Video Game LORE

by Game Fans!

The Secret of My 5200 Success

by The Maverick

Although I was an arcade junkie, nobody in my family was ever very concerned with being at the forefront of the home videogame race. Our first home machine was the Channel F which we played the hell out of. We didn't upgrade to another machine until we got our Atari 5200 for Christmas in 1982. Needless to say, it was a breath of fresh air after the Channel F, even though I got my fill of Atari 2600 classics nearly every morning before school on my best friend Scott's machine. My entire family found something to like about the 5200, and of course we all found something that we didn't like: the controllers kept breaking down. Fortunately my dad was mechanically inclined and kept us in action!

In early 1983 I was finishing up my junior year of high school. Fortunately, being the dedicated student that I was at the time, I was taking an after-hours SAT prep class. Unfortunately, the class was dead boring for anyone with more intelligence (or common sense) than a rock. One day in class, during a lull between exercises, I picked up a magazine laying on the desk next to me. When I flipped to the back page I saw a full page ad for Atari Centipede and on the other side was an ad for the "Atari Centipede Bug-Off Contest."

A Centipede contest! I was awakened from my SAT prep trance. I knew I was able to get some big time scores on that game. I quickly glanced through the contest announcement: win a "TRAK-BALL" and two carts, win a trip to the U.S. Centipede Championships in San Francisco, and maybe a trip to Germany for the Atari World Video Championship Competition!

I started practicing as soon as I got home. I played game after game, working up some pretty respectable scores, but being cocky I didn't bother photographing any of them. Finally, I set aside a weekend before the June 30th deadline and set out to play until I had a score I knew I couldn't beat.

After several games, I had a score I could be proud of. I took a polaroid of the TV screen and sent it off to Atari. After some anxious waiting, my family forgot about the entry. Finally, in the middle of July, a courier arrived with a certified letter. The letter, from Marden-Kane, Inc. of New York, informed me that I had won a trak-ball and my choice of two game cartridges... and, an expense paid trip for two to the U.S. Centipede Championship in San Francisco!

What a bummer... don't get me wrong, I was psyched up about winning the carts and going to the competition, but I was a life long resident of Santa Clara, California, and had always lived about 45 minutes south of San Francisco. Been there, done that.200 But I didn't complain (much.)

So on the 15th of August my dad and I drove me up to San Francisco as the other contestants flew in. There were a total of four or five 5200 regional winners and an equal number of 2600 winners. Atari put us up at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf. The itinerary included dinner that evening at the hotel, a whirlwind tour of the city, and then the competition at the San Francisco Zoo! Turns out it wasn't such a bad trip after all, but I still would have preferred to win a flight someplace... ok, enough griping about that.

That evening my father and I went to the dinner and met the other guys. (Yep, no female contestants.) One anecdote stands out in my mind. A fellow contestant mentioned to us that one of the other guys wanted to use his OWN machine in the competition and was miffed because the Atari folks had nixed the idea. Seems that this machine registered unusually high scores on Centipede! We got a laugh out of the fact that he brought his own machine all the way out to San Francisco thinking they would let him use it!

Now at this point I have to let you in on a secret... you won't tell anyone, right? Good. My 5200 was also, shall we say, special. Every time the score in Centipede hit a 9,000 mark (i.e 9000, 19000, etc.) it would add 9,000 to the score. Since you need 12,000 points to get a free wand, this meant that free wands came much more quickly as soon as you could get above 9,000 points. In fact, when the game was going good, it sounded like the free wand fanfare was the background score to the game! Now 5200 Centipede was a devil of a game (those spiders are murder), so it wasn't exactly a cake walk to milk the highest score possible out of the machine, but the glitch certainly allowed me to reach a much higher score than I would have been able to without it.

Hearing about someone else with this glitch made me feel a little bit better. When I received the announcement that I was going to the competition in San Francisco, I had to sign an affidavit stating that "I have complied with all rules and regulations of this promotion and that I have perpetrated no fraud or deception in entering or in claiming any prize." When I went to have the affidavit notarized, I raised the issue. Basically the decision came down to the fact that I played their game on their machine and didn't do anything to modify it, therefore I had complied with their rules. Anyway, knowing I wasn't the only one "faking it" at the competition took a little bit of the extra pressure off. And to this day I wonder how many other glitched machines or carts might have gotten some of the other contestants there...

