Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Story of an Atari 2600: Part 2

In part 1 I gave a brief description of my experiences with Atari’s, specifically the 2600. I also left off telling you that I had finally gotten a 2600 Jr.

I have been shopping for a another 2600 for about 2 months but had yet to buy, since as I said I have more important things money needs to go to. Finally though things worked out to where I had about $50 on me to get a new system, in mid-September. I started out on Ebay watching this “Darth Vader” system with games and adaptors, but I couldn’t get the seller to answer my questions and the thing sold very quickly. Luckily I had a few other systems in mind, but that weekend the pickings where slim. As I looked at all of them though there was one thing that had occurred to me most of them looked nothing like the 2600 I use to have, there where the “Darth Vaders”, the “Woody’s”, the “Heaver Sixers”, and so on. Then when I was looking at a 7800 it hit me that my last system resembled the 7800 with it’s looks and switches, but I knew for certain I didn’t have a 7800. Then while trying to figure out what I did have I came across an Atari 2600 collecting app for my iPad, which as well as listing games listed some of the more popular 2600 counsels that where made, including a little unit called the Atari 2600 Jr.

Pretty soon I started keywording Atari 2600 Jr in Ebay, and I found a few of them. Of course wading through and separating the Working from the For Parts sales left me with fewer options. I also had no 2600 games, controllers, power supply, or RF adaptor so I had to find a system that would have all that too. Finally I found a 2600 Jr., with 13 games, one controller, and a power supply. There was no RF adaptor but I figured a trip to Radio Shack could fix that, and I could live temporarily with one controller. So I bought the little jobber all said and done for $46.

I bought it on Saturday, and it arrived on Wednesday, which is not a good day in my house due to long soccer practices those evenings, and even later dinners. But anxious to see my 2600 in action I plugged it in, but to my dismay nothing happened. No game, no noises, nothing at all. My wife who was a bit perturbed at me even buying this system, was even more upset that I may have purchased a broken one. It was late though and we where all tired that evening so I put the system aside to work on later. It would be Friday night till I could work on it again, and even then very rushed. But it was at this point I figured out what the problem might be or at least one of them to the best of my knowledge. I turns out the power adaptor had a cut in it at the point where the wire came into the adaptor, now this could have happen in shipping but I doubt. It was just cut and there was no way of fixing it, I tried but it was “Game Over” for that adaptor. I looked in my box of old wire and adaptors and I had nothing to replace it with. Not only because 9V’s output (like a smoke detector) is odd, but the adaptor has a 3.5mm end like a pair of headphones.

To say the least I was a little hot under the collar believing I had been sold bad merchandise, and I shot an e-mail out to the seller right away. Luckily the guy was pretty honest credited $10 back to me which was enough to buy a brand new adaptor. Of course that made me happy, but not at the same time, I wanted to play Atari 2600 games that weekend. Of course this also cast doubt on the system itself since I didn’t know if it would work at all. So I bought the new adaptor that weekend and I had it by the following Tuesday, and had a few brief seconds that evening to plug it in and check it out. Guess what? It worked, the system powered up just fine, but the picture sucked. I couldn’t blame that on the seller though since I bought the system without the RF adaptor. I tried barrowing the RF adaptor from the NES to see it that would work but had no luck.

 On its website Radio Shack sells a brand called “Gigaware”, which seems to specialize in video game adaptors, and adaptors that allow you to retrofit your gaming systems to your TV. They sell this universal RF adaptor for about $5 that allows your to hook anything up from Atari to XBOX 360 via a good old fashion coaxial link. Luckily I don’t need that for other systems but for $5 I figured why not. But I guess you can’t buy those at Radio Shack stores, since they had no idea what I was taking about, and on looking it up in their system I was told “Sorry sir, online only!”. Well whatever, it took me forever to get over to that GD’d Radio Shack and they didn’t even have the part, but I did find an RCA to RF adaptor. The silly thing is nothing more then as Coaxial input on one side and a single RCA input on the other, about a 1 ½” long, and $0.40 worth of material. I was on clearance though and all said and done I paid $1.34.

