This would probably have made more sense last week, but I was kinda tied up with the whole gambling/drinking thing. This week, though, I have turned over a new leaf, not entirely because I’m mired in a dry county. I’m sure tomorrow when I get to LA i will continue to maintain a monkish existence. Except I will eat more chili verde than most monks probably eat.
My Top Ten Christmas Presents
10. Commodore 64 Computer
I was finally going to enter the world of more powerful computing after being in TI-99/4A non-extended BASIC hell for three years. Machine code via PEEKs and POKEs of a non-sexual nature, it was all there for the taking. Typing in 1800 lines of code from Games magazine would certainly be worth it now, those games would most likely be Donkey Kong-esque masterpieces. Alas, it was not to be.
9. Six Million Dollar Man Action Figure
One of the first hugely popular tie-in toys, the SMDM doll had a ton of shit on it – creepy bionic eye (a peephole carved in the back of Steve Austin’s head), karate/lifting arm mechanism, skin you could fucking peel back to reveal circuitry! This was the pinnacle of 1975 toy chic. (Apparently, after 30 years or so, the peel-backable skin becomes just a hard plastic sheath, so some enterprising lads have come up with a foreskinish SMDM replacement skin. I’m serious, someone makes that. What a sweet world we live in.)
8. Don’t Break The Ice Game
A precursor to the Jenga-type games in which you try to prevent shit from falling apart. Provided early lessons about risk management and dealing with personal loss. There was another sweet game I got the same year where the goal was to fish stuff out of a sewer with magnets on a string – the name of which escapes me. They still make DBTI, so it must still be fun as shit if you are four.
7. Stretch Armstrong Malleable Action Figure
This toy was fun because it was filled with some mysterious mixture (best guess: 45% wet cement, 55% pudding) and every kid in the world was striving to pull the fucking arms off to see what was inside. It was also incredibly heavy – I once bludgeoned a cat to death with one. Okay, that never really happened – any self-respecting cat could easily dodge a 75 pound toy being swung by an eight year old – but I wanted to reiterate that I don’t care for cats.
6. Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots
Not much to say about RESERs – one of the best toys ever. I believe we managed to destroy ours in less than six hours, but it was fun as shit while it lasted.
5. Coleco Electronic Quarterback
Kids these days don’t have no ‘magination – when I was nine, I had to pretend that one bright dot evading three slightly less bright dots was Niners/Bengals. Now the Madden games are accurate down to whether Tony Romo’s facial hair reflects a Thursday, Sunday or Monday game.
4. Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
Before the Six Million Dollar Man hit, EK was the doll-I-mean-action-figure to own. I was particularly psyched to get the Stunt Cycle and attempt to jump over like 60 buses. Unfortunately I didn’t have that many buses so had to just jump it off the table and shit. This toy actually didn’t work nearly as well as the commercials suggested, but still, Evel Knievel was the shit.
3. TI 99/4A Computer
Yes, numbers 2 and 3 on this list happened the same year, known as “The Christmas.” (Of course, there was an element of bribery involved, as I was being forced to move to what I thought was a shithole city. This was later confirmed to be true.) Two computers on here? I must be a dork. The TI-99/4A was a piece of shit, but at the time (1982?) it looked to be more powerful/versatile than a VIC-20. That’s probably the only time that “powerful/versatile” and TI-99/4A have ever been used in a sentence, but it did allow me to copy ridiculously long BASIC code for simplistic games out of a magazine. Those games were about as fun as playing tic-tac-toe against yourself. Still, nostalgia.
2. Murray Moped/Chick Magnet
The computer was to enhance the brainpower, but the moped was all about the chicks. Once the muffler went, it had the approximate volume of an asthmatic Harley and offered an unfortunate plume of smoke as my calling card. Still, mobility.
We always lived in a one-story house, so it was great fun watching a Slinky go down one step. Inevitably got all kinked up and was impossible to unkink.
Basic necessities – socks, non-thong underwear, Yellow Tail, dental floss – do not make great presents.
How can a gift be disappointing if it’s on the “best” list? If you have to pack it back up and take it back to the store two days later. We had an, uh, earnings revision – cash flow was less robust than originally projected.
