Category Archives: Nostalgiariffic
I remember being very envious of Gateway computers. In the mid to late 1990’s, they had some really great marketing going on. It was a time when computers were just barely starting to become a fixture in the home. As they did, more and more people people started dialing up and getting online.
They hit a home run with their branding. I remember they would always tout in their commercials, that their computers were built in South Dakota. They used holstein cows in a lot of their early commercials and you really got the impression that Gateway computers were built in some barn on a farm in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. Every computer shipped in a cow patterned box, so it was just a fun package to get. And they really pushed selling their computers as a complete package. All together they did a great job of making the PC seem like something that was friendly, fun, and they removed all the complications of is X compatible with Y. So for a lot of families, their first computer was a Gateway.
We had several old PC’s by the time Gateway rolled around. At this time, we had an AMD K6 machine that ran at 200mhz I believe. Windows 95, 26.6kbps modem. It wasn’t bad for the time. But the stability was less than reliable. This is from the time when you’d turn off your computer, and you’d get a message after Windows shut down that said, “It is now safe to turn off your computer”. Then you’d manually push a button to turn it off. GASP!
But back to Gateway. I’ve been trying to think about why in retrospect, I looked up to Gateway so much. We never owned one, and I only knew one other person that did. And it wasn’t anything remarkable, it did most of the same stuff any old PC would do. I think it was just because the marketing was so prevelant. Not only were there TV commercials, but they would send out actual paper catalogs in the mail which were chock full of desktops, laptops, printers and all the cool stuff that would be blazing fast. And in that time there was always a lot of waiting around when it came to using your computer, so faster was always a huge deal. Now a days you can get away with using even 10 year old hardware and plop around on the internet. But using a 1987 PC in 1997 was pretty much impossible for any modern task.
I remember thumbing through those old Gateway catalogs. I really wanted a laptop and I’d look at a modest, but not barebones model that would be priced at something like $2,500. If I could just make $20 a week, I’d think to myself, it would only take (then I did the math)… 125 weeks. To think that it would take me two and a half years to save up for something like that made them feel completely unattainable, and maybe that’s where my reverence for the brand comes from.
It’s fun to think back on this time. Computers were booming. Everyone was jumping online and into a world that was completely uncharted.
Tonight was Retro Night. I really was at odds as to what to play. What I NEED to play is Final Fantasy VI… but I wasn’t up for something that required such focus and investment. To be honest, I really contemplated just sitting at my PC and watching all of the fantastically hilarious “Geek Week” content on YouTube. But I said to my self, you have begun this tradition of Retro Night, and you MUST honor it. I thought and thought. Then I decided, you know, if it came down to any game you could play at this moment… of all time… what would it be? And from there the choice was simple.
Andrea and Luke are out of town. Some men might use this as an opportunity to go out on the town, hang out with the guys, smoke some cigars. Me? I decided to play Mario Kart 64. And drink. Infact I was doing equally as well at both. Well, by the end I was doing much better at drinking than I was at Mario Kart. Still got gold on all four cups in 150cc though. Not really saying much though. I’ve played so much of this game, I could play it even practically unconscious.
I would like to think that being slightly inebriated helps me experience these old games at a point in time before I had mastered them. That is severely not the case. It serves only to frustrate me as I know what these hands are capable of, only what I see happening on the screen isn’t matching what I’m telling them to do. Slamming into walls, running into traps… not my usual style; not my style at least not when it comes to this game. We go way back.
I tweeted a picture of the poster above a few days ago. I’ve been tweaking out the Retro Room recently and knew I had this stashed somewhere, but it hasn’t been displayed in probably almost 10 years. It was originally a poster insert in the Tips & Tricks magazine that I used to get back in the 90’s. The magazine always published the fastest times for Mario Raceway, and I always would practice and beat the published time before the next issue came out. Of course, then there would be a new FASTER time that some other reader had submitted.
