Urban Legend: The Atari Burial Site

atari-landfillWhat are your plans for April 26? You want to be part of a historic event? Do you love Atari folklore? Then make your travel arrangements to the Alamogordo Landfill in New Mexico (USA) and watch the Fuel Entertainment and Xbox Entertainment Studios production team excavate the landfill to search for some Atari treasure. What will they dig up – will it just be E.T cartridges or just a mangled mess of plastic junk? I do wonder. Perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie. Better still, read the Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun book instead, it will save you from travelling to New Mexico.

What do you think about this landfill excavation event?

Alamogordo Landfill Excavation Details:

Saturday, April 26, 2014
9:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Alamogordo Landfill
4276 Highway 54 S
Alamogordo, NM 88310

image source: GotGame 

Interview With The New Video Games High Score Record Keeper

HS_titleI have always had a competing streak in me. Be it at sports or video games, I love competing with friends to see who could get a higher score. When it comes to video gaming high score record keeping, there is a new player in town, High Score.

High Score is not your average video yourself playing a game and then send it to a moderator setup. The site relies on your peers voting on the authenticity of your high score, be it via a photo or video. This decentralised approach seems to work quite well by engaging all the registered users on the site. There is also an incentive for members to vote, as they earn points towards their coloured belt and rank (just like in martial arts!).

We sat down and spoke to the brainchild behind High Score, Serious. We asked Serious everything from the creation of High Score to his personal tastes in classic video games. Hold on tight and read on!

AUSRETROGAMER [ARG]: Hey Serious, I will start with the obvious question, how did High Score come about? Walk us through its inception to execution.
Serious: High Score is something that I have wanted to exist for a long time, years before I had the idea that I should create it myself. I would actually go to highscore.com in my browser every year or so, hoping (unrealistically, perhaps) to find it would be a place where I could compete with other players on my favourite classic games, and a place where I could share my best scores. I had a pretty clear idea in my mind of what sort of a site I had hoped it would be, and sometime in 2013 I finally said to myself “I can create this”, and so I committed myself to making it happen.

ARG: What is your goal with High Score?
Serious: I have lots of goals! I want High Score to be a place that brings back the feeling of being in an arcade in the early eighties. When a new game came out, there were often people lined up around you waiting for their turn to play, so you often had an audience watching you play, and you also got to watch other people play while you waited for your turn. I’m attempting with High Score to recreate something like that experience, online. I want to turn game collectors into game players. There are tens of thousands of people out there who collect classic video games and then leave them sitting on a shelf most of the time. I want these collectors to dust off all of these games that are in their collections and start playing against other people like themselves for high scores. I also want people to have a place where they can easily show off their gaming accomplishments, no matter what system or game it is; a place where they can show their friends what they’ve done (regardless of whether it is any kind of record or not).

HS_Gorf

ARG: Do you have any help in administering the site or is it a solo effort? Does it take up a lot of your time?
Serious: Right now, it is just me. The administration isn’t usually that much work. I typically spend about an hour or two a day on it. However, I spend dozens of hours each week working on enhancements, and trying to think of ways to make the site better. I don’t mind this, as this is a project I am very passionate about, so it doesn’t feel like work to me, and my excitement about it gives me the energy to work long into the night on it. When the administration side of it becomes too much for me to handle by myself, I’ll start to ask other members of the site to help me with it. There’s lots of great guys on the site who have been extremely helpful in lots of ways (like researching all of the difficulty settings on hundreds of games), so there’s definitely some great people who I know would be willing to help out in other ways if needed.

ARG: High Score has a great community feel about it. We love the ‘voting’ system on high score submissions. Is this the best feature of High Score?
Serious: Yes, absolutely. This is the essence of what it is all about: winning the recognition of your peers. When you post a score, other members of the site review your submission, and vote on whether or not it should be accepted into the site’s rankings, based on the evidence of your accomplishment that you provided. Right now, for your score to be accepted into the database, you need at least 25 people to look at your evidence and 80% of them must vote in your favor. When I first launched the site, I wasn’t sure if this idea of people voting on whether or not they believed a score was legit would actually work. I was worried that very few people would want to look at other people’s scores and vote on them, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how much participation there has been in the voting, and it has been working extremely well. There are so many people voting that some people have actually come to expect that the voting on their scores should be done in a couple of days, and they’re sometimes surprised when it takes longer than that.

