Technologizer posts about Gaming Nostalgia


By  |  Posted at 9:27 am on Saturday, January 28, 2012


I didn’t own an IBM PC or clone in the early days, so I missed out on the wonder of DONKEY.BAS, which came bundled with early versions of MS-DOS and was the first PC game. In fact, I don’t think I knew about it until I read Benj Edwards’ slideshow on operating-system games, which pointed out that it was cowritten by Bill Gates himself.

But now I can relive the magic for the first time, thanks to a new version of DONKEY.BAS for iOS. It’s 99 cents, is compatible with Game Center, and includes both iPhone and iPad versions. It seems to be a faithful rendition of the original, complete with blocky graphics and bloopy sound effects, and the same objective: Drive down road, avoid hitting donkeys. And it’s um, just as fun as it must have been back in 1981.

The new version is by Johnny Ixe; I’d love to think that’s a pseudonym for William H. Gates III. Probably not, though, so let’s hope that Microsoft doesn’t issue a takedown notice….

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One of my favorite parts of E3 this year was the Classic Gaming Expo, an exhibit packed with decades-old gaming systems and arcade cabinets, many of them playable. The group of collectors that put it together is still seeking a permanent home in the Silicon Valley, under the name Videogame History Museum, and needs about $5,000 more on its Kickstarter campaign to make it happen.

Posted by Jared at 1:50 pm

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Classic Gaming Expo Makes E3 Old Again

By  |  Posted at 5:57 pm on Friday, June 10, 2011


Tucked into a corner of the Los Angeles Convention Center was a retro gamer’s paradise.

Arcade cabinets lined the back wall of the booth, flanking row after row of classic game consoles. Literally everything was there, from the Magnavox Odyssey to the TurboGrafx-16 to the Nintendo 64, many of them playable. An old TV cabinet played Space Invaders, right behind a glass display case with some of the rarest video game hardware in the world.

And at the center of it all was Joe Santulli, dressed in a crisp white suit and turquoise shirt, as if he’d stepped out of the 80s. After a three-year absence, Santulli and his fellow collectors have brought the Classic Gaming Expo back to E3, this time with a new purpose: They want to build a museum for video game history.

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Angry Birds vs. Pac-Man: Is it as Big of a Hit?

By  |  Posted at 9:05 am on Friday, December 3, 2010


John Gruber, in his Talk Show podcast, says Angry Birds is the new Pac-Man.

Given how popular Angry Birds has become, and how it’s now part of popular culture, my first reaction is to agree. But Pac-Man is an icon that has endured for three decades, so we can’t take the comparison at face value. Let’s have some fun with the analogy and dig a little deeper.

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X-Men and the Lost Appeal of Arcade Beat-Em-Ups

By  |  Posted at 9:52 am on Monday, October 11, 2010


A few years ago, my old man and I built an arcade cabinet. On slow weekends in Manhattan, I’d drive to my parents’ house in Connecticut, and we’d chip away at the project, cutting the plywood, fitting the plexiglass, installing the joystick and buttons. The “Arcadium Newmanium” was (and is) a beautiful monstrosity, and with the help of an emulator on an old PC, it can play more than 100 classic arcade games.

But it was the kind of project where the journey was more exciting than the destination. Once I started playing the arcade games from my childhood — primarily, beat-em-ups like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — I quickly understood how little appeal these games had beyond cheap nostalgia.

So forgive me if I’m not excited about X-Men Arcade coming to Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

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OutRun Meets the Real World

By  |  Posted at 2:40 pm on Sunday, October 10, 2010

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As Garnet Hertz sped towards the road in his OutRun concept car, I momentarily feared that he might get splattered by oncoming traffic. After all, gauging your surroundings can be difficult when your windshield is replaced with a video game.

Hertz describes the OutRun car as the “de-simulation of driving.” It’s the arcade cabinet from Sega’s 1986 racing game, fitted around a golf cart, with the game’s steering wheel and pedals hooked up to the drivetrain. More importantly, it’s a modified version of the OutRun software, blocking the view to the road. A pair of hood-mounted cameras are supposed to detect the road and feed the information back to the game, but this was impossible in the dark. Hertz was driving blind.

Of course, Hertz made it back to the crowd at Indiecade in one piece, but he wouldn’t let anyone else drive, so I made a video of him driving the Outrun car instead.

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A Stinky Old Plan for Video Game Smell-O-Vision

By  |  Posted at 11:34 am on Monday, October 4, 2010

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Scent is pretty much an untouchable dimension for multimedia. I doubt that many people pine for the ability to whiff what they’re seeing on the screen in front of them, and besides, delivering smell is impractical outside of big-ticket events.