At any rate, this poster appeared in one of the issues. On the flipside, it has a similar scene for Kalamari Desert (wish I would have photographed that before hanging it). Hopelessly lost in my Nintendo 64 addiction, I pinned this up in my room at the height my my Mario Kart 64 obsession. Over the years I let go of some of the more minute parts of my collection, game boxes and the like. But I could never bring myself to throw this one away. It’s an emotional anchor back to a really different, but very pleasant, time in my life. Sentamentally, I value it almost as much as the Mario Kart 64 cartridge itself.
It was a fun night. Though I couldn’t help but think of all the fun we had with Biebs, Bef, Bobby and the rest of my family playing battle mode on Block Fort or Double Deck. An experience that sadly I don’t think I’ll ever be able to re-live quite the same way.
I don’t have much to write about today, been too busy with work, and generally, when I’m not at work I don’t like to re-live it all over, haha.
So I’m gonna try something new… er… old. Here’s a blast from 6 years ago. Life sure is a lot different now.
Goodbye Old Friend: January 4th, 2007
This is all that remains of my old 1990 Pontiac 6000, which later came to be affectionately referred to as “Lil’ Brudder” (inspired by this Strongbad e-mail.) Lil’ Brudder finally was laid to rest at the local salvage yard, sold for the grand sum of $50.
The poor car, really did have the heart of a champion. After all it had been through, it still ran like a champ clear up until I took my last drive the other day down to the junk yard. It didn’t all happen at once, the car has had a long history, or wrap sheet, which ever you prefer.
I have to admit, before I got the 6000 I considered them among the ugliest cars ever made, while that opinion has waned a bit over the years, I still think the A-Body offerings from Oldsmobile and Buick are far more appealing. Below are (from left to right) the 1990 Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, and Pontiac 6000.
Since I already didn’t care much for the styling of the car, I decided that I’d go ahead and have some fun with it. And three rolls of 1″ white electrical tape later, the car had racing stripes, effectively adding 300 horsepower. I always hated the front grille and headlight design more than anything. And sticking with the electrical tape trend, I blacked out the fog lights on the inside to make the grill seem less puny and to take some of the focus off the gawdy headlights. This is probably the best Lil’ Brudder ever looked.
It didn’t last long though. As most everyone knows, the car has a long history of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the accidents weren’t my fault though. Let’s see if I can remember all of them…
#1 – Within the first month of moving to Manhattan a hail storm blew through and pelted the car. Good thing I had insisted on that full coverage insurance at the time. (Not my fault)
#2 – Rearended by some guy with a suspended lisence while at a stop sign in Manhattan. Busted out the rear tail light covers and pushed the trunk in. (Not my fault)
#3 – Pushed into a gaurdrail by a big moving truck that didn’t stay in the inside lane when turning left through an intersection. I was in the right lane, he started moving in, and there was no where to go. (Not my fault)
#4 – Hit in the left front fender while at my sister Jamie’s apartment. Never found the cluprit. (Not my fault)
#5 – Car spun while hitting a patch of ice going to work. Spun the car 180 degrees and slid into the curb blowing out the left rear tire and bending the rim. (Okay, that was my fault.)
#6 – The deer. (Not much you can do when they jump right infront of you.)
So after all this is added up…you get…
Ouch! I almost forgot how that car looked the morning after the wreck. Still running like a champ though and I couldn’t exactly afford a new car, so I had to drive this thing. But first I had to make it legal and get two working headlights.
Thanks to a $5 Wal-Mart bolt on flood light, I did.
And this is how she looked until just the other day when she drove off into the sunset. It was certianly an ugly car to begin with, and even uglier in the end. I really think the car would have drove forever. But in the end, it needed a lot of work, a lot of attention, and a lot of money to make presentable on a car that I wasn’t too crazy about in the first place. After all we’ve been through together though, I must admit it earned a special place in my heart. For a little car that got no love, and went though it all, it never would give up. Heart of a champion…*sniffle*.