HS_score

ARG: How many gamers are currently registered on High Score?
Serious: High Score is very new. There are actually only about 500 registered participants right now, and most of them have found the site through word-of-mouth. These 500 or so users have already submitted over 6,300 scores over the last few months, so they’re pretty active. I’m often surprised by how much people get into it (and I think they sometimes also surprise themselves). The site is still in Beta (meaning it is very much a work-in-progress), so the people who are participating now have an opportunity to have a large influence over how High Score will evolve and grow. The people who currently use the site are always giving me ideas and feedback, and this is the main thing that drives the improvements I am always making to the site. If anyone wants to be a part of that, I very much welcome them to join and share their ideas on how High Score can become even better.

ARG: Have you had any problems with users / gamers on the site? Or are gamers generally behaving themselves?
Serious: Almost everyone on the site is really cool. People generally have a very positive attitude and they’re having fun with it. There have been a few people who have caused some headaches, but those cases have been very few and far between. It seems like most of the people who cause problems tend to go away after a little while.

ARG: For gamers out there that haven’t registered as yet, how would you pitch High Score to them?
Serious: Games are much more fun when you are competing with someone or trying to beat your own record. This is what High Score is all about. You don’t need to be an amazing player to compete on High Score, as there are multiple levels of competition. World records are cool, but that’s not all that High Score is about. High Score is really about your best score and competing with others. You can kind of think of High Score as being like Xbox Live for your classic console. Even if you think that there isn’t going to be anyone out there who will want to compete against you in your favorite games, you may be surprised. Often, people who have never heard of the game you are playing will go out and download it after they have seen your score and they’ll start competing with you. Even if you don’t feel ready to submit your own scores, you can get involved with the voting. Just give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised at how much fun it can be.

ARG: Do you hold any gaming high score records yourself?
Serious: I’m not an extraordinary player. Many of the players on High Score can put me to shame on any game I play. My best game is probably the original version of Sid Meier’s Civilization. However, people usually seem more impressed by my Odyssey 2 U.F.O. score.

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ARG: I’ll jump to the personal questions now. What was your first video gaming system? When was that?
Serious: My first game console was the Magnavox Odyssey 2, which we got around 1978. I remember in the months leading up to that purchase, seeing the Bally Professional Arcade (later renamed the Astrocade) and the Atari 2600 in newspaper ads. We could have ended up with any of them. It was just luck that the department store my Dad went to (Sears or Montgomery Wards) carried the Odyssey 2 and no other console. I had played Out of this World and Helicopter Rescue in the store before, and had been absolutely mesmerized by those games, so I was excited to have one at home. My Dad, my best friend, and I played that console countless hours on our big Curtis Mathes console television. U.F.O. and Invaders from Hyperspace probably got played the most until K.C. Munchkin and Freedom Fighters came out. My best friend had an Atari 2600, and I literally had trouble prying him away from K.C. Munchkin. I remember making up lies about how the console needed to cool down to get him to stop playing. It was really that bad! I was jealous of my friend’s Atari 2600, due to all of the arcade conversions. At the time, we all just really wanted to have the arcade games at home, where we could play them endlessly. However, once Pac-Man was released on the 2600, my friend and his family became completely disgusted with the Atari. My Dad and I ended up getting an Atari 2600 ourselves a year or so later, and had years of fun with it, playing Missile Command, Empire Strikes Back, and other games. Playing the Odyssey 2 and the Atari 2600 back then were some of the best times I had as a kid, which is probably why these are the two primary systems that I collect games for.

