The Classics Break Through
by Joe Santulli

They’re all around us.

Veterans of the video game wars often argue about which of these ancient relics can be considered "classics". There are some who believe a classic is any game that’s ten years old or more. Others feel the pre-Nintendo age automatically qualifies a title. Is 8 bit automatically a classic? Does that mean the Intellivision and Turbografx-16, both arguably 16-bit, get left out?

I have my own theory. To me, any game whose system is dead but whose gamers live on is classic. If there is a following, a seemingly departed console has life. Recently added to this list: The 3DO, the Sega 32X, and the Atari Lynx. Many of you who have been playing for awhile or got good grades in history may remember the names of others: Astrocade, Odyssey2, Vectrex, and ColecoVision, among others. In this hall of memorable names are thousands of titles. I’ve dedicated my life – and Digital Press – to gathering every one of them into my own home. My wife is about ready to have me committed, but I shall not falter.

Collecting classic video games has become quite the rage. About six years ago I began publishing a little fanzine called Digital Press, with the hopes that my best friend Kevin and I could connect to a few gamers who didn’t necessarily have to play the newest and most technologically advanced system to get their electronic jollies. Six months into the project I realized that we were not alone. We were everywhere. Out of the woodwork, it seemed, little pockets of interest sprang up around the country. Over the years I’ve acquired a family from this band of merry men and women, all of us share a very common bond: we love the games of yesteryear.

Today, even the largest software publishers are producing multi-game CD’s promoting the oldies, in their original format, to gamers. I haven’t completely figured out yet if this is to instill a sense of nostalgia into the older players or to introduce the roots of gaming to the younger sect. I suppose it is a combination of the two. I figure they’re making boatloads of money in the process, so who am I to even guess? Some of these projects have been wonderful additions to my library (Williams Arcade Classics is still my favorite compilation), while others seem terribly contrived (Namco Arcade 4 seemed to be pushing it… but Namco Arcade 5?), still, some of the games on even the lowest valued compilations are treasures. Playing Nichibutsu’s Crazy Climber on my 50" surround sound home theater was beyond a wild dream back in the days when I used to play the game at the Taco Maker in Wayne, New Jersey fifteen years ago. Ah, technology. Ah, progress.

Further promoting the joys of yesterday’s wonders are the steady influx of emulation software available for PC’s. For pennies I can log on the internet, download an Atari 2600 emulator and 300 ROM files, and own a nearly complete collection of games made between 1977 and 1984 all inside of two hours. And for the next two weeks I could play those games. Look a little more and I’ll find emulators for the ColecoVision, Vectrex, Sega Master System, Atari 5200 and more. Even more intriguing are the arcade emulators that let me play the original coin-op versions of some games that never made it to home consoles. Do you remember Bagman, Pleiades, Vulgus, or Jump Bug? Do you think you've ever played a faithful reproduction of Pooyan, Amidar, or Krull? Check out EMULATOR ACTION, try them out at home, and tell me the Atari 2600 did those games justice. I think not, my fine feathered friends.

What am I driving at here? What’s the final link in my sausage? Here you go. The classics are all around us. I’m not talking about that strange feeling we often get when playing a brand new game… the feeling that "I’ve played this one before". No, that’s just unoriginality. I’m talking about the resurgence of the games that inspired today’s games. They’re not gone, not by a longshot. They’re hiding just below the surface, showing up from time to time just to remind us that we miss their innovations, their simple but easy-on-the-eyes aesthetics, and yes, even their cruel glitches. Keep your eyes out for them. Snatch one up whenever you can. Old carts, new compilations, simulated originals. Treasures, all.

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Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM