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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Videogame Memories 05 | Richard Green aka Mainframe
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I Remember "Pong"

by Richard Green of Geek Out With Mainframe

I'm not talking about having a game console that happened to play "Pong" as well as dozens of other games; not a smartphone app; not a website where you can play it to your hearts delight.

Rather, back in the 70's my Dad came home with a "Pong" home game console that only played "Pong" (o.k. maybe a few other very similar games like handball, but all of them very "Pong"-esqe). It could not play anything other than the games that were loaded in the firmware; no buying more games for it, no upgrades, just "Pong".

I've tried over the years to figure out what model it was, but I haven't been able to find it in various Google Internet searches. The game controllers were wired into the console and only had a slider for the player to use. Most first generation game consoles had a knob, this had a slider. I'm not sure how many buttons and/or switches were on the game console itself, but it had to be minimal.

To watch the game, you connected it to the TV. This was decades before HDMI, so even this was primitive by comparison. TVs had two screws to connect the antennae wires. On the other end of the dual wire run was a large metal modern art sculpture held over the roof line by a metal pole. In order to get optimal reception for the 3 TV channels in our area (CBS, NBC, & Public TV ... that was it where I was) there was a motor that could rotate the pole and hence aim the antennae. In later years when the motor no longer functioned; we sons would take turn manual turning the pole, with the door open so we could hear someone inside let us know how close we were to getting the channel clearly (or as clear as it was going to get. Sometimes this was done in the rain. We also walked to school uphill, both ways. hehe

Oops, sorry for getting off track. Well, at the back of the TV where the two screws for the antenna wire; a small box was fit to allow the game signal to be visible ... at least if the slider control on the box was set to "game". After playing, the box was set so that the antenna's signal could once again be received. Yes, you had to walk up to the BACK of the TV before playing this "Pong". It was just as well, since remote controls were rare at the time. WE walked up to the TV to change channels or change the volume. Yes, we walked up and touched the controls actually on the TV ... it was THAT long ago.

Back to the game. Well, just do a quick Internet search and you can find "Pong" for almost any piece of electronic you probably own. I'm guessing that your toaster is "smart" enough to play this game. Think table tennis broken down to the simplest possible form that it would be recognizable as such. This is just a tad less complex than that. I remember that we could play solo "handball" or two could play "Pong". If there were more features than just turning it on and off, I can't recall them.
In retrospect I think my Dad bought it for us boys, so that HE could play it; but it felt like it was just for us. I was never much of a gamer and I'm still not; I had too many books and comics to read. That and I'm a pretty poor game player.

Other video games came and went infrequently over the years ... I think I remember a Commodore 64 and maybe one other cartridge system before I left for college in 1981. But "Pong" was the first ... for us and for the world. :)

 
Richard is a mainframe programmer, comic book fan, podcast fan, and Linux fan (esp. Ubuntu). He is also the host of one of my favorite podcasts, the "Geek Out! with Mainframe" podcast where he talks all things geek with my favorite podcast authors and creative types. His podcast can be found here: http://geekoutwithmainframe.com/ 


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Videogame Memories 04 | Scott Roche
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I am very much what you’d consider a casual gamer. I have a Wii and an X-Box (yes the original). I also have a GBA. Were it not for my kids these things would likely be gathering dust. I enjoy video games though, I really do. I have an iPhone and games like Angry Birds, Battleheart, and Scrabble get more of a workout than just about anything else. I just got a EEE Transformer tablet and I expect that I’ll be looking for games to play on that as well. For me these games are time killers, for use when I just want to veg.

When I was a kid though, things were different. I remember playing E.T. on the Atari 2600. Getting that little alien to navigate the pits ate up HOURS. My first video game console was an Intellivision. It had some truly awesome games including an Asteroids knockoff that owned me for months. Years later I received an Intellivision II from my Dad and this time around it was all about Burger Time. Finally, I went mainstream and managed to snag an NES. Here was were my video game consumption blew up. Blades of Steel is still my favorite hockey sim ever and the time I spent with Mario and the gang explains why my social skills are just now approaching adulthood.

Now that my street cred had either been established or demolished I have to say there’s one thing I sincerely miss, the arcade. For you kids, this was a place that was dedicated to dumping quarters into stand up version of these games. The colorful cabinets, the screaming kids, and the thrill of discovering that a new game had been delivered are all fond memories. The progress in the quality of game play, graphics, and artificial intelligence for the bad guys is certainly a nice trade off, but I miss what are the equivalent of the movie palace of my day. These chapels of geekdom were the places I went to hang out with friends and to engage in the kind of camaraderie and trash talk the jocks out there can appreciate.