HS_beam

ARG: Most North American gamers regard the NES as the king of 8-bit gaming systems. However, you buck that trend by opting for the Commodore 64 – why is that?
Serious: Well, I never had an NES when I was young. My friends and I all had C64s, so I have history and feelings of nostalgia with the Commie that I don’t have for Nintendo. The NES wasn’t common in our area, for some reason. It was probably the cost of it. I grew up in a blue collar, working class area, and the cost of a game console or computer was a big investment for most families. I think parents saw the C64 as an investment in their kid’s future, but an NES was just a games machine. Elite was probably the game I played most on my C64, which had amazing depth to it. Boulder Dash was another favorite. Both of these games were pretty complex, requiring lots of thought, but in completely different ways. A C64 gaming experience I’ll never forget was playing Neuromancer all the way through (though it is pretty linear, so I can’t say it has much replay value). Besides games, I spent a great deal of time running and calling BBSes (at 300 baud!). Customizing my own BBS software is where I really learned to program. My experience and memory of BBS’ing is something that was a source of inspiration for creating High Score. I love the sounds of the C64′s SID chip, and I still listen to SID chip music all the time (especially when I’m programming).

ARG: Were you an arcade player? If so, what were some of your most memorable machines?
Serious: Yes. Me and my friends dumped every quarter we could find into arcade games all over town. One of the earliest machines that I remember playing much was a sit-down cockpit version of Exidy’s Star Fire, which was at a local arcade called the Gold Mine. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it is basically Star Wars (the logo even looks the same). You shoot down TIE fighters, etc. It came out around 1977, right after the original Star Wars movie was released, and it was a blatant rip-off. (I don’t know how Exidy got away with it). The games we had at the corner grocery store in our neighbourhood that we played the most were Galaxian, Defender, and Star Castle. There was a period of time (1981-1982) where there were little arcades popping up all over town. We’d hop on our bikes and go out exploring, and would occasionally discover a new little game spot that had opened, with some arcade game we’d never seen before (Super Cobra was one of these that I remember encountering on one of our excursions). More often than not, we’d end up standing in front of the machine banging on the buttons while it was in attract mode, because we didn’t have any quarters between us. I bet we were a real nuisance to the arcade operators.

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ARG: Do you have an all-time favourite game(s)?
Serious: Oh, gosh! That is a tough question [ARG: We love asking the tough questions]. My answer would probably change depending on the day you ask it, but right now I’d say Sinistar. You have to play it on a real arcade machine to appreciate it. The controls aren’t accurate enough under emulation, which makes it almost impossible to play. There is a tiny arcade in Las Vegas that currently has a cockpit version of Sinistar and it is in beautiful shape. The place is called Flipperspiel Wunderland. The cockpit version has stereo sound, and playing it is a blast.

ARG: What is your favourite genre?
Serious: I love classic sci-fi shooters. The arcade versions of Sinistar, Phoenix, Pleiades, Robotron, Scramble, Star Castle, and Galaxian to name a few. U.F.O. would probably be my favorite console game of the genre.

HS_Atari

ARG: Last but not least – Sega, Nintendo, Atari or Commodore – which would you pick and why?
Serious: Atari, hands-down. The 2600 is such a great iconic machine, it is hard for me to put it in the same class as anything else. Plus, it is so much fun to collect for. All of the game systems that came after the Atari tried to distinguish themselves by having the most awesome graphics, but the the 2600 was just pure fun.

With that glowing Atari endorsement, we close off the interview and part ways. We would like to thank Serious for taking time out to answer our questions and providing us an insight into the High Score site and his retro gaming epxeriences. If you haven’t registered yourself on High Score, we highly recommend that you do – you never know, you may be a video gaming high score record holder!

 

Atari Gambles On New Era

atari_casino_HDR

The meteoric rise and equal fall of Atari has been documented umpteen times. Nevertheless, it does break my heart that a former trailblazer and video gaming behemoth is little more than a company torn to shreds and its pieces thrown to the proverbial dogs to scrap over.

Rather than give you a history lesson in what has happened to Atari in the recent past (Ed: It has had more owners than a used 1999 Honda Civic), have a read of Atari’s bankruptcy file and then come to terms with where Atari is headed – to the glitz and glamour of the gambling business!

Yep, you read that right. Atari is now hedging its bet (pardon the pun) on gambling products. Unfortunately, Atari has debts that they need to clear as part of their bankruptcy conditions and their plan is to square the ledger with their creditors via Atari Casino – a bold push into the social casino market. This casino path may stave off the rabid dogs at their heels.

I know that my nostalgic glasses can make me a cynic, but when a company with a rich heritage sells its soul, there is no coming back. I think I will stick to remembering the old Atari, you know, the one before 1998!