My little brother Jake came up this past weekend. For the past two weeks, he’s been calling me every couple of days asking about GoldenEye. What we can do, what levels we can play, and most importantly, what cheats we can use. Haha. I don’t think he typically plays a lot of games, but for whatever reason he’s really latched on to GoldenEye. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone this excited about GoldenEye since… me.
So we spent a large amount of time playing that. I was content to spectate. As I’ve said before, I almost like watching people play games, more than actually playing them. Which is why I still nag Andrea once in a while to play through Final Fantasy X. It’s just so fun watching people discover the game as they play. It’s as close as I can get to playing it again for the first time.
More than anything, I found it remarkable that an 8 year old kid in 2013 is at all interested in a game that is literally twice as old as he is. Compared to games today GoldenEye must some mundane to some extent. But I appreciated and enjoyed our shared enthusiasm.
If you’ll notice the TV on the floor in the picture above. Luke has since moved into the old Retro Room. So we moved that TV upstairs. It is a heavy bastard. Much more than one person can handle alone. So in a time crunch, I had to set everything up like that, because I knew I’d be at work, and Jake would NOT want to wait until I got home to play GoldenEye.
Later this weekend, Andrea was able to help me get the TV up on the stand, and I started rebuilding the Retro Room.
Seems like a nice spread to me. =) One thing to note, is that little of that has been actual collecting, for collecting’s sake. A vast majority is just accumulation over time. Most people garage sale old games and systems once they are bored with them, I just never did and now I have a ton of this stuff. This is all pretty much everything before HD consoles. The only things missing are the Wii games which we still keep downstairs to play on the Wii U, and the ridiculous amount of controllers. Everything else from 1987 – 2012 is pretty much right here. Kinda weird to see all that history and all the memories in one place.
I like this arrangement better than what I had in the old room. Rather than a straight line from left to right. Looks pretty good I think for some free cards from Club Nintendo, and $1 frames from Dollar Tree.
You can’t be around all these classic games and NOT pick one up! Andrea found Super Mario Land 2 and decided to give it a go.
And there’s pretty much the current setup. I like it better than the previous arrangement. I still have to swap some cables out to get some of the systems playable, but for the most part, it’s all within 60 seconds of being ready to play. I have an idea for controller storage I’m excited to try and I want to try to find a few more things for the walls. But the Retro Room is back! That’s the important thing.
No one else can possibly see what I see when I look at that car. That right there is my first car. Not a car like my first car. That IS my first car. It’s a 1979 Caprice Classic. To most people, you look at it, and you see a pretty cool car. But to me it represents so many things. And now it’s mine again, thanks to Dad.
I see history first of all. My history. A “flash before your eyes” kind of moment when I stop and really look at that car. The places I went as a teenager, the stuff we did, the friends I hung out with, my job, school. All of it comes rushing in too quickly to take it all in at once. It’s like a focal point where so many chronological paths cross.
I see freedom. I was never really guarded as a youth. For the most part I stayed out of trouble… my parents trusted me because of it… and because of that, I got to do what I wanted. So that car for the first time in my life could take me where I want, whenever I want. But suddenly my borders were expanded. I wasn’t bound by the city limits, or having to ride my bike home before the streetlights come on.
I see independence. No longer did I have to rely on my parents to take me places. I didn’t have to wait until Mom had to go to the store to see what new games were on the shelf. I could get a job, I could make money. And if I wanted to go to a movie, as long as I had gas and the money to do it, I could go.
I see people. A lot of people that bluntly aren’t a part of my life anymore. Nothing personal, we’ve just all lost touch over the years, which makes it all the more surreal to see this car again. After a while you gain a sort of acceptance that relationships aren’t what they used to be and you accept it. But this is just like an old friend that you haven’t seen for years, but you can instantly strike up a conversation with the moment you are reunited.
If this were made today you would earn experience points, level up and then get some kind of cheat after a couple tries to help you through the level… because everyone is entitled to win! Well, not back then. These games made you cry.
The above is a quote from Mark Bussler’s “Classic Game Room” in his review for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for GameBoy.