Decades ago, Hideo Kojima, who’s best known for directing the Metal Gear Solid series of games, had a solution for the latter issue, at least. According to a post on Twitter, found by Kotaku, Kojima wanted the stench of blood to hover over Snatcher, one of his earliest games.

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Intellivision Collection Deemed Unfit for Gamestop [Update]

By  |  Posted at 5:08 pm on Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Update: The makers of Intellivision Lives! have erased the Facebook note referenced in this post, and Gamestop now lists the game on its website. A new statement from the makers apologizes “for jumping the gun” by talking about who will and will not be carrying the game, and promises to “shut up till [publisher Virtual Play Gamse] releases official info.” Thanks to commenter Mike Dougherty for pointing this out. Original story continues below.

Classic video game compilations strike me as easy money makers, created on the cheap and sold on pure nostalgia. But for Intellivision Lives!, Gamestop wants no part of that formula.

In a news posting on Facebook, the makers of Intellivision Lives! for Nintendo DS said Gamestop declined to sell the game. “They say that the 30-somethings that shop there ‘may find it appealing’ but apparently they don’t feel it is for their target (younger) clientele,” the news post said.

As Gamertell points out, Gamestop isn’t categorically opposed to classic game compilations. The retailer already sells Retro Atari Classics and Namco Museum DS for the Nintendo DS, in addition to countless other compilations for other game consoles. And according to the Entertainment Software Association, the most frequent buyers of video games are 40 years old on average, so there goes the theory about pandering to younger clientele. I suspect that Gamestop’s decision has more to do with Intellivision than it does with a refusal to accommodate 30-somethings or nostalgia.

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Atari May Plunder Its Classics for Remakes

By  |  Posted at 10:05 am on Friday, July 16, 2010


Atari’s not the company it used to be — literally, it’s been swallowed up by a succession of larger companies since the 1980s — but it can still milk name recognition and classic video games.

The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Infogrames, is remaking the Atari 2600 classic Haunted House, and a couple of listings on Gamefly suggest that Centipede and Star Raiders remakes could be next.

Given the timing, this wouldn’t surprise me. E3 was crowded with remakes of well-known or in some cases forgotten video game franchises. Fondly remembered games like Goldeneye and NBA Jam are being brought back to life, while franchises that never really went away, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat, are going back to their 2D roots. These are safe bets in the midst of a games industry slump. If Atari wants to jump on the nostalgia train, now’s the time.

The difference between Atari’s remakes and the examples I saw at E3 is that Atari’s games are so old, there’s very little to build from. Haunted House could be a great game, but it’s impossible to say whether the remake is faithful to the original, because the original is so primitive. If Star Raiders gets remade, it’ll probably resemble Wing Commander more than anything else.

Basically, I feel the same way about Atari’s games as I do about the upcoming surge of movies based on very old video games. They won’t necessarily be bad, but they’re just blank slates with recognizable names.

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Yearning for Color in Black and White Game Consoles

By  |  Posted at 5:08 pm on Tuesday, July 6, 2010


It makes little sense that I miss having Nintendo’s GameCube in my living room. The Wii plays GameCube games, and it has a slimmer profile, but something’s lacking. Frankly, I think it’s the GameCube’s indigo shell.

I came to ponder color in game consoles — that is, in their physical design — while reading about Sony’s plans to release a white Playstation 3 in Japan. That completes the trifecta; with the Wii and Xbox 360 both going black, all three current gaming consoles have reversed polarity, or at least offered the option for customers to do so.

But isn’t there room for game consoles in the middle of the color spectrum? Not if history’s any indication. Take a few minutes to scroll through’s brief retrospective of home gaming systems. You’ll find a few funky outliers — Magnavox’s Odyssey 300 from 1976 was bright yellow — but for the most part game consoles come in black, white or gray.

The exception to this rule is portable gaming. Nintendo’s DSi XL comes in debuted in burgundy, and the DSi launched stateside in black or light blue (white and pink followed). Though Sony’s PSP comes mainly in black in the United States, blockbuster games are sometimes accompanied by limited edition color PSPs.

I think I understand why this happens. Portable consoles are a personal thing, onto which gamers can project their self-image with color. At home, a game console’s best bet is to blend in. Entertainment centers are black tie affairs, so don’t be the only set-top box wearing a Hawaiian shirt, so to speak.

Thing is, game consoles are supposed to be the fun ones, the crazy uncles that do all the fun party tricks. Colorful game consoles may not be totally appropriate, but the living room just feels a little too bland without one.

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ZX Nostalgia: Another iPhone Game Emulator

By  |  Posted at 7:01 pm on Monday, June 28, 2010


The iPhone has given life to another set of old games. This time it’s ZX Nostalgia, an emulator of Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum personal computer.