 

The Art Of Atari: From Pixels To Paintbrush

Were you one of those kids that would stare in wonder at the Atari VCS/2600 game boxes? I recall being wide-eyed whenever I spotted the box art of any Atari game. Walking to the counter, I was somehow spatially aware even though I would have both hands clasped around the box and my eyes fixated on the art. The nostalgia of remembering those times is truly intoxicating.

The still-in-development coffee table book, The Art Of Atari: From Pixels To Paintbrush, is a trip down nostalgia lane, celebrating the golden age of video gaming box art design. Creator Tim Lapetino is hunting down 136 original Atari game box artworks, some of which could be seen below. To say we are excited would be a gross understatement!

Defender
ATARI_Defender-2
Video Chess
ATARI_Chess-2

Millipede
ATARI_millipede

Star Raiders
ATARI_star-raiders-cropped

Warlords
ATARI_Warlords-2

image source: Hexanine and Polygon

Retro Gaming TV Commercials

AtariSummer

Remember the old “Are you keeping up with the Commodore” television commercial? Or who could forget the ‘Atari Summer‘ promotion for their 5200?

The advertising wars weren’t just confined to print media. There were shots fired via television commercials by all major players. Commodore focused on the family unit and pushed their C64 as a home computer for the entire family to enjoy. Atari on the other hand chose to sex it up when it was time to peddle their ill-fated 5200 Super System.

Sega played it safe when it came to introducing the west to their 8-bit Master System by depicting a family (minus mum!) having fun with their arcade conversions. Meanwhile, Nintendo hit hard in the USA with their 1985 commercial, introducing us to R.O.B, the Zapper gun and their 8-bit console beauty, the NES. The rest, as they say, is history.

Take a trip down nostalgia lane and relive the television commercials that introduced us to our most beloved systems.

Are You Keeping Up – Commodore 64

source: gamemusicparadise

Nobody’s Hotter Than Atari This Summer

source: DigThatBoxRETRO

The Challenge Will Always Be There – Sega

source: robatsea2009

The Birth Of The Nintendo Entertainment System

source: DigThatBoxRETRO

TxK: The Killer App

TxK_topFormat: PS Vita
Year: 2014
Developer: Llamasoft
Cost: $10.35

I am going to go against the grain here and write about a current gen video game. It’s no ordinary game, it has it’s roots in the arcades dating back to 1981. The game I speak of is TxK. What praises can be written here that haven’t already been lavished on this beautiful game by the great Yak, Jeff Minter (Llamasoft).

TxK_Level-select

For starters, this is no ordinary update on Dave Theurer’s original arcade smash hit Tempest, or Jeff’s own Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. TxK brings Tempest well and truly into the 21st century. This tube shooter captures your attention and gobbles up a lot of your free time, not just the PS Vita battery. Words like mesmerising, sublime, frantic, nail-biting and intense come to mind when describing TxK.

TxK_playfield

For those that have just arrived on this planet, TxK is a tube/web shooter, where your ship is attached to the top edge (rim) of a web playfield, shooting at enemies approaching from the background into the foreground. Your mission is to clear each of the 100 playfields and not allow the enemies to shoot you down or capture your ship. To assist you in getting further into the game, each level provides power-ups that can unleash screen-clearing bombs or provide you with an AI Droid which is handy in clearing enemies that have jumped up on the rim.

TxK_blast

Coupled with the gorgeous psychedelic visuals, Jeff Minter has also thrown in some catchy, rave-inspired soundtracks. With an ingenious save system and modes of play, TxK is clean, perfectly designed and bristling with high energy.

Verdict: If there is one game that will convince you to buy a PS Vita, it is TxK. It has ‘killer app’ written all over it.

zzap_gold_medal

Most Popular Holiday Toys From The Past 50 Years

What toys will you be getting this Christmas? If you want to get an idea of what holiday toys have been popular over the last 50 years, take a look at the below infographic. Do you recognise or still have any of these toys? Looks like Atari, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony made the list. I can’t believe Commodore nor Sega didn’t make the cut – must be an American list (haha!).

50toys

source: Abby Ryan Design