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Archive for the ‘Outside the Box’ Category

(1953 – 1982)

For me, it all began in the 1950s, when I was a 5 year-old kid living in small town Freelandville, Indiana. Freelandville was quintessential Small Town U.S.A. where everybody knew everybody and crank-telephones still connected you to a town operator who knew everything about everybody. The town’s main street intersection contained a stone-faced bank, a creaky-floored hardware store, an OshKosh B’gosh general store filled with farmer overalls and assortments of straw hats. Catty-cornered from the dry-goods store was a drugstore and soda shop. Real milkshakes cost 10 cents, hotdogs were 15 cents or thereabouts.

PINBALL

South Pacific Pinball Machine

That soda shop was where my love for gaming began. I recall the day clearly. I was sitting on a red Naugahyde counter stool with my little kid feet dangling in the air. I was sipping a 5-cent cherry Coke, watching a red pickup truck pull up to the front door. That was when a man wearing coveralls delivered a game that would change my life forever, a “South Pacific” pinball machine.

The deliveryman set it up while I watched, goggle-eyed. Then he played a few test games. My mouth dropped open. The sound that jangled into my ears was exactly what every good sound that ever was or ever would be was supposed to be. The accompanying light show was hypnotic. If I had died at that moment my short life would have been complete.

When the man was gone — leaving behind not only a flashing and glittering machine, but one loaded with…  free games! — the mystery box continued to blink like Christmas tree lights beckoning me closer.

Standing on my tip-toes, I flipped and flapped the flippers with so much ferocity the soda shop lady took pity on me and dragged a wooden Coca-Cola crate over so I could step up on it to see what I was doing.”Push that button,” she instructed. “Then pull that knob and let it go to launch the ball.”

So much for 10 cent shakes and 15 cent hot dogs. From that moment on I was a nickel-pinball-machine-gamer-addict.

PERISCOPE & PONG

Periscope & Pong

For the next 20 years I played pinball games every chance I got. Then, in 1972, while attending college in Norfolk, Virginia, and doing homework in an off-campus coffee house, another red pickup truck pulled up to the front door and, I swear, the same man in coveralls delivered yet another machine that would change my life all over again: PONG.

I can still hear that dock-Dock-DOCKING sound effect and see a phosphorescent-green pixelated blip making fuzzy contact with a PONG paddle. I became so good at PONG I began playing for beers in-between bouts of studying and drinking coffee.

PONG — although not the first commercialized video game (that honor goes to Sega with the release of the “electro-mechanical” “Periscope” in 1968) — PONG’s shear simplistic popularity set the stage for yet another evolutionary nudge into the future of gaming; PONG’s monitor-based delivery system eventually opened a tiny crack in the video game universe, and the bigger, badder, faster color arcade games wasted little time leaping through the cosmic rift.

ARCADE GAMES’ GOLDEN YEARS

The late 1970s – early 1980s marked the nearly exponential expansion and popularity of what came to be known as Arcade games — IMO, direct descendants of pinball machines in that the guts of the games were encased in fancy wooden cabinets showcasing electronic bells and whistles and intoxicating video monitor-based light shows. Keywords here are monitor-based.

Although today’s gamers enjoy stunning graphics, unimaginable HD-quality imaging resolutions, and monster-sized monitors, it was not always that way. Back in the 1980s display sophistication was limited to CGA (1981, Color Graphics Adaptor — 4 colors), EGA (1984, Enhanced Graphics Adapter — 16 colors), VGA (1987, Video Graphics Array — 256 simultaneous colors), and 13-inch or smaller monitor screens. Think about that the next time you jack in to a modern FPS game boasting millions of colors.

CGA, EGA, & VGA Comparison

(For copyright consideration, click image to visit Jordan Mechner’s site. He did a very good job of combining 3 generations of gaming screen-resolution examples into a single image.  CGA on left, EGA center, VGA right.

I have never much enjoyed playing Arcade Games in a true Arcade setting kind of way. Too noisy, too hectic for me. Back then, I worked hard for a living; when I got off work I preferred to blow off steam in dark barrooms stocked with cold beer, a few top-ranked games, wild women and friends. We played for rowdy companionship, swag and bragging rights, and cold beer. LOTS of cold beer.

MOUSER’S FAVORITE 1970-1980s ARCADE GAMES

Space Invaders & Pac-Man

SPACE INVADERS by Taito 1978

Alien monster-thingies drop down from the sky and you have to shoot at them through rapidly disintegrating barriers before they land on your head and kill you. Upper level aliens get progressively smaller, faster, and increase in point value. I was fascinated by Space Invaders for several months. Space Invaders was a big hit world wide, expanding gaming awareness and opening up the marketplace for many more “get them before they get you” game development thinking.

PAC-MAN by Namco 1980

Everyone — even you young guys — are familiar with this one. Clear all the dots without being eaten. When I was a PM Magazine TV story producer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we shot a 6-minute feature story on a dude who claimed he could “break” a Pac-Man machine by maxing out his score without dying. If I recall correctly, it took him about 6 hours. And — yes, he broke the machine. He refused to drink anything because a pee-break would cause instant death. Poor guy. “It’s all about memorizing patterns,” he said. Right. I got that. After the first hour — while my bored crew continued to video-tape  blinky, inky, pinky, and sue chasing Pac-Man around the screen, I was in the back room sipping beer and playing Defender, one of my all-time favorite games.

Defender & Joust: Man, oh, man — great games!