Anyway, August 16th was the day of the competition. We were bussed around town and arrived at the zoo where Atari had set up a stage for the competition. On one side of the stage were monitors and machines for the 5200 players, and on the opposite side were monitors and machines for the 2600 players. The competition was to be timed with the competitors trying to either outlast the others playing that same system or score the most points within the time limit of a few minutes. The winners on each system would then face off to see who would go to Germany.

Talk about distractions! There you are, standing in front of a monitor (wonder how many of the other guys got their high score standing up), with an audience behind you, trying to drown out the sounds of the zoo and the sound of a half-dozen other Centipede games going at once. As the clock was ticking down I was holding in pretty good. Soon, all but one of the other 5200 contestants had already lost all their men. I could do this! My mom, who had driven up with my younger brother and sister that day to watch the competition, later told me should couldn't stand the excitement when it was just me and the other guy down to one Centipede left... but, it was not to be. I lost my last man before he did and that ended my odyssey as a videogame champion.

After the competition we were able to get some nice memorabilia to commemorate the event. Actually my mom did, I was too busy playing free games of Star Wars on the arcade machine Atari had brought up. I still have a handfull of the Centipede buttons and display of a 5200 Centipede box that is over twice the size of a normal cartridge box. Oh, and last but not least, Atari gave me a nice runner-up plaque which hangs discretely in my living room.

So now you know the secret of my 5200 success. Please don't tell anyone, this will just be our little secret! And next time I come over to your place to play Centipede, I'll bring my machine...

Buyers Remorse

by David Giarrusso

“I had it Marcus. I had it in my hand...”

Ever heard of something called “buyer’s remorse?” I have. I typically associate it with large purchases, for example, a house or a car, but it’s a term that pervades all sorts of things, from the most expensive NASA rocketship, all the way down to the tiniest bit of dental floss. You know, that generic dental floss that looked just like the “name brand” dental floss, but when you got home and tried to floss your pearly whites later that evening, it shredded and unraveled faster than the plot of the Truman Show, and left you with a mouth full of fuzz? The dictionary includes the word “regret” in its definition of remorse, something to the effect of “regret of wrongdoing.” Well, buyer’s remorse is pretty much the same thing, just apply that snippet to the purchase of something and you’ve got the idea.

So. Where are we here? Well, let’s roll the clocks back a few years. Whoa, not that far back. Just far enough so that we can hear the sounds of Devo, the J. Geils Band, and some pre-Gary-pre-Sammy-era Van Halen (what was that guy’s name again?) coming in over the radio and/or that wacky, new MTV. You know, that station that used to play music videos? There may be a Rubik’s cube lying around in the back of your closet, and it may or may not be broken. Certainly, though, there’s an Atari, Intellivision, or ColecoVision hanging around your family room, and I’m fairly certain that there is a modest library of cartridges that go along with it. Groovy.

After Santa Claus was kind enough to deliver an Atari 2600 to our house one Christmas morning, and after we had spent countless thousands of hours playing the two games that he delivered with it, Yars’ Revenge and Combat, the inevitable occurred. I realized that it was time for another game. Two bucks a week allowance only went so far, so the games trickled in slowly. Superman was first. Then, Trick Shot. Circus Atari. Space Invaders. Eventually, the market really started to slide, I got my paper route, and, the rest was history.

One morning, I bought three games that should have been stellar. I remember it as if it happened the day before yesterday. It was a Saturday morning, time for the allergy shot. After that particular excursion to the doctor, I asked my chauffeur if she would be kind enough to swing by the toy store. Fortunately, mom was not in a horrible mood, and obliged.