The true test came when I finally got it home and plugged it in. It worked, after a bit of channel jumping, and switching things. There is a bit of fuzziness and lines on the screen but it’s tolerable and looks good in HD. So now I have an Atari 2600 up and working.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

How Obscure Can You Get?

Do you have a favorite game that us totally obscure? That one game you spent hours playing that leaves your friends scratching there heads when you call out its title?

I have to think no matter what the platform is we all have a game like that. Probably one my all time favorites was actually on the Commodore 64. It was an Activision title called Park Patrol. Let me guess you never heard of it.

My Mom bought this home for me one day after "bargin hunting" at a local store that carried games. At first I wasn't to receptive, but after playing it for a while it became a favorite. Park Patrol was a cartridge game for the C64. On my SX-64 the cartidge slot was under a trap door on top, I liked cartridge games on this system because they where as easy to use as a cartidge on a Atari and loaded up right away.

The basic concept of the game was that you where a Park Ranger, yes I know go figure in a game named Park Patrol. Anyway, you play as either a male or female park ranger, and find yourself in
a rubber raft or perhaps a Zodiac on what I believe is a river. The goal is to save drowning swimmers, while avoiding water snakes and logs. No you could temporarily get rid of the snakes by throwing glowing disks (snake repellent?) at them, of cuase don't get that nor the drowning swimmers of you could kill them too. At other times you could leave the raft and venture on land to get food from you rangers station. Of course you would usually find yourself fighting off ants to do this. 

Another overall goal of the game was to pick up litter found either on land or in the water. Of course you can't advance until you collect a certain amount of litter, do I guess litter collecting is the main goal of the game, even though you would think saving lives should be. 

One of my favorite memories of this game was playing it one summer night after a long day of working outside with my Mom. I remember her coming to talk to me in my bedroom, where my computer was and her falling asleep in my bed as we where talking. As she slept I just played this game, it's a pleasant memory of Summer as a kid, being with my Mom, my old house, and my old computer. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Repairing a Legend

The year was 1990 and after getting an NES for Christmas of 1989 I decided I wanted to get a Gameboy that Spring. The portable gaming thing on the level of the Gameboy was still a fairly new concept, and after being one of the last kids out of the gate with my NES, I wanted to be the first out of the gate with a Gameboy. So I conned either my sister or my Mom to put the Gameboy on layaway at Wal-mart for me and with my allowance money paid it off after 10 weeks.

I got my Gameboy only about a year after it came out, and I was the first kid at my school to have one. It was an amazing experience I could game away hours on Saturday’s sitting in the car on shopping trips, in doctors office waiting rooms, or while my parents watched something boring on TV. But with a Gameboy I had to spend a ton on batteries, and I had to choose to whether to buy NES games or Gameboy.  

To say the least both my Gameboy and NES got set aside when I got into PC gaming in the mid-90’s. For the most part my Gameboy spent its time from then on having my Dad play Tetris on it. But the Gameboy was always in the living room waiting to be played. In 2000 I bought a Gameboy Color while on a extended trip to help me waste hours in hotel rooms, and it too got stored next to the old game boy in the living rooms I would have through the years, both units always working.

Last year I opened the old Gameboy case to find that the plastic screen cover had fallen off. Apparently the glue just gave out and now its loose. On top of that for whatever reason my original Gameboy, has the foam on the cover turning into a black dust. There are a couple of WTF moments going on here. How they heck does either of these things happen?

Anyway the Gameboy and its games have been cleaned up and for the most part the black dust is gone. But how do I fix this screen?

Do you still have your original Gameboy? Let me know.

Game On! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Story of an Atari 2600: Part 1

I’m not stranger to Atari’s, or its compatibles. As a small boy we had Coleco Geminis, Sears game systems, and actual Atari’s. I remember when I was 5 or 6 we fried a the Colecos, and the Sears, of course we are talking between 1983 and 1985 when these systems where a dime a dozen and my folks could pick up replacements for a few bucks. After we fried the last Sears system, my Mom came home with a 5200 and some games one day. No matter what anybody says about the 5200, I loved mine it was awesome, but that’s a story for a different time.