ZX Nostalgia costs $1 and includes 14 games, including Manic Miner, Fantastic Voyage and a shameless Star Wars clone called Starstrike 3D. All the games were released between 1982 and 1984.

I gave the app a whirl, and although I don’t regret spending the buck, there are a few things that need improvement. The interface is not nearly as slick as Manomio’s Commodore 64 emulator, and it lacks extra features such as high scores or online achievements. ZX Nostalgia could also use some more detailed instructions for each game — some games are just impossible to figure out — and more customization in its controls.

But overall, I’m pleased that there’s another bundle of emulated classic video games in the App Store, and it makes me wonder what we’ll see next. I still think a Nintendo emulator is out of the question, because the company is now competing with Apple in the handheld gaming market, even though an official emulator app would be awesome and a huge money maker for both parties.

In January, Gizmodo reported that a “Sega Genesis Ultimate Collection” app would arrive the following month, but it never did. Perhaps Sega found more success selling standalone classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe. Also, Manomio has put together Atari 2600 and Amiga emulators as tech demos, but an app would require rights to the games, or permission from rights holders, and I’m guessing that hasn’t happened.

There’s still room for other consoles, such as Intellivision (Update: Intellivision is available, and it’s free), Sega Master System or Turbo Grafx 16, but I don’t know what has to happen to make them a reality on the iPhone. I just know I’m enough of a sucker for retro video games on new devices that I’d pay for all of them.

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E3′s Video Game Remakes: Faithful or Not?

By  |  Posted at 2:49 pm on Saturday, June 19, 2010


With the games industry in a downturn, the time is right for publishers to bring back forgotten games or return long-running franchises to simpler roots. Indeed, the lure of the reboot was strong at E3, with classics such as NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat making comebacks.

But how true do these games stick to their 8-bit, 16-bit and 64-bit roots? Do they preserve the feel of their ancestors, or merely capitalize off name recognition and cheap nostalgia? Here are my impressions:

NBA Jam: The game felt a little funky with the Wii remote and Nunchuk combination, but once I flipped the remote on its side and used it as a classic controller, I was back in the 90s. Bonus points for bringing back Tim Kitzrow, voice of the original game’s signature boomshakalakas. Faithful.

Goldeneye 007: Better referred to as Call of Goldeneye. Activision’s Wii remake looks like the Nintendo 64 classic, but feels a lot like the Call of Duty series, with twitchy instant kills instead of drawn out gunfights. On that note, the original GoldenEye’s distinctive red health and blue armor indicators are gone — who needs them with action this fast? — and the demonstrator had no idea what I was talking about when I asked whether they’d appear in the final game. Unfaithful.

Mortal Kombat: The gory fighter went astray in recent years with 3D arenas and a tedious system of lengthy combos to memorize. The new Mortal Kombat returns to 2D with sky-high jumps, crazy uppercuts and sone truly gruesome fatalities. the addition of a power meter for extra special moves doesn’t sit well, but otherwise this is the MK you remember politicians screaming about. Faithful.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Sega’s been churning out Sonic games for years; the number 4 signifies that we’re picking up from the last old Sega Genesis platformer. The physics are way off — there’s a jarring lack of momentum when you turn Sonic around in mid-air — and a new ability ball up and home in on enemies when falling takes some the danger out of moving too fast. But it looks like old Sonic games, and I’m told physics are subject to change. Somewhat Faithful.

Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot: Why Konami is rebooting this forgettable platformer as a downloadable Xbox 360/PSN game is a mystery to me. The old game was like Contra with knives, and the new one is more of a stealth game in 2D. There are some homages, like the occasional blaring siren and gun pickup with limited ammo, but otherwise the game feels nothing like the original. Unfaithful, but probably for the best.

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Oh No, Not RollerCoaster Tycoon: The Movie

By  |  Posted at 10:30 pm on Thursday, May 13, 2010


Hollywood continues to find inspiration in plotless video games, with Sony Pictures Animation picking up the film rights to RollerCoaster Tycoon.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film will be a mix of CGI and live action. What the storyline will entail is unknown, because the game itself has none. Like many simulation games, RollerCoaster Tycoon is about building and maintaining the best infrastructure possible — in this case, amusement parks — not interacting with characters.

So let’s count off game-based movies whose plots are a mystery. I previously wrote about Universal’s plans to make a movie based on the arcade classic Asteroids. Since then, Warner has negotiated with Taito to make a Space Invaders film and is working on a Spy Hunter movie, and Fox is trying to get the rights to Missile Command. None of these games have more than one line of narrative or any iconic characters.