Games have come a long way. 20 years ago we were mesmerized by a few dozen textureless polygons in barren and featureless worlds. We could have epic 2D adventures unfold on a canvas only 256 pixels wide. Just like your grandparents lived without now expected amenities like air conditioning or cruise control, we played on without quick saves or wiki’s. We didn’t long for them, because we didn’t know any better.
Technology has enabled games to be some of the most amazing pieces of entertainment production available. Massive open worlds to explore, epic and cinematic story presentations, new ways of interfacing with that world and controlling your character that wouldn’t have been possible in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. But strip away the technology, and what you expect out of a gameplay experience is fundamentally different than it was 20 years ago.
Let’s consider metagaming. Metagaming, in this context being what players in general expect from a video game, along with what developers produce to meet those expectations and sell games. You couldn’t release a game such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II above on any current generation hardware and expect it to be even mildly well received. It’s clunky, it’s slow, it’s repetitive, and it has a steep difficulty curve. Consumers expect polished and expansive games with tons of content. Many games don’t even include instruction manuals anymore. No big deal, because the first 2 hours of gameplay are tutorials. The game IS the instruction manual. Without any research whatsoever, I feel pretty confident generalizing that the average gamer today has a shorter attention span than they used to. Maybe that’s just something old farts like me say. But I’ll even include myself in that generalization. There are so many more mediums of entertainment and information now battling for our attention, that I don’t think it’s a far fetched claim to make.
Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying “New School” is wrong, “Old School” is the only right way. I just think that as the “meta” morphs the game experience slowly and over time, that eventually you reach a moment where you suddenly become aware and have to say to yourself, “How the hell did we get here?” Where your computer controlled side kicks can kill every enemy in a level, where you can sit idle and let your health re-gen, where you can insta-save at any moment so there’s no fear of dying, or perhaps most egregious, purchase in game “power” with real world money to make a game easier.
As a developer, your job is to create games that will sell. When games first became a profitable venture, it was the job of the developer to come up with a fun and compelling hook, then beat the ever loving shit out of you in short order. In the arcades, this kept people pumping quarters into the machines. Games that were intensely fun to get you playing, but quickly became incredibly hard to get you off the machine. The first home consoles basically fulfilled gamers’ desires to bring that arcade experience into their home. So again, developers gave gamers what they wanted. As home consoles became more prevalent, the market started to open up for games that were a more lengthy experience. You could easily sit on your couch for 30 minutes or an hour and enjoy a video game now. And again, with an installed hardware base already in place and the technological means to deliver those longer games; people first started to demand them, and soon expected them.
Over time, along with the technology, gamer’s expectations also evolve. What is first innovative, soon becomes standard. And once it is standard you become comfortable, even rely on it. Jump back in the evolution chain and it can be difficult to adapt to a game that doesn’t have some of the expected features of a more modern title. I experienced this with Final Fantasy III on the SNES. I was trying to figure out how to use Sabin’s “Blitz” command, and was completely lost. I didn’t have the instruction manual and there was no in-game tutorial. I was completely adrift for a while. I guess part of me just expected the game to hold my hand through that part, instead it opted to mercilessly kick my ass.
For me, some of the best games I’ve ever played are the ones that frustrated the ever loving crap out of me. Because you keep tyring, and when you FINALLY beat it, you feel like you have really accomplished something. I remember the first time I beat Ganon, got past Bald Bull, de-fused all the underwater bombs in time, and passed Stop N Go Station. All some of the hardest and most rewarding experiences at the time.
This isn’t a rant about how games aren’t hard any more. There are still hard games. This is about lowering the bar until the player can step over, rather than expect the player test their mettle. Regardless of a game’s difficulty there’s something I respect about a game that is unwavering in its challenge. I feel there’s some degree of measurable respect to be given to players who meet those challenges.
Games now aren’t worse for their crutches. Just a different kind of adventure. One that is perhaps a little more scripted and forgiving. But if you get a chance, pick up an old game. Grab your old Super C cart and see just how far you can get your first time through. It can be a humbling experience. And in the “say anything” age of the internet, it is my observation that we could all use all the humbling we can get. Myself included.