I have a Playstation 3. We utilize this powerful device in a multitude of ways – shelf partner to our router, place to store mail, DVD player. (I do realize that you can put Blurays in there, but us unemployeds have to make some concessions) The games are just way too fucking complicated. I can really only play throwback games that have controls consisting of: 1) a joystick and; 2) one or less buttons. It can be a fire button, jump button, whatever – but not more than one, please.
Even with my abundant free time, I imagine it would take me 6-8 months to even get to “average” at something like Grand Theft Auto. The whole sorry affair makes me long for the simpler, but much awesomer, games of the Golden Era (ie 1980-1982). For those of you who remember something like House of the Dead with nostalgia, go ahead and sit on it. In the olden days you went to a place called an arcade to put a quarter into a game in an effort to earn the high score. (Leading to a Sophie’s Choice of your own: whether to put “FUC” or “FUK” in as your initials). A simpler, better time, indeed. Here are the sirens that lured in my hard-earned quarters as a youth. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on the matter.
My Ten Favorite Video Games of All Time (Part I)
10. Robotron: 2084
Description: Some robots have taken over the world and your quest is to save the women, children and men with briefcases. Basically just shoot randomly in all directions and move around as there are approximately 15,000 targets on screen at any given point. Sometimes if you fail to blow stuff up it turns into worse stuff capable of blowing you up even quicker than the standard 2.5 seconds.
Personal History: I played Robotron mostly at the sweet Quarterhorse arcade in beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 80’s. I sucked at Robotron. Sucked hard. I wanted to be good, but it was not meant to be. Luckily, Tulsa was a pretty rough place in the early 80’s, and the local school district saw fit to prevent students from going outside ever (thus preventing all fights) by putting pool tables and foosball tables in the boy’s locker room. (Clearly, if they really wanted to forestall teen violence, they would have put pool tables at all the bus stops). And – in probably one of the greatest parenting moves of all time – my mom bought me a table. We played that shit for seriously 6-8 hours daily.
Soon, me and my buddy Kenny, at a robust 12 years of age or so, were holding table at the Quarterhorse against 30 year old men. We were a pretty sweet pairing – Kenny was a lefty who had an unorthodox shot from the 3-Man position; it probably had an extra 1,000 RPM like a Nadal forehand. I was a Federeresque virtuouso with all the shots – push, pull, toe, toe reverse, I had it all. And we were ruling the school’s games as well, for the most part – being great at foosball was literally the equivalent of being the starting quarterback for that brief period in my upbringing. There was even a Friday night school event (Teenation?) where the locker room was open to all students and you could impress the chicks with your domination, while listening to Joan Jett and eating some nachos.
Why am I mentioning this? To have something manly to balance my shittiness at Robotron, Defender, etc. I was terrible at all those “twitch” games.
Anything Else Interesting? I have this game for my Playstation, and I still suck at it. Even with unlimited credits, I am terrible. Dammit.
Distance traveled and method: Maybe I sucked at Robotron because it was too far away and I had to have my dad drive me there, so I couldn’t get in lots of reps.
Description: You are a spaceship and you are mining minerals to build bombs from planetoids. These bombs are to blow up the Sinistar, a scary circular feline face who yelled mean stuff at you as he was being built. “I HUNGER!” You extract the minerals by shooting the planetoids, but there were other little fuckers swarming around trying to steal the minerals and use them instead to bring Sinistar to life. “BEWARE, I LIVE!”
Personal History: I believe I lived in northeast Arkansas when Sinistar came out, this was toward the end of my video game phase. It wasn’t at the sweet local arcade (Galaxy 7) so I only recall playing it a few times when we went to the mall in nearby Jonesboro. Why so high on this list? Cause it was cool as hell and I’ve bought the Williams compilation sets TWICE just to have another shot at Sinistar. “RUN, COWARD!” Full disclosure: I stank then, and stink now, at Sinistar. I think I need a different controller or something. I seriously believe the original Atari 2600 joystick is the best one that’s ever been made.
Anything Else Interesting? Sinistar was among the first games to significantly utilize digitized speech, and the first to implement it just to scare the shit out of little kids. I still am terrified of cat-faced campaign buttons or frisbees that verbalize their hateful thoughts.
Distance traveled and method: As mentioned above, there wasn’t a local Sinistar game, so playing it was one of the many rewards for traveling outside my (short-term) town (population: 1,800).