By about 1988 it became apparent I wasn’t finding anymore games for the 5200, and for Christmas that year my folks and sister chipped in and bought me a 7800. One problem, though I plugged the 7800 in and it didn’t work, at all. So after the new year I got dropped off at Toy’s R’ Us with the receipt and I was told I could get a new one or buy what I want with the money back, which was a bit over $100.00 since 7800’s where $99.99. I decided I still wanted a video game system but not a 7800 so I got myself a new 2600, this version of the 2600 was actually known as the Atari 2600 Jr and went for $49.99. If your not familiar with the breeds of 2600 the Junior was the last of them, and the smallest. Essentially it was a smaller version of the 7800, was black, and had a stainless (looking) band across the top, some of which had the rainbow like the 7800.

I loved my Atari 2600 Jr, and I played it all the way up to Christmas of 1989 when I got my NES. One of my fondest memories of this 2600 is a day we went to a rummage sale and I picked up a plastic container of 10 games for $0.50, they all worked too. I spent my summer playing those, and playing with a friend from down the road who was into 2600 as well. One of my favorite games was Skyjinks, I wanted to become a pilot when I was younger and this and Barnstorming where as close as I could come to a Flightsim. To say the least when the NES came the 2600 and 5200 went into the same box and into the attic. Finally in 1993 I gave the systems to my sister since she was a huge Demon Attack fan and I figured she would like relieve those memories. She still has both systems to this day but they are buried in her crawlspace somewhere.

When I got back into retro gaming I decided I wanted to get an Atari 2600, a 5200, and 7800. But having a family and needing to spend money on more important things, I have only gotten the 2600 so far, and of course it’s a 2600 Jr.

In part 2 I will tell you about adopting this old school technology to a modern TV set up, and some of the other issues and fun I have had. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Remembering PC Games

So it's a rainy day here in Chicago and I have been listening to podcasts all day about retro gaming including one about old Commodore 64 games, and I was suddenly transported back to being a kid. You see on rainy chilly days like this that happened to occur on weekends my Mom and Sister would head to the mall, usually picking days my Father was at the firehouse so my Mom wouldn't have to sneak her newly bought treasures in the house

Back in those days and by that I mean the late 80's to early 90's just about every mall had a computer store. Sure you could find NES games, and Sega games there but they made it about the computer. Do you remember that? It was all about the showroom, the carpeted floors, the few working display models on little desks with office chairs. 

In the late 80's I remember this one store that specialized in Amiga's and those very early IBM's and compatibles with Windows, but still very much DOS based. You walked in there and (maybe this is because I was just a kid) it always felt so posh. You almost expected to see leather armchairs and and a fireplace. I remember just looking at those graphics which where mind blowing at the time, and looking at the games. Yes, do you remember how new computer games use to come? Because that's what I want to talk about in this post. 

You see what helped those old computers seem so posh and sophisticated was the way games, or any software use to come. They all came in these cardboard boxes, that where thick and almost wood like, and entirely covered in glossy print, and pictures. You could put them spined in a bookshelf and they would still look great. And do you remember how they opened and looked inside? No, cutting a little strip of tape and opening a flap, no, no! The top pulled away from the bottom almost like a super fancy board game box, but with little u-shaped finger catches on the sides to get it open. Sometimes there was even a little bit of felt inside which further exuded class. 

I remember just staring on in wonder at those boxes, they even made word processing programs seem awesome. I could only imagine settling down on a cold rainey night with one of those games and loosing myself in the adventures they promised. They even made Chessmaster seem adventurous with that Dumbledor looking dude on the front. 

But at that time in the late 80's I was saddled with a Commodore SX-64, which was a so called "portable computer", and it's 5 inch screen. I did love it, though but I always wanted and Amiga. 