I suppose some of that can be found in the dimness of one’s bedroom. Fire up the 360 and log in to Live and you can berate your friends or engage in co-op play with people from around the world. While awesome in its own way, it feels sterile. A purpose built location for hurling bits and blowing large wads of cash while hanging out with your friends should still have a place in the world outside of casinos.


A military brat, fan of horror and occult fiction at an embarrassingly
(for his parents anyway) young age, and a seeker of the true reality
beyond that which we see every day, Scott tries to include as much life
experience in his writing as he can. Every story he writes combines these
elements into something that he hopes you will not only enjoy, but tell
all of your friends about. He is active in the podcast fiction sphere
and is a contributing editor at Flying Island Press (http://flyingislandpress.com/). You can also find Scotts work on his website http://www.scottroche.com/ and many of your favorite online hard copy and eBook retailers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Videogame Memories 03 | Alex White
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Mario and Mother

By: Alex White of The Gearheart

Sometimes I wonder if my mother was right about video games. I’m pretty sure our right brains are getting fat.

Video games weren’t always this cheap, nor were parents always this understanding. Games may seem expensive now, but when you factor in inflation, it’s not bad at all. Furthermore, as the first gamer generations reach parenthood, they’re more likely to purchase a system, making consoles a ubiquitous presence in the American household. Seventy-two percent of American homes have consoles, and the age of the average gamer has risen from eight (1986) to thirty-seven (2011)[1]. What does this mean? What once was magical and elusive has become an indulgent digital buffet of incredible content.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Every time I walk past an abandoned PS3 or 360 kiosk, and I don’t see some kid getting neck and eye strain staring up at a tiny, broken screen, I don’t regret it. That missing child is probably off at his or her house, getting a quality experience in a social setting with family and friends. He or she is probably encouraged to go outside and have some “real” fun. Twenty years ago, however, that child would have been standing in line for a single whack at Super Mario World.

I will never forget the day our little rural Wal-Mart got its Super Nintendo demo station. I’d had a Nintendo with three cartridges (Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, Marble Madness, Back to the Future) before then. I used to rent games from the nearby gas station for a single night of play, and so I never got very far. The carts were expensive, and my parents largely distrusted the Nintendo. My mom saw what it did to me (fat, lethargic, belligerent, frustrated, inattentive). How can I blame her?

Anyway, the controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System had two action buttons, two menu buttons and a d-pad (I didn’t have the robot). It was hard, square, and it used to bruise my palms right in the middle if I played for too long. The lexan decal felt great, though, and it was fantastic to look at with that red Nintendo logo next to the buttons. It was about the least comfortable piece of tech I’ve ever used, but I didn’t care.

That’s why the first memory I have of the Super Nintendo is slipping my hands around that dogbone controller. Probably six millimeters skinnier than its predecessor with actuation in all the right places, rounded edges, triple the functions and two trigger buttons. Those triggers blew my ten-year-old mind. It felt so perfect, and with the X and Y buttons concave, and the A and B convex, the learning time was instantaneous. For the first time, I had experienced actual ergonomics, and with no apology for sounding obvious, it felt goooooood.

Then, when the system was restarted, the Nintendo logo popped up on the screen with the signature coin clink sound. Sixteen bit stereo with sampling quality that rivaled a radio station greeted my tiny ears with all sorts of ambient effects and eight channels for immersive gameplay. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. All I knew was it sounded amazing. That technology would one day give rise to the daring composers who would inspire a generation of electronic artists.

As my mother shopped for home essentials, I stood for hours, staring up at the screen and diving into the lush graphical environments. The yellowed fluorescence of the Wal-Mart with its hokey fashion and prepackaged culture disappeared, leaving Mario and me against the world. Of course my sister would muscle in and take the controller when I died, but there was a defense against that—don’t die so much.

I would visit that kiosk every week for the next two years with the religious determination of a zealous believer. The SNES was a temple, and we followed its rules. The line-jumping apostates were cast out by the Wal-Mart electronics clerk, and those who were righteous got to play just a little longer.

And then my mother would finish shopping, and we would act like little jerks because we didn’t want to leave. Like good children, we punished her for giving us time doing what we loved. We practically handed her the proof that video games make you a degenerate good-for-nothing.

Small wonder she hated video games.