DEFENDER by Williams Electronics 1981

Defender absolutely and unequivocally kicked butt with a capital B, and IMO was the best 2-D starship-type shooter game of all time. I spent hours and hours perfecting my moves. In the Cotton Club lounge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I hung out nearly every night after work, it was standing room only around this machine. Back then, a “multi-player game” meant that you played as player #1, and then player #2 got his chance. The game consisted of 3 rounds. The winner of the 3 rounds accepted a beer from the disgruntled loser, and the next player in line became the winner’s next opponent. Mediocre players had very long waits in-between defeats. Watching the Defender Video link I’ve provided here is a must do: the person playing the game is a Pro. Watch the DEFENDER video below and you will understand.

JOUST by Williams Electronics 1982

Williams Electronics took the gaming community by storm all over again when “Joust” was released in 1982. All stops were pulled: like Defender, sound effects were outstanding. Besides, how can you possibly be disappointed while mounted on top of a flying ostrich, searching for treasure-eggs while wearing armor, wielding a lance, killing bad guys and hunting for flying dragons?

It doesn’t get any better than that.

PAINTBALL: THE ROOTS OF FPS GAMING

One evening in 1982, while playing Defender for beers, I noticed a large lump smack dab in the center of my friend’s forehead. “How’d you get that lump?” I asked. It was an innocent enough question.

“Paintball,” he said.

“What’s THAT?” I asked.

“Playing WAR in the woods,” he said. “War with air rifles and plastic balls filled with paint instead of bullets. You wanna play?”

Dumb question. That weekend I hopped in the back of yet another red pickup truck with a bunch of serious-looking paintball warriors. It was about an hour before sunrise. Some of the guys had flashlights, and all were dressed in paint-covered camouflage fatigues. Did I mention serious-looking-warriors?  An hour later — the sun was just beginning to come up — we turned off the highway onto a private dirt road. As we neared our destination, I  glimpsed paint-splattered trees along the side of the road, illuminated by the flashlights. Spooky stuff. Several guys hooted and hollered and fired their weapons out of the back of the truck, a very loud cracking sound, followed by even louder pops as the plastic-coated paint balls slammed into tree bark.

The ensuing Paintball war was intense: running and hopping through poison ivy-ringed swamps, zig-zagging and sweating and swearing and slapping at mosquitoes, my heart pounding a ka-ZILLION times a minute. Shooting at real people. And man, oh, man, those paint balls hurt like hell! Come sunset, everyone was covered with blue and red splotches of paint, and — lots of welts. I had a killer lump poking out from my forehead.

I loved it.

DAWNING OF COMPUTER GAMES

Very few households could afford computers in the 1980s. They were too expensive for normal people. Besides — why would anyone ever need a home computer? Didn’t matter. I bought my first one in 1983. It was a $2,000 Tandy TRSDOS Radio Shack Model 4. The Model 410 Daisywheel printer cost $1,700 (you had to change the font wheel to type an italicized word, then change it back to the regular font wheel to continue), the 300-baud modem, $400. My Model 4 came with 64K of memory. And two, 5 1/4-inch floppy diskettes.

I thought I was ready for anything. But ZORK took me by surprise.

ZORK I: THE GREAT UNDERGROUND EMPIRE 1982

Zork was created in the late 1970s by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling — students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When Zork was released 12 years later, I was hooked within minutes. I called in sick, holed myself up for a week in my darkened living room with lots of junk food and black coffee.

ZORK I wOw wOw wOw! Click for actual ZORK I screen captures and more information.

There were no graphics within Zork, no color other than a black and white and greenish screen, a TEXT-only fantasy game; you were presented a descriptive paragraph to which you typed in an appropriate response. Your response directed you to another descriptive paragraph of text. For instance (from memory):

“You are standing in a mountain field. To the East is a stone farmhouse. To the South is a meandering brook. To the West you can barely make out a pathway that leads to a dark forest.” Wherein you type: “GO EAST”, and hit the <Enter> key. “You walk down a path lined with flowers. A rusty gate bars your way to a two-story farmhouse. Just inside the gate on a cobblestone walkway you notice a paper bag.” You type: “Pick up paper bag.” You can’t do that. A rusty gate bars your way…”

By that afternoon my desk was overflowing with hand drawn map sketches, because it wasn’t until later that commercial maps became available. I was fighting Trolls with text, draining hydroelectric dams from within an underground control room, and floating down an enchanting river in a bicycle pump-inflated rubber raft in search of treasure.

“You are in a dark cave. A vampire bat swoops down from nowhere. Stinky bat-tails are wriggling up your nostrils. It grabs hold of your tongue…” I type: “THROW CLOVE OF GARLIC AT BAT!” “It is dark. You can’t find the garlic. You are — DEAD!” I type in something like: “Screw you!” and hit <ENTER>. The floppy drive’s busy light flickers. Computer byte-brains are flying out of the floppy disk bay door. The mighty ZORK responds: “I am sorry, but I do not understand the word ‘YOU’.”

Not only were those MIT programmers good storytellers, they also had a wonderful sense of humor. Do yourself a favor, search “Zork.” It is still available.

* * * * *

This Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part I (1953 – 1982) is by no means complete, as it was written from my own unique perspective using games I played and loved. Many other games were set aside in this post for space considerations rather than lack of enthusiasm or importance. Today’s generation of gamers often take for granted the amazing parade of past technologies that were necessary in delivering us to where we are today.

I recall when TV consisted of 3 channels and when remote controls were science fiction. Back then, we had to get off the couch to change the channel! The gaming changes I have witnessed these past fifty years have often left me speechless. What games will YOU be playing fifty years from now?

You younger players certainly have a lot to look forward to just like I did when I was 5 years old standing at the edge of a pinