Sunday, January 05, 2003

Boop, boop, boop, tick, boop boop Doodley doo-dee-doo!...

I came of age when even the simplest computers were seen as amazing things.

This site is an introduction to Pong, the very first video game. If my memory serves, I think we had the Coleco Pong set pictured on this page, or it could have been made by Lloyds.

My great aunt and uncle always got the coolest video games for their kids circa 1977-1980, and then I would bug my parents/grandmother to get them too. I remember that the first video game that I was ever given was made by Sears. It was a big console that sat in your lap and you could play Breakout and Pinball. I got to be pretty good at Pinball and Breakout. So I was happy that one of my latest Christmas presents, a simple hand held video game, has a simple form of Breakout (along with Tank Battle, Car Racing and Tetris...which I spent a bit of my student loan money playing in the video game arcade at UBC. Now I can play all I want for the price of batteries. Woo Hoo!).

Then my cousin David got a hand held game--Classic Football, so I asked for that too. Classic Football is just trying to move your red dash around other red dashes to score touchdowns. I remember it being lots of much so that I bought a new game (it's being manufactured again as a retro toy) when I was in the US this past summer. (My grandmother, who was shopping with me, was puzzled...but I was happy.)

Then we got an Atari Activision...stick men running around shooting baskets, etc. I fondly remember Donkey Kong, although I wasn't very good at it. I was good at Frogger and Pitfall. I remember playing another game, the name of which escapes me, where you were this UFO shooting bases on the ground that were trying to shoot at you. I wanted this badge that you got for scoring a million points at this game and thus finishing it. You had to send a photo of the TV display at the end of the game, so I played for about 3 hours one day to do it, racking up so many extra men that I could go and eat dinner as they died off and then come back and finish the game. I loved Pac-man, and had a Pac-man T-shirt. (I think I may have a 20 year old "how to beat the Activision games" book in my book case somewhere.) And Centipede and Missile Command and Asteroids!

(Another of my recent Christmas presents was an inexpensive hand held controller...with ten Activision games, including Pitfall. Mom bought one for herself too and we are trying to figure out how to install it.)

The other major video game of the era was the Mattel Intellivision. I should have made more excuses to get across the street and bug the retired couple in our neighbourhood who had one.

I think I was in Grade 7 when my school did a road trip to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. They had a computer room, where you could play simple scenario games such as operating a lemonade stand business, or running a program to stop malaria in Africa (be sure to use lots of pesticides like DDT). They must have had a computer to help with something else I thought was neat--a phone that let you talk and taped what you said to play back to you. As it played the tape, it used sound technology to simulate what the sound quality was like in the earliest days of using the phone, and then at 20-30 year intervals afterwards. "Hello! Hello!?! I can't hear you, hello!"

I remember in Grade 9 when our school started a Computer Club...with one computer! I think it was a TRS-80 At lunch time, the members would play this simple Star Trek game with a small simple grid, where you typed in numbers for commands to cruise the galaxy, wipe out Romulans, etc..

My first computer was a Commodore 64. ("I adore my 64, my Commodore 64!" I have a VHS tape of a 1984 miniseries--V--that includes Bill Bixby commercials about the amazing Commodore 64.) I still have it disassembled in a closet, and I was playing games on it as late as 1991. It had a state of the art memory system, a casette tape player that used sounds to trigger reactions in the computer. My mom was interested in my computer too, so she got a subscription to Compute! magazine. That magazine used to convert shareware games to page after page, line after line of numerical codes. My mother would type them in patiently and, if the game didn't work, compare her typing to what was in the book. Way to go, Mom! My favourite C64 games were an oil drilling game, a text-based football game, Stock Ticker (which would get dull as the game progressed as the computer could only buy 500 shares of stock at one time, while I had already progressed to buying 500,000 shares of stock in one transaction), and a really fun game where you pretended to be one of the two major candidates for US president and tried to do everything right so you would be elected.

Mom led the way in video games too. She got a Nintendo before I got mine. I'm quite happy and content with my Nintendo which is the only game console I own--I have about a couple dozen games for it--but my mother has a Super Nintendo too. She used to like to play Nintendo in the back room of her house and got very good at the Mario and Super Mario games. So much so that while I was struggling through levels two and three, she would be on level 1 billion and have a zillion points and would be giving me pointers too. She sometimes offered to play for me for a while so I could rack up some extra men as I was dying so much. We both had a lot of fun, as I saw the humour in what was happening.

Okay, enough of "When I was your age, we had to play with a rock and a stick." :)