[1]: “2011 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry”; http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp

 Alex White lives in the woodland city of Huntsville, Alabama, where he writes pulp fiction and performs it on podcast with his wife, RenĂ©e. They have a son who is part dinosaur and a couple of animals. His work can be found at: http://www.thegearheart.com/

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Videogame Memories 02 | Tim Ward
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Two of the biggest video game influences that I had growing up were Super Metroid and Final Fantasy III. Super Metroid was a real challenge to remember and read maps, as well as engross my mind in a futuristic world. Summer break from elementary school chilling in my basement with my friends doing spin jumps and shooting missiles at doors was an unforgettable experience. Final Fantasy came a few years later, and was the most impactful in developing my appreciation for fantasy adventure. FF III was unique in that it became an instant obsession. A friend brought it over and we played all the way to meeting Sabin, but there were no empty slots for memory, so I made my Mom go out and buy it. This was in sixth grade, and I became an instant FFIII nut. I could easily go home and play till I went to sleep, then at school I brought my strategy guide and drew pictures of moogles. When my teacher confiscated the book, someone stole it off her desk and I made my mom’s boyfriend go buy me a new one that night. FFIII singlehandedly made me a Fantasy fan and I probably always will be.

I played that game for years and finally beat it one morning around 3AM in seventh grade. My poor little brother, whom I got to level up my characters when I went skateboarding, didn’t get to see me beat it, but eventually played from my last save point and beat it himself. Some of my favorite aspects of FFIII were: the secret characters like Mog and Guru (mimicking Sabin’s bum rush was awesome); Sabin and his blitz abilities, though the bum rush was kind of a pain to do every time; and how halfway through the game, the world changed completely and it was like two games in one; the esper magic system with unique level up bonuses; fighting monsters from the sky in your flying ship; the forest with the dinosaur that gave you like 3k exp every battle, but was deadly if I got greedy and didn’t bring enough guys to battle; plus the story line for each character really hooked me into the story like no other game since. You know you’ve got a classic game when you’d rather play it than a newer game with better graphics.

Tim Ward is a science fiction, fantasy and horror writer from Des Moines, IA. His current project is to edit his SF novel, The General’s Shadow, about a bounty hunter trying to stop a nanobiologist from turning his people into a mutant army. Tim is always looking for people to interview on his two podcasts, AudioTim and Holy Worlds Podcast. He has a few short stories submitted for publication and hopes to see them in print soon. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or his website, timothycward.com

Dan here - The blog post Writing Average Heroes w/Level-Up Appeal Tim mentions at the end of his audio recording is great and was very interesting to me because I was one of the guys telling Tim he needed to read Nathan Lowell's novel Quarter Share. Go check it out and leave comments, it's a very interesting subject for writers when it comes to storytelling. The tension or action at every turn verses the everyman fiction where characters go about their business slowly "leveling up." I'd like to know what you all think about that as well!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Videogame Memories 01 | Jeff Hite
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In the beginning, there was pong, or so I am told. I am not that old, though I am close. I have actually “written” code using punch cards, and played games that required all keyboard input because the joystick wasn’t really a real thing yet.

I was born in the 70’s and despite that fact I was pretty darn near 30 before I had ever played a video game that used a controller that didn’t look like an upside down “T.” I take that back when I was a teenager my brother had a first generation Nintendo, that he shared with me and yes the magic up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A select start does actually means something to me. Then again so do iddqd and idkfa. Despite that nearly useless knowledge, these are not my earliest video game memories. Those come from much earlier.


I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, that magic screen projecting device, but it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was two and a half hours away from my house, and it belonged to my older cousins, but my brother and I spent many a night talking across the room ab out how wonderful it was to play Pacman.

It didn’t matter that we never had enough play time to make it past level 1. It didn’t matter that every time we got our hands on the controls that we had deal with the hoard of screaming people in the room telling us which way we should go and how we should watch out for that ghost right there. Can’t you see it are you blind? You are headed right for it! It didn’t matter that one half of the controller set had been modified for a lefty and you had to play left handed or the fire button was just totally in the wrong spot. (Something I still thank them for since I can now do most things with both hands.) What mattered was that we got to play. And the stories we would tell each other about that time were no less than legendary.

You see my cousins where the first people we knew that had a video game. We had seen them at stores and begged our parents for quarters to play them, but this was an actual system in their home and you didn’t need quarters, you just needed to wait your turn. Sometimes the line was long enough that you could have earned that quarter, but it was always worth it to sit in that darkened basement and play the three turns you got being eaten by ghosts well before you could leave the bottom half of the screen.

