Atari’s Forgotten Arcade Classics (1972-1975)

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Atari's Forgotten Arcade Games

Rolling Stone recently launched a dedicated gaming site called Glixel, and just recently, EGM alum and Glixel’s General Manager, John Davison (of whom I am a big fan), asked me to write something for the site.

So I did. Atari turns 45 this month, and I thought it would be fun to look back at some of Atari’s early coin-op titles that very few people have heard of. The result is called “Atari’s Forgotten Arcade Classics,” and you can read it now over at Glixel.

If I weren’t so busy with other projects, I’d dive more in-depth into the origins of Atari — I certainly have a lot to say about it. But that will have to wait until another time. Until then, I hope you enjoy this piece.

Ms. Pac-Man Turns 35

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Ms. Pac-Man Arcade Flier Flyer

35 years ago today, Ms. Pac-Man made its worldwide public debut during a press conference held by Namco at Castle Park Entertainment Center in Sherman Oaks, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Ms. Pac-Man launched on February 3, 1982.

In 2011, I interviewed three of Ms. Pac-Man’s creators in depth for a planned feature I was going to write about the game’s 30th anniversary. That project fell through, and although many journalists have written about Ms. Pac-Man since then (and its creators began giving public talks years ago), I found that my old interviews still contained fascinating nuggets of information on the game that had not yet come to light.

So I turned all of my source material on Ms. Pac-Man into an oral history, which FastCompany.com just published. It’s likely that just about everything you’d ever want to know about Ms. Pac-Man’s creation is covered there.

On VC&G, I would like to talk specifically about how I discovered the release date for Ms. Pac-Man, since I’d like people to correct the information that’s out there. (Prior to the publication of my article, sites stated the launch date of Ms. Pac-Man anywhere between late 1981 and January 1982. Wikipedia still says “January 13, 1982” as the launch date — I’ve asked Ms. Pac-Man’s creators, and none of us can figure out where it came from.)

While I found evidence in a single newspaper arcade advertisement that Ms. Pac-Man was anticipated as early as January 31, 1982 (possibly from a test location), Bally Midway formally announced Ms. Pac-Man to the world during a press conference on Wednesday, February 3rd, 1982. A key newspaper report confirms this:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

That’s an article from the Los Angeles Times dated Thursday, February 4th, 1982. It mentions the press conference happening on Wednesday of that week — hence, Feb 3, 1982.

Here’s another article Ms. Pac-Man announcement article newspapers reprinted verbatim widely across the US. It is based on the article above and sent out as a wire report for syndication:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

Anyway — what a game, what a story. I hope you enjoy reading about how a band of plucky New England upstarts created the most popular arcade game in U.S. history.

A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Benj

I’ve been playing around with making my own custom joysticks recently. Just yesterday, I built this Atari VCS-compatible unit you see above using a Sanwa arcade joystick assembly and two Sanwa arcade buttons, both of which are available on Amazon.

I also used an old Bud project box from my late father’s things for the housing, some screw-in rubber feet on the base, a cord from a non-working Atari CX40 joystick, and some scrap steel inside to give the stick more weight and heft.

I built it mostly so I could have a 4-way only joystick for maze games on the Atari 800. (The Sanwa joystick is switchable between 4-way and 8-way upon installation.) The result is absolutely incredible either handheld or set on a table, and my high score in Nibbler has gone through the roof.

On this joystick, both buttons do the same thing, although my next Atari model will probably have three buttons — one for fire, one for up, and one for down so I can play Asteroids on the 800 like a pro.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super High Impact

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Super High Impact Football Game Sega Genesis Arcade Ad Advertisement Scan - 1992The NFL really needs to do something about these bone-crunching incidents

People seem to be talking about football a lot these days, and I’m not quite sure why. To appease the raving hordes, I thought I’d throw out a Football retro scan. In this case, it’s for Super High Impact on the Sega Genesis.

I’ve never been a fan of Football video games in general — my favorite is probably still Tecmo Bowl for the NES. Nostalgia for that game’s intro music alone is enough to get me to play it a couple times a year.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, November 1992, p.15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your all-time favorite American football video game from the pre-32-bit era?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Retro Re-Releases

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Bubble Bobble Also Featuring Rainbow Islands PlayStation PS1 PSX MS-DOS advertisement - 1996“100% Rendered Black Void” — I like the humor in this ad

In the mid-1990s, much to my delight, game publishers began remaking and re-releasing classic games of the 1970s and 1980s in collections on Mac, PC, and consoles. You remember — I’m talking about titles such as Microsoft Arcade (1993), Atari 2600 Action Pack (1995), the Namco Museum series (1995-1998), Arcade Classic No. 1: Asteroids / Missile Command (1995), Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits (1996). Even Super Mario All-Stars (1993) counts to some extent.

That happened to be around the same time I started collecting old video game and computer systems, roughly in 1993, so I was happy that the industry seemed to be rediscovering these “forgotten” classics.

The awkwardly titled Bubble Bubble Also Featuring Rainbow Islands falls into the same category, being a re-release of the arcade version of Bubble Bobble and its sequel Rainbow Islands on PlayStation 1 and MS-DOS.

[ From GamePro, October 1996, p.5]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what are some of the best executed game retro remakes and re-releases?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Joust Guy

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Illustration from Joust Atari 2600 instruction manual - 1982If I were riding a flying ostrich, I’d probably be smiling too.

I don’t normally take scans out of context, but I made an exception for this amazing illustration. It comes from the instruction manual for Joust for the Atari 2600. I isolated the image years ago for possible use in one of my Halloween costume ideas posts, and I’ve been staring at it in my scans folder ever since.

Joust is one of my favorite arcade titles, and I’m particularly fond of the Atari 7800 home version.

I’d like to find out who created this glorious piece of video game art. I’ll do some digging in a bit, but if you know already, please leave a comment and I’ll update this post. (The illustrator may be referenced in the manual itself, but it’s packed where I can’t get to it.)

By the way, I think this illustration would look awesome on a t-shirt. Anybody want to make one?

[ From Joust Atari 2600 Instruction Manual – 1982]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Which is better: Joust or Balloon Fight?