Description: Five games in one – slightly better ripoffs of Galaxian, Galaga, Space Invaders, uh, hmm….Dominoes and maybe, uh, Risk? Whatever, this was basically a chance to play several games on one quarter.
Personal History: Tulsa, Oklahoma, again. The Quiktrip had Gorf onhand for a glorious few months before it was replaced by the odious Centipede. (Isn’t it odd that you italicize names of video games? I’m not sure that’s Strunk and White had in mind as long form works) Quiktrip was a pretty solid convenience store, with an excellent selection of comic books, NFL preview mags and a robust Icee business. I wasn’t all that great at Gorf, either. Leading me to think I should probably not be endorsing any game rankings as I apparently stink.
Anything Else Interesting? I used variations of gorf (gorf + like a 19 digit number) as the basis for all my internet passwords for a long time. Until a Gorf afficionado cracked the code and stole my ESPN Insider login.
Distance traveled and method: QT was about a 15 minute bike ride. I was in fifth grade, so I was probably going about, what, 25-30 miles per hour? Conservatively, it was probably six miles out. And there was a lot of other stuff offered at QT, so not all attribution goes to my Gorf-love.
Description: Another multiple-games-in-one offering, Tron was all the rage in 1982 as it offered a sweet glowing joystick and I think also a little disc thing so you could aim really precisely. It was based on some awesome movie that I never saw because, even as a kid, it looked stupid to me. As I recall, there was a motorcycle game where you had to box in your opponents, a Breakout-like game where you have to shoot parts of an ice cream cone (actually cylindrical) before it descended upon you, and a ripoff of Combat. Why you would put a Combat knockoff in a game is beyond me, as it was included in the Atari 2600 and was tres lame.
Personal History: In writing this, I’m realizing that Tulsa was really my video gaming stomping grounds. And of that Tulsa era, apart from getting my own Atari 2600 (I was a Space Invaders guy), there was no bigger moment than when they started work on a Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre in the Food-4-Less strip mall. Finally, all my prayers had been answered! They had like 800 games, all the newest shit, we would be constantly on the cutting edge of video game technology! One of the greatest moments of my young life (actually, it still ranks pretty high).
But, as with most awesome moments for a youth, this high was balanced by a horrific fucking low: kids MUST be accompanied by an adult to get into Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre! NOOOOO!!!!! Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the day I started cursing; I had been saving my first F-bomb for a special occasion. (It was the right thing to do, and set me on the correct course in life) I could sometimes get my folks to go, and on more than a few occasions I snuck in on the coattails of some happy family. But I’ve harbored a hatred for C.E.C since then – I believe I only went to a C.E.C once more in my life, to enter a lip synch contest as a member of Run-D.M.C. Don’t ask. But I played Tron whenever I got my ass in the door back in T-town.
Anything Else Interesting? Fucking Chuck E. Cheese. I am now too pissed to finish this.
Distance traveled and method: This was about an eight mile bike ride, if I recall correctly. It was definitely further than QT.
Description: Hmmm…without doing much research I’m gonna have to say that this game was about a zookkeeper who had to deal with some escaped animals. I think you had to build some bricks or something.
Personal History: This was during my brief time living in northeast Arkansas, and Zookeeper was at Galaxy 7. See, kids, there used to be these places that had a bunch of games in one place – it was called an arcade. They would play some Billy Squier, sell you a Coke and a hot dog, and life was good.
Anyway, I was actually great at Zookeeper – it was a brand new game and I was one of the first to play it. Plus, it had a bug where you could get unlimited credits if you pushed the coin return button. I think I rocked the high score for a bit – perhaps this is selective recall. Whatever. I kept those fucking animals in those cages, ya’ll, IIRC.
Anything Else Interesting? The game only lasted like three weeks, I think they had to send it back because it was not accepting coins and was letting everyone play for free, which apparently wasn’t part of G7’s business model.
Distance traveled and method: Galaxy 7 was probably ten miles or so from my house. But in my move from Tulsa to BFA, my parents enticed me to buy into their (poor) decision by offering bribes: a sweet Murray moped that you could pedal in a pinch, and a super-sweet TI99/4A computer. So I was mobile and had access to all the computing power that Texas Instruments had to offer. My life was really shaping up well – undoubtedly, I would never be an unemployed loser with such a grand foundation! Ten miles on the Murray was nothing: the world was at my fingertips.