After that, we did eventually get a “computer.” It was a Texas Instruments 80 with a sound modulator and tape recorder back up. We had three games at first, Hunt the Wampus, a version of space invaders and PARSEC! But there was that tape backup and it had to be used.

My father was an engineer, at the time working for the Air Force, and was the first computer nerd that I ever knew. He had a plan for us. We were going to learn to write BASIC code. He got us several books, and showed us how we could follow the instructions to write our own choose your own adventure games. He even taught us how we could take instructions from one program and put them in another program so that you could have a cooler more complicated game. It didn’t take long before I was writing my own very primitive games. Heck I even wrote one that used the joystick in a very limited way, but it used it.

That was many moons ago, and even though developers now ask me never to write code, ever again, it was how I got started in my current career field. (Thanks dad for turning me into a computer nerd.) Those were good times and we did move on from there. When I begged for a commodore 64, we bought an IBM clone. I learned DOS, and started my writing career. But it was not just for writing, it had games to you know. Kings Quest, Wizardry and early flight simulators took a large amount of my days. They might have been in black and green, the characters might have been stick figure-esque, and I never did figure out how you could gnaw and something a miss, but those video games were legendary things and, if you were patient enough and held your mouth just right, you could some times even save your game.

 
Jeff Hite is primarily a husband and father, but when he is not at home playing with the ever growing number of kids he is an IT professional by day. In his "spare time" he is a writer, one of the co-founders of Flying Island Press and the managing editor of of Pirate's Cove.  He lives by the motto : "I am a pirate your rules don't apply."



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Videogame Memories - A Call for Guest Blog Posts!

Even though I don't have much time to play them these days with 3 kids running around and most of my free time devoted to writing, video games have played a major role in my life. I have many fond memories of playing video games. I chose my career path because I wanted to get into making video games. Space flight games were a big influence on my upcoming novel. I thought it would be fun to get some guest blog posts before my novel comes out from people on their fond video game memories. I've provided two of my own in text and audio below  as an example. My first time seeing Super Mario Bros on the NES, and my first time seeing Mario 64. I could tell so many other stories, but these have always stood out in my memory as bright and shiny.

What do I need from you?

Email me your stories, or record your experiences and attach them as an .mp3 file. I'll write up your recording, or record what you wrote so both text and audio will be available in the blog post. Also write up a brief bio of yourself, and attach a photo of you and any relevant photos if you're comfortable with that. Of course supply any links to your website(s) that you'd like me to include so people can find what you're up to as well.

Here are a couple examples from me in text and audio format:



Hi. My name is Dan Absalonson, and these are a few of my video game memories.








I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking into the basement of my cousin's house and there on a huge big screen TV was Super Mario Bros. for the NES. At home I had an Atari. The joystick was pretty cool, but there was only one red button. The games were fun, but pretty limited as were the graphics. The graphics I was seeing before me however, just amazed me. All the bright colors on such a massive display, it looked so cool and so much fun to play. I did get to play it later that day, and eventually we got our own Nintendo Entertainment System. I never knew anything like Super Mario Bros. or the NES was even possible before that day. I couldn't have imagined it until I saw it. I didn't know there was more than Atari out there, so it just blew me away.

A very similar thing happened when the Nintendo 64 came out. For whatever reason, I wasn't a Nintendo Power subscriber till post 64, I wasn't aware that the 64 was out yet. I went to my friends house to hang out, and was told he and his brother were in the basement. Once again I saw Mario in all his newly realized glory on a big screen TV. Most people didn't have big screens back then, and when I say big I'm talking a screen as tall as I was. On this monster screen I saw them playing Mario 64. Everything was in three dimensional space. The character was actually walking through a real 3D world. Mario could do flips, and you could hear his voice; it was crazy! I remember the graphics looking so good I just couldn't believe it. I had to get it for myself. We bought a Nintendo 64 a little while later, and Mario 64 was the only game we had for months. That was just fine with us, because we played it for hours; getting all 120 stars and exploring all the secret things you could find in the game. It was so cool how Mario could run and dive and triple jump and do side flips and back flips, and dive into water and swim - all in a 3D world. So awesome!

You can send your emails to: danabso[at]gmail[dot]com

I look forward to hearing from you and posting your glowing pixel memories. A new post will drop every Tuesday and Friday, starting this Friday the 15th, until I run out of them. This will be fun. Thanks for reading!