(The prosecution rests)
THE DEFENSE: State your name.
THE BIG RAGU: The Big Ragu.
THE DEFENSE: Your real name, sir.
THE BIG RAGU: First name THE, middle name
BIG, last name RAGU.
THE DEFENSE: Shall I call you “The”, or
THE BIG RAGU: Call me Al. If you would be my
bodyguard I can be your long-lost pal.
THE DEFENSE: Avert your eyes, Al.
(The Defense introduces Exhibit X, a VCS
Sorcerer cartridge. A man in the jury swallows his tongue. A religious
woman in the audience crosses herself. A dog invites a cat to live
JUDGE: Defense, will you kindly explain to
me what the HELL a Mythicon cartridge is doing in my courtroom?
THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, I’d like to enter
Exhibit X as evidence for The Defense, as well as (fumbles in jacket
pocket) this Cosmic Creeps cartridge as Exhibit 0.
JUDGE: (smiling patiently) You realize, of
course, that these are not Coleco cartridges, and therefore not
relevant to any of us today, dear Sir?
THE DEFENSE: (holding cartridges in view of
the jury) Oh, Your Honor, I think these cartridges are highly
(The Prosecution objects and questions the
jury’s readiness to view such graphic material. The Defense is
ordered to surrender the cartridges to the custody of The Court and
THE DEFENSE: Mr. Ragu…excuse me, AL…in
your vast VCS gaming experience, have you ever tried Sorcerer?
THE BIG RAGU: (gulps) Yes, sir.
THE DEFENSE: Can you tell us about your
THE BIG RAGU: Do I have to?
THE DEFENSE: Yes, Al, and let me remind you
that you are under oath.
THE BIG RAGU: (weeps openly) It was
THE DEFENSE: (hands The Big Ragu a box of
tissues) Please continue.
THE BIG RAGU: (sobs) That music. My God,
THE DEFENSE: Forget the music for a moment.
Tell us about the gameplay.
THE BIG RAGU: (covers ears with hands) I
can’t stop hearing that music. I TRY TO SLEEP AT NIGHT AND THE MUSIC
(The Defense embraces The Big Ragu. Jury
members start welling up.)
THE DEFENSE: Al, listen to me please? Some
very nice men at Coleco are in trouble today.
(The Prosecution objects.)
THE DEFENSE: Al, I want you to stop hearing
the music for a minute. Can you do that?
THE BIG RAGU: (chokes back tears) Yes sir.
THE DEFENSE: Tell us what happens when you
THE BIG RAGU: When it starts out there is
just this stuff. There is just this stuff flyin’ all over the place.
THE DEFENSE: Tell us about the stuff.
THE BIG RAGU: It’s like you have to jump
and catch this stuff and then you have to kill these guys….and the
music…God, the music…
THE DEFENSE: Would you rather talk about
THE JUDGE: I am sure we would all rather
talk about Coleco games. That is why we are all here today. Are you
aware of that?
THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, last night I went
to the home of one Mr. Joseph Santulli.
(The jury cheers jubilantly. The Judge slams
his gavel until they collect themselves.)
THE DEFENSE: I went to the home of Mr.
Joseph Santulli and asked him to, at random, with his eyes closed,
choose two VCS games. He chose Sorcerer and Cosmic Creeps!
(The jury gasps.)
THE DEFENSE: Now, Al, I am going to hold up
two VCS cartridges. I
want you to point to the superior VCS game. I don’t want you to
talk, I want you to point. Understood?
THE BIG RAGU: Yes.
(The Defense holds up Sorcerer in one hand
and holds up Donkey Kong in the other. The Big Ragu points to Donkey
Kong before it is clearly in view. Next The Defense holds up Zaxxon
and Cosmic Creeps. The Big Ragu points to Zaxxon. The Defense holds up
Donkey Kong Junior and Sorcerer. The Big Ragu points to Donkey Kong
Junior. The Defense holds up Carnival and Cosmic Creeps. The Big Ragu
pauses. You could cut the tension in the courtroom with the sloped end
of an Intellivision cartridge. The Big Ragu begins to move his arm
toward Cosmic Creeps, then shifts and points his finger at Carnival.
The Jury sighs.)
(The Defense rests)
THE PROSECUTION’S CLOSING STATEMENT:
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you might
have noticed how The Defense, by way of the most unscrupulous and base
theatrics, boldly evaded the matter at hand… the clear inferiority
of Coleco’s ridiculous and incompetent arcade ports for the Atari
VCS and the Intellivision. Imagine the effort one must undergo to
render Donkey Kong “average”, and Zaxxon “unrecognizable”.
Keep your mind on that, and don’t dwell on Mr. Santulli’s
THE DEFENSE’S CLOSING ARGUMENT:
One letter. One word.
They were “the cure for the Video
Blues”, weren’t they?
That’s what Mattel would have you believe.
You know Mattel. They made the Intellivision. Did Mattel try to
sabotage the VCS with their horrible M Network games? Were those games
any better than Coleco’s? Here, I just happen to have a list of all
the great M Network games in my pocket.
(Produces a blank piece of paper.)
But what about all those other great third
party publishers for the VCS, you may ask. Data Age? US Games? Apollo?
Surely their offerings must have beaten Coleco’s into the sand,
which The Prosecution would have you believe. After all, they tried to
make good games and Coleco tried to make bad games, as The Prosecution
would tell it.
But forget Atari; Coleco tried to make bad
games for the Intellivision, did they? So they tried to make a bad
Donkey Kong that turned out average? “Almost adequate”? Are we to
believe they aimed at the dirt and hit the ceiling? Ever notice how
much faster Mario moves in the Intellivision version compared to the
Colecovision and VCS version? How well the girders in the first stage
are reproduced? How satisfying the music is at the end of the level?
That must have been an accident. I’m sure someone at Coleco was
fired for making Intellivision Donkey Kong too good.
The court finds the defendant, Coleco, NOT
GUILTY of intentionally creating poor software for the Atari VCS and
The court recognizes that Activision, or
possibly Atari or Mattel, might have produced versions of Donkey Kong,
Zaxxon, Venture, Mouse Trap, et cetera, et cetera, that were superior
to Coleco’s nationally released efforts. However, the court finds
that Coleco’s efforts were on par with, and in some instances
superior to, the software produced by comparable third party
publishers. Furthermore, the court finds that Coleco’s VCS
cartridges are at least comparable to the efforts of M Network. In the
instance that Coleco was intentionally creating poor VCS cartridges,
the court must question why every one of Coleco’s cartridges is
superior to the entire catalog of
Froggo, Mythicon, Zimag, US Games, Ultravision, Apollo, Panda, Vidtec,
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