I’m 30 years old, and for as long as most people have known me, video games have been a part of my identity. It’s a passion that waxes and wanes through the years, but for the most part it has always been there. Well, not always. You know, there was a time before games, before Nintendo.
My VERY first memory of video games involves the NES. I had to be around 5 years old. It was at least 1987, because I remember a friend and co-worker of my Dad’s bringing over his NES to our house. If I recall, his name was Kevin. This was a long time ago, so that may not be accurate, but for the sake of the story, we’ll call him Kevin. He and my Dad set up a small 13″ TV in our dining room and strung out all the cables and connected the NES to the TV. I really had no idea what it was. But I remember Kevin was excited to show it off. They were playing The Legend of Zelda, which I distinctly remember because of the gold cartridge and I remember watching Link walk around killing creatures. I never did play it though. To be honest I was more interested in this totally awesome firefighter board game he brought for me and my sister.
To side track just a minute here. That board game by the way, was freaking awesome. I completely forgot what it was called, but thanks to the internet, I actually was able to find it! It was called “Oops & Downs”. You actually assembled several pieces of cardboard together to create a 3 tier game board and you raced to the top. Sometimes you’d land on a tube though, and you had to slide your fireman down the the level below. It made a funny little “waaaah” noise as the game piece slid down the tubes. It was about as complicated as Shoots & Ladders, but it was so much fun! I hadn’t thought about that game in forever!
Okay. Back to Nintendo.
So while Kevin’s NES was my first exposure to video games, I didn’t have a real meaningful impression until some time later. Sometime in 1987 or 1988 I remember visiting a friend of my Mom’s. I can’t remember what her name was. I’m 95% sure my Mom knew her as a co-worker from her days at “OK Video” in Dodge City. I want to say she had a somewhat uncommon name. At any rate, her son had an NES in his room. He would have been a few years older than me. And I remember vividly, his room was small and cluttered. It was dark, lit only by the glow of a small TV and the light that bounced in from the open door to the hallway. I remember watching him play Super Mario Bros. and thinking, “This is amazing!”
Any impressive technology provides a bit of disbelief that you are actually able to do what it allows you to do. I still marvel at smartphones, and that I’m able to get my e-mail, navigation and even video chat from almost anywhere. It still baffles me a bit to know that all that is capable in a device you can slide into your pocket. If you weren’t there at the time, it’s hard to imagine the NES as “amazing”, I’m sure. But the Nintendo Entertainment System really felt like something new and cutting edge. When you saw it sitting on the shelf, you marveled at the technology inside. It looked sleek and very “now”. The NES has become such an icon of retro culture that it’s difficult to believe that we once looked at it the same way we look at the PS3 or iPad now. It was an expensive advanced and fancy pants machine in its day, that’s for sure.
I remember watching this kid in his room, pluck-ing fireballs, going down pipes, and exploring this amazing world inside the television. He let me play a bit. I of course was terrible, but I was compelled, just wondering what could possibly lie just off to the right of the screen. What adventures did each next level have in store?
My Mom came in and told me it was time to go home. I actually cried when it was time to leave. I wanted to badly to stay and keep playing. In the weeks after that, whenever Mom loaded us up in the Astro Van to go run errands, I always hoped in the back of my mind that we would make a stop at that house so I could play more Mario. To this day, I still remember that house was on Avenue C.
The weeks and months that followed may possibly have been some of the most annoying days my parents ever experienced. I don’t remember nagging them for a Nintendo, but I do remember REALLY wanting one BAD. So whether I deserved a Nintendo, or they got one just to shut me up, I’m unsure. When you’re 6 years old, you have a significant lack of perspective. Whatever the motivation we eventually got our very own Nintendo Entertainment System.
Here’s what I remember… I don’t recall it being a particularly special occasion like a holiday or birthday. I just remember my parents saying we were going to Wal-Mart and we were “Going to get a Nintendo”. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember going in the store, but for some reason I feel like I remember seeing the box in the car on the way home… that memory is really fuzzy though.
