Sunday, August 18, 2013

Nintendo brought arcade games into homes 30 years ago | The Japan Times

Nintendo brought arcade games into homes 30 years ago | The Japan Times

I literally grew up with video games.  In fact, I was a gamer before video games in the accepted sense even existed.  Watch the movie Jaws.  There's a quick shot of a primitive coin-operated game called Shark Hunter, which used light and mirrors to project a moving image of a cartoon image of a shark onto a screen.  Summers in Panama City, Florida, found me playing this game obsessively at Miracle Strip amusement park.

And it was in Panama City my older brothers and I first encountered Pong at the main office of the camp ground where we usually stayed.  Which happened to be right next door to Miracle Strip-- we could see the battered junk stowed behind the roller coaster there, a kind of eye-opening "behind the scenes" experience that took away none of the park's tawdry magic or attraction as far as I was concerned.  Once my ultra-competitive brothers discovered Pong that particular trip, though, they played almost nonstop.  I thought it was fun.  I had no idea this was the first shot in an entertainment revolution.

The way I remember it, Space Invaders soon followed and emptied our pockets of quarters.  But it was at home where Pong and target-shooting games ruled.  Even before the legendary Atari 2600 made its debut, one of my uncles gave me a home Pong unit which didn't work at all on our TV.  Or maybe I hooked it up wrong.  Because I'm from a sports-crazed family, I chose the Mattel Intellivision as my home game system of choice.  Others preferred the Atari's clunky black joystick to the Intellivision's bizarre disk-and-button gamepad, but Intellivision had superior baseball and football games.  My oldest brother excelled at video baseball (my strategy consisted of station-to-station base running and the occasional grand slam to empty them) but I was the undisputed master of football.

I became so adept at Intellivision football most of my games consisted of one quarter or a half and then the mercy rule.  I scored on almost every offensive series and intercepted almost every pass my opponents attempted.  Every so often a friend with similar skills would stay overnight and we'd wage epic defensive struggles that were never as fun as the one-sided waxings I administered to everyone else before they finally just gave up and refused to play with me anymore.

Eventually the cartridges sold for five bucks at the local Musicland and I bought the Intellivision voice module for a ridiculously low price.  My friends and I were excited at the bargains.  We had no idea the home video game industry had collapsed.  But by then we were entering puberty and had girls on the brain.  We started getting into BMX and spent a lot of our Atari and Intellivision money on expensive Snakebelly tires and weirdly-shaped seats to lighten our bikes.  The game consoles went into closets or onto tables at yard sales and we confined our gaming to coin-operated uprights at Aladdin's Castle or Putt-Putt.  Frogger and Zaxxon at Family Mart and Quickie, or Dig Dug at the gas station.

Enter Nintendo.  As far as I remember, they started showing up in the US when I was in junior college, around 1987 or so.  We scoffed when these appeared under the Christmas trees of some of our younger friends, but pretty soon we were spending entire nights playing Super Mario Bros. or Rush'n Attack. Then game the Playstations and the Segas and all that.  Tecmo Bowl in college dorm rooms, Nintendo 64 in my apartment in Athens.  Sony Playstation 2, Sega Dreamcast.  I get all those mixed up, but I've played games on every system there is.  Still, I'm a dabbler, a dilettante.  Some of my friends are truly hardcore gamers, though.  They know the exact details while I'm just relying here on my famously vague memory.  I still spent way more time reading about the Blue Sky Rangers in preparation for this post than is strictly healthy, though.

Thirty years of Nintendo Famicom?  Has it really been that long?

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