Ostensibly, the studios are interested in these movies because they’re low-risk. The utter lack of plot affords a blank canvas for generic spy drama, space opera or family fun, and the recognizable video game franchises automatically raise the profile of the films (Case in point: I wouldn’t be writing about any of them if they had nothing to do with video games).

But maybe these films are risky business after all. There’s no past experience to draw on here, as these are not traditional game-to-movie adaptations where the narrative is set and fan interest is a given. The studios are seeking production rights and starting development with no guarantee that people are going to buy the concept. It’s entirely possible that people will recognize these films as hollow attempts to capitalize on nostalgia and brand recognition, but no one knows, because no one’s tried.

So the question is, who goes first? I’m sure all the studios are anxious to see whether plundering plotless video games was a good idea after all.


No More Xbox 360, PS3 Manuals for Ubisoft

By  |  Posted at 4:39 pm on Monday, April 19, 2010


It’s an old joke in video game culture — or perhaps culture in general — that nobody reads the instruction manuals. Realizing this, Ubisoft announced that it will stop including printed manuals with its games for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

The move is ostensibly an attempt to go green while reducing production costs. Along with scrapping the manuals, Ubisoft says it’ll start shipping games in polypropylene cases made only of recycled materials, reports CNet.

I don’t care much about any of that. To me, the move is more of an acknowledgement that the way we learn to play video games has drastically changed since the advent of home gaming consoles.

As a kid, I relished reading those little staple-bound booklets. You never knew what you’d find in there. The Super Mario Bros. manual revealed “secret tricks” — basically, chain-stomping Goombas and using Koopa shells to take out surrounding foes — and the Double Dragon manual had stylized illustrations of all the characters, which somehow made the 8-bit game seem so much cooler. And because old-school games were never very good at exposition, the manuals provided otherwise non-existent plots to Atari classics such as Berzerk.

None of that is necessary anymore. Games are considered a failure if they don’t teach you how to play within the game. If you need help, you’re more likely to consult GameFAQs than the instruction booklet. Fancy illustrations and written plot summaries aren’t necessary when the games themselves are spectacles of light and sound, with professional voice acting.

So, knowing things will never be the same as in childhood, I welcome Ubisoft’s decision. And yeah, I suppose it’s nice that the environment’s getting some love, too.

(By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic, has a growing archive of old video game instruction manuals, which is where I got the above image.)

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The Ups and Downs of Microsoft Game Room

By  |  Posted at 9:28 am on Thursday, March 25, 2010


Microsoft Game Room launched yesterday for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. At its core, the Game Room is a fancy menu for playing classic arcade games such as Combat, Centipede and Lunar Lander, but with a few extra features that Microsoft hopes will get you to stick around and spend lots of money. After playing around in the arcade last night, I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be an arcade junkie once again.

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NBA Jam, Then and Now

By  |  Posted at 3:50 pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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It was only a matter of time, I suppose, but EA Sports has announced that it will revive NBA Jam, the classic two-on-two basketball game from the mid-1990s, as a Wii exclusive. Very little is known about the game, but as I pondered the possibilities, it struck me how the hallmarks of NBA Jam are no longer anything special. They’re either taken for granted or relics of a bygone gaming era. Is it really possible to re-capture the magic of NBA Jam when so much has changed? You be the judge:

Voice Acting: Part of NBA Jam’s novelty was its color commentary. Voices in video games were still rare in the mid-1990s, especially on home consoles, and part of NBA Jam’s charm was just how lo-fi everything sounded. It’s hard to envision “boomshakalaka!” in crystal clear audio.

Cheat Codes and Easter Eggs: Back in the day, cheat codes had a mythical status — the 30 lives code in Contra, the blood code in Mortal Kombat for Sega Genesis — and NBA Jam was chock full of them. My favorites? Big Head Mode and the unlockable character of George Clinton, a.k.a. P-Funk. Nowadays, cheats are earned and unlocked through in-game accomplishments, if they’re in the game at all.

Saved Games: The ability to record your stats on a game cartridge came into fashion during the 16-bit era, but plenty of cartridges still lacked this feature. Nonetheless, I won’t lament the ubiquity of saved games now.

Licensing: According to this fascinating ESPN interview with NBA Jam creator Mark Turmell, Midway had to plead with the NBA to license actual basketball players, teams and logos because the league was wary about associating with arcades. Back then, it was rare to see a game with both players and teams, but a sports game wouldn’t be caught dead without both now.

Sports Fantasy: The genius of NBA Jam is the way it stripped down and pumped up basketball’s bare essentials, but I think it also came along at the right time, when a realistic depiction of sports wasn’t entirely possible yet. Can NBA Jam still capture the hearts of people who’ve become spoiled by NBA Live and NBA 2K?