One thing I do remember rather clearly is my folks saying it was going to take 30 minutes to hook it up once we got it home. 30 MINUTES! I couldn’t believe it! What an eternity! I might as well just wait until I’m RETIRED! Sheesh! Time is certainly a relative perception, and if you have kids, don’t underestimate the difficulty little people have waiting for things to happen. When you’re a kid, if it’s not happening now, it may as well be 100 years away. The funny thing is, now hooking up a NES takes about 2 minutes. But it sure felt pretty complex back then.
I also recall being chiefly aware that this was expensive. I don’t know if I respected that fact then as much as I do now. It was definitely a lot of money compared to every other toy I had. I figure the NES probably cost around $150 then… the equivalent of almost $300 in today’s money. That was a lot of money just to shut me up! Ha ha.
After that, my clearest memories involve me being supremely frustrated with Super Mario Bros. There was so much rage when I couldn’t even clear the first jump in World 1-1. Time and time again, I would approach that hole… jump… and die. Mom had to try to calm me down, I would get so mad. I even tried thrusting the controller up in the air, hoping my muscle movements would help propel Mario over that chasm. Little did I know someday that would actually be possible. But with patience… okay, maybe not patience, but practice… I finally cleared that first jump. After that I never looked back.
The NES continued to bring so many great memories. Excitebike, Punch Out, Galaga, Rad Racer, Ice Hockey… all early experiences that felt completely amazing. And it began a love for games that continues to this day, even if I spend more time reading and writing about them that I do playing them it seems.
What were your first gaming memories? Post ’em up in the comments!
Luke and I watch a lot of Mr. Rogers together, and Mr. Rogers often comes up at work when we’re talking about childhood things or wholesomeness. We were discussing how new songs are so catchy, but we try to avoid listening to the lyrics, because it can ruin the song for us.
I said, “Why don’t artists sing about wholesome things with catchy tunes?”
Then my co-worker showed me this:
Man, I haven’t been this excited for anything I’ve bought on eBay since the Panasonic Q fiasco. A long sad story that ultimately ended with me getting screwed out of $400. Worst case scenario, I’ll get screwed out of a lot less on this deal.
Still holding my breath to see what actually shows up in the mail this week or next, but I still can’t help but be excited. I’ve said before that the Vectrex is my “holy grail” on my retro gaming wishlist. Mostly because they have been going for more than we spent on the Wii U recently. But for whatever reason, it seems like prices have gone down on them in the past few weeks. I found one that doesn’t look quite perfect, but appears to be fully functional and in pretty good shape for something that’s 30 years old now.
For those not up to speed on what the heck a Vectrex is, here’s a fantastic review from one of my favorite Youtube Channels: Classic Game Room.
My infatuation with the Vectrex is a bit perplexing, even to me. I never had one, nor known anyone that had one. Honestly I’ve never even seen one with my own eyes. So it’s not like it’s nostalgia that is drawing me in. It’s just so totally different than anything else. It’s like getting the keys to a time machine and being able to go back and experience these games in exactly the form they were 30 years ago. You can hook up an NES today, but to get the purest retro experience, you need to hook that NES up to a 25 year old cathode tube TV too. Well with the Vectrex, the video, the sound, the controller… it’s all still there preserved as one unit.
I’ve played some vector games before. I most vividly remember a Lunar Lander arcade cabinet that they had when I was at “Space Camp” at the Cosmosphere as a kid. But most of us are far more familiar with raster games. Like Mario or Tetris. Where the images are made of pixels. On the Vectrex, there are no pixels. Rather the images are drawn from vectors, or lines from point to point. At the time this gave designers the ability to do some cool things, like scaling or rotating images, which required more processing power than was generally available from console hardware at the time. One of the drawbacks was the lack of color, which actually lead to one of the Vectrex’s coolest features: the color overlays.
So yeah, I’m stoked. Hoping not to get my dreams crushed when I open the box… that hopefully eventually arrives.