When I got my first IBM compatible, a Packard-Bell in the mid-90's games still came in those awesome boxes. I remember F-117 by Microprose, Strike Commander, and Subwar 2050, as a few of them. But it was the start of the era of the chintsy flap boxes, many other great games like Command & Conquer to name one, where to come but the era of the heavy boxes was over. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

ADD or Just a different time for Gamers.

The Grand Emperors Classic Post - Originally Published October 19th, 2013

I finished Assassins Creed 3 this weekend after playing it for the past 10 months, off and on. Being a gamer with a life, and having my eldest son being at a very impressionable age, I have often found myself having to play games like this after he and my wife go to bed late Friday nights. To say the least your talking 11:30PM or Midnight before I start playing, which after getting up very early to get to work on that same day leaves me slow to think and react in the wee small hours of the morning. The game was entertaining  in many spots, but to be honest I felt lost most of the time, and the constantly chasing people through the streets thing got old fast. So if you where to ask me if I think I might ever play another Assassins Creed game again I'd have to think about it.  

Now, I know this is a retro-gaming blog and you don’t want to hear about Assassins Creed 3, or XBOX 360 or anything else like that, but there is a reason I starting this post by mentioning it. You see some of my favorite modern games like Assassins Creed 3, or L.A. Noire, and Halo all engage you in these very deep movie like plots that for an adult are pretty fulfilling entertainment wise. L.A. Noire also goes as far as immersing you in the world of post-World War 2 L.A., like a James Ellroy novel or late 40's early 50's Film Noire pic which for me is pretty awesome.

So as we old-school gamers go back to our retro games how does all this affect us? 

For me I have to admit I feel a bit A.D.D. playing retro-games after playing modern game. I use to be able to sit through hours of Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Metriod 2 on the Gameboy, or Super Breakout on the Atari 5200, but when I play my Atari 2600, NES, or Gameboy games now I keep a stack of games in front of me so I can jump from game to game as I tire of them in fast succession. 

So what is it exactly that has me doing this? Is it the fact that modern games are much more engaging? Is it the fact that I am just more mature and games like this aren’t enough to occupy me? Is it that as an adult I don’t have a lot of time to invest in a game without saves and casual hit and run gaming is more my style? Does anyone else feel this way? 

Don’t get me wrong I’m going to game on retro and new, but I have to ask what it is that has me in a different mindset. 

Until then Game On. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Welcome Gamers

The Grand Emperors Classic Post - Originally Published October 18th, 2013

Welcome to my Retro-Video Gaming Blog!! In case you can’t tell by the title I’m not a hardcore gamer mostly because I have a life going on, you know the whole full-time job, long commute, married, kids, scouts and sports on the weekend, taking care of the house kind of thing. When I was younger I was into games hardcore, I was a huge fan of the Command & Conquer franchise, I played The Sims for hours, I love any kind of combat flight sim,and  the Gran Turismo series on Playstation 1 & 2. Truth be told I have been into games of all types on a lot of platforms for a long time, and I remember having nothing but hours of time to sit around playing games on my downtime. Now though not so much, but you know what I don’t entirely mind, because (I know it sounds corny but...) being a family man is an adventure of its own.  

Anyway to get on with it, I’m new to the retro-game movement but at the same time not. I found my old NES in storage about three years ago, came home and plugged it in and started playing. That got back into old schooling it pretty quickly, and got me started on looking for my old Atari 2600 and 5200 in storage but sadly I came up empty. At times I use to feel like kind of an odd ball sitting there playing an this old 8-bit video game system on my big HD TV, with an XBOX 360 connected to the same television, but as it turns out about 6-months ago I found out that what I’m doing isn’t so odd. Turns out that there is a whole movement out there for doing exactly this kind thing, including websites, magazines, podcasts, blogs, YouTube shows, and both internet and brick and mortar stores dedicated to this whole movement. 

Over the past three months I've been digging into it all even harder, and have really immersed myself in the culture to learn what I can regarding retro gaming, and to see what I've missed in the past for systems I had and those I didn't. Of course I haven’t been able to get into as I would like to because, as I said I have life going on but this blog is dedicated to all of you out there who are like me, you love video gaming simply to play but its not your life.