As I scanned the seemingly endless rows and columns of cartridges, my eyes happened to fall upon Frogger II:Threedeep!, Star Wars: The Arcade Game, and finally, Mr. Do!s Castle, all for the 2600. Wow. I couldn’t believe it. The latter two were my current coin grabbing favorites, and the former was a sequel to a game I still played on our home console all the time. They HAD to be good! They just had to. After forking over all of my hard earned paper route money, we raced home. I jumped out of the car, sprinted into the house, and jammed Star Wars into the console! “Wow!! Star Wars: The Arcade Game!! This rules!!” At least, that’s what I should have been saying.

Instead, I think I was too awestruck to even speak at all. If I did speak at that point, it must have sounded a little something like this: “This is Star Wars?” (Use crying, dopey, jilted bride voice from that annoying Pepsi commercial here) Man. It was something alright, but the arcade game it was NOT. Everything was pink. Big pink, blocky graphics. Almost no sound at all. ZAP!! ZAP!! Oh, the heart was racing. Gee, I thought I was playing the Atari vector game for a second. Whee. Disappointed, I removed the Ed Wood version of SWTAG from my VCS and plugged in Mr. Do!s Castle. After all, it couldn’t be as bad as Star Wars. Could it?

Well, yes. Yes it could. Maybe not as bad, but, definitely approaching the same level. Everything was washed out, the flickering characters had no definition, and, well, with the exception of turning the monsters into the letters, the game really just wasn’t looking like Mr. Do!s Castle at all. Damn!

Finally, I moved on to Frogger II. I popped it into the slot, and whaddya know? Not bad. Not bad at all, really. In fact, I thought it was quite good. Quite good indeed, really. My brothers and I even made up lyrics to the opening theme. Yes, Frogger II was a great game, unlike the other two travesties.

So, here’s where the buyer’s remorse part of the story comes in. At the time I thought, “hmm, I’m broke now, and these two games suck beyond suck for what I paid for them. How can I remedy this situation?” I was feeling remorseful. I was not happy with the purchase I had made. That feeling of everything in the universe being a bit ‘out of whack’ was hitting me. I tried playing the games again. Tried to like them. Tried several dozen times in fact. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. They were just unplayable. I couldn’t take it anymore, and, as a result, soon after, I did something. Something dreadful.

What did I do? Did I sell them to my next door neighbor or the kid down the street for half of what I paid in an effort to recoup some of my lost cash? Did I throw them at the wall in an effort to make them explode into so many pieces of shrapnel? Did I feed them to the family rotweiller?

No. We didn’t have a dog. My next door neighbor was a girl who had no interest in playing video games. The kid down the street already had plenty of video games, tons more than I did, and, had moved on to the ColecoVision to boot. The games were not hurled at the wall.

I took them back to the store. Actually, I only took two of them back. I held on to Frogger II. It pains me to admit it, but, right back to the toy store they went, and there they stayed for the next, oh, who knows? Somebody must have bought them. They sure aren’t there now. I returned home, and started to feel better. I no longer had the sub par games in my possession, and even got back my money so that I could buy another few games, good games, another time. Whew!

Cut to: present day. Well, talk about remorse! Damn, I haven’t seen either one of those games for the 2600 since then, let alone complete with boxes that had giant. obnoxious, red markdown stickers on them. I also have to believe that they weren’t all that bad, I mean, the VCS could only do so much with what little power it had. Heck, if memory serves, Mr. Do!s Castle probably wasn’t bad at all, although, I seem to have a better recollection of the SW Arcade Game cart. While it probably wasn’t as bad as I had originally made it out to be, it probably still kinda sucks. Point and shoot then is still point and shoot now. Whee.

I had my chance at those two games and I gave it away. I guess the moral of the story is that it’s good to be a little bit selective when grabbing up those games, but, well, come on. They’re just games after all. I shouldn’t have been expecting perfection out of a machine that could barely power up a sixty watt lightbulb. Of course, on the other hand, there is a game for it by the name of H.E.R.O. Hmm... Maybe we can expect perfection every now and then. Guess I shoulda just taken those carts at face value and left it at that. Then I’d still be playing them today......and loving ‘em for how bad they are.

