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Posts Tagged ‘Atari’

Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Rob: No…
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Rob: Nope…
Dick: What?
Rob: Autobiographical.
Dick: (In awe) No fucking way.

No doubt inspired by the brilliant movie (and book) High Fidelity, I’ve seen a lot of music bloggers run with an autobiography-through-music meme lately: pick one record (or song) for each year of your life.  Not the best seller from that year, or even the best record, but the most important one, personally.

Of course, I immediately thought of games, and what my collection would look like if I had never sold any games, and arranged them autobiographically.  Also, I threw in a little running commentary along the list.  I’d be really interested to see some more of these, so feel free to leave a link in the comments for your list.  Without further ado, read on for Games of Our Lives (part 1)…

1981 – Donkey Kong – Obviously a banner year for me, ’81 was no slouch when it comes to pop culture either.  Three days after me,  MTV was born and video killed the radio star.  And of course, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the world to the original 800-pound gorilla and the most unlikely protagonist since Mickey Mouse: a plucky, mustachioed hero in red overalls dubbed Jumpman.  More on him later…

1982 – Burgertime – I can’t say I played a ton of this one-screen classic in the arcade.  I was busy with other stuff like solid foods, figuring out the appropriate places to put poop, etc.  Six years later, I got this game along with my Nintendo Entertainment System, so we spent a lot of time together.

1983 – Grand Prix – We got an Atari 2600 when my sister struck a deal with my mom about not sleepwalking for a certain length of time.  It worked.  I was too young to really grasp the mechanics of a lot of Atari games at the time, but Grand Prix is about as simple as it gets.  Push the button (and Atari controllers only had one) and move the car with the joystick.  Also, I was weirdly entertained by the screen flashing bright pink whenever you crashed into something.  I’m surprised I never had a seizure or anything.

1984 – Paper BoyAnother one that I was too young to play in the arcades, but absolutely loved when it was ported to the NES.  My first paying job was as a paper boy during junior high school and I think, subconsciously, that job only appealed to me because of this game.  I can still close my eyes and hear the tally screen after each level, counting up the subscribers and non-subscribers on your route.

1985 – Super Mario Brothers – This game was mentioned in two separate speeches at my wedding, so that should give you some idea just how much of a toehold this fictional plumber has in my life.  Want more?  As I write this, a Mario figurine stares back at me from my desk.  My wife will celebrate the day I finally quit wearing my team Mario jacket from a previous job.  I had a dog named ‘Mario’ growing up, and once dressed up as Mario for Halloween. That was Halloween 2006.

I think so much of what makes the original SMB great lies in its simplicity.  There aren’t any cut scenes to watch before you jump into the game – you just know that something is happening in this strange world, and it’s all to the right of where you are now.  It was such an accessible game that everyone at least tried it a few times.  Above all, playing SMB is one of the few shared experiences that my entire generation has in common.

1986 – Bubble Bobble – Catchy tunes, great character design and a vibrant color palette really made this game stand out from other early third-party NES games.  I first started playing it on my aunt & uncle’s NES, before we had one at home.  I used to write down my level passwords on a notebook next to their TV, and my cousins would pick up the game where I left off, writing down all their passwords during their respective visits.  I’d say we invented long distance cooperative gameplay, but I would imagine this same exact process went on in every Nintendo owning home throughout the mid-to-late 80’s.

1987 – Punch Out!! – Just like Super Mario Brothers, Punch Out!!‘s control scheme was elegant in its simplicity.  Everyone could identify with the game’s protganist, Little Mac, and pretty much every guy in his late 20’s/early 30’s can name at least one of the game’s larger-than-life opponents.  At it’s core this game’s a really, really impressive test of timing, rhythm, pattern recognition and scientific method.  It’s held up very well over the years, and was a tremendous hit when it showed up on the Wii’s virtual console in 2006.  Bonus points for including Mario as a referee.

1988 – Mickey Mousecapade I got my Nintendo as a present for my First Communion, along with this game, Burgertime, and the Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt combo cartridge.  Like everyone else, SMB introduced me to platform games, and I loved it.  But the cool thing about Mousecapade was that it let ME control an iconic character that I was already absolutely crazy about.  It’s a formula that game publishers large and small continue to trade in today.  This game added some nice touches, like the “keep Minnie Mouse close behind you” mechanic, and excellent level and enemy design based on Disney classics from Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, etc.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the days ahead!

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Retari

Phil HarrisonIn a move that felt eerily similar to Peter Moore leaving Microsoft for EA, Phil Harrison left Sony Computer Entertainment last week, and immediately resurfaced as the President of Infogrames (ok, he’s actually the Directeur Général Délégué, but let’s not split hairs here). Just about everyone saw Harrison’s departure from Sony coming a mile away – we saw a lot less of him in the news cycle lately, and he was openly critical of Sony brass and their aversion to community-based gaming at GDC in February.

I’ll be honest though, Infogrames is just about the last place I expected Harrison to end up. For a guy that thumps the “let’s all play online together” bible so hard, it seems like Nintendo, Microsoft or EA would be a better fit. Especially considering all three just announced their indie games initiatives. And there are always publishers like Ubisoft, MTV Games and Take 2 that could really use a known personality like Harrison to bring in top-notch talent and keep shareholders from thinking too hard about a re-org or complete takeover.

Ultimately, Infogrames’ fate is bound tightly to its single biggest asset, Atari. And when was the last time Atari was truly relevant (outside of the novelty, retro T-shirt arena)?

2600Sure, Atari will always hold a special place in the hearts of veteran gamers, and every “history of videogames” book/magazine article/made-for-tv movie starts with Nolan Bushnell and Atari. I’ll never forget spending my formative gamer years with Pac-Man, Frogger, Ghostbusters and Donkey Kong on a 2600. Unfortunately, modern-day Atari is barely recognizable from those heady days of one-button joysticks and hardware with faux wood paneling.

Atari’s output has been… schizophrenic in recent history. In the last few months, The Witcher was nominated for a Game Developers’ Award at GDC, their licensed Jenga title wasted a great, practically-made-for-the-Wii license with shoddy execution, and My Horse & Me, uh, came out. And who could forget their history of over-hyped disappointments like the games based on the Matrix movies (even that one where you played as Neo sucked! Why?!?!) and Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure?Neo

Long story short(er), turning around Atari is no small task. As crazy as it may sound, I think Phil H might just have a shot. It wouldn’t be the first time a has-been member of the old guard reclaimed its former glory. After all, the GameCube held a distant third place throughout the entire previous console generation, and now Nintendo prints money.

Beyond all that, Harrison’s shown himself to be an all-around smart guy, and is really progressive about stuff like online delivery, downloadable value-add content, and community interaction. Personally, I’d love to see him pull it off.

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