Utopian Visions

by Joe Santulli

For two years I labored under the misconception that the Atari 2600 was the be-all end-all of video game systems. It was 1981 and I was a young punk high school student who thought he knew it all. Friends of mine had purchased the Odyssey2 to be "different", and watched as not only dust bunnies, but also dust giraffes and elephants gathered on their obsolete Pong systems. Yep, I had made the right choice. It was by chance that I stumbled onto the Intellivision system. A woman whose yard I used to cut every week had a lazy bum brother who always used to be upstairs playing video games. One day I disclosed my obsession with the Atari and she invited me up to play with her brother.

He was playing a game where he had to shoot hostile robots while a spider and some bats slowed him down. Night Stalker. I watched him play for awhile, amazed by the colorful graphics and crisp sounds. I was instantly hooked on the game. We played a few sports games that afternoon, where I played his patsy while he trounced me in Baseball and Basketball. It didn't matter, though... I'd get even later, when I got a job. You don't get paid for playing Intellivision games, you see - a detail he'd never quite understand.

Anyway, the point I'm laboriously getting to is that I took an instant liking to the style of the Intellivision games. I'd play every other weekend that summer there, each time contemplating a purchase of my own. It was about a year later - when Utopia was released by Mattel - that my mind was finally made up.

Why didn't Night Stalker, Astrosmash, or the excellent sports sims do it for me? What was it about this "sleeper" strategy game that made me take the plunge? It's obvious to me now. You see, most people don't buy a system unless they feel it is going to offer "the next level" of gaming to them. There really wasn't anything superior about the systems that were released until 1980. It was all a matter of software. Utopia really shows off what the Intellivision can do, surprisingly. For one, the keypad is actually useful here. The graphics are ultra-sharp, although not very animated. The sound is incredible. There are rushing winds, explosions, rainfall, and some strange "boing" sounds when you're catching fish. Quite remarkable in an era where sounds were limited to white noise.

More recently, I had the thrill of the game all over again after introducing this game to my wife, Liz. Our first “real” game was as close as they get. She started out with an "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone" policy, but after a few losing rounds realized that attacking (and subsequently sinking) my trustingly unprotected block of fishing boats was the only way to catch up. I explained to her the rules of war and reminded her of the treaty that we had verbally agreed upon, when she suddenly responded by sending a rebel to destroy one of my hospitals. I was so proud of her. She truly has "Santulli" in her blood.

Oh, by the way. Get Utopia if you have an Intellivision. If you don't, then get an Intellivision... then get Utopia. My wife is looking for another sucker to play.

What's Dinner?

by Lauren Fielder

The year was about 1982. I'd long since abandoned the 7" black and white TV in my bedroom that merely accommodated Pong, for the larger, color TV in the living room that housed my new love: the Atari 2600. My family was pretty understanding. They'd sit for hours watching me capture burglars, escort frogs, and break walls away without complaint. I think I had a baby sister at the time, but since she wasn't a peripheral for my Atari VCS, I had no use for her, really, as long as she didn't drool on my joysticks.

So the obsession was intact, and thanks to passive parents, my addiction was fed. But it got worse. One day, probably some silly holiday or something, I received a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark for the 2600, and I knew I was too far gone to ever recover (largely because I wouldn't read the manual and couldn't figure the damned thing out--oh use BOTH controllers...). Like Anyjunkie on Anydrug, I lived for my fix. I lost vision of my friends and family. I stopped eating bugs, even. Heck, I stopped eating all together. I wouldn't stop playing, not even to talk to boys on the phone (gross, anyway).

Well, my parents had the TV up on one of those ridiculous wheeled carts made of wallpaper wood and plastic, so I came up with the bright idea that I could simply turn the thing-a-majig around to face the kitchen table (The living room and kitchen were next to each other). That way, I could eat and play at the same time. My parents let me get by with this for months. I think they stopped me right around the time the caught me carting the set and system through the kitchen en route to the bathroom (SQQUeeeeek, SQQUeeeeek...). "C'mon, if you're going to make me take a bath, at least let me take the Atari," I wailed.

I think the reply was something to the effect of, "You'll electrocute yourself. Please, be reasonable."



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Last updated: Saturday, April 23, 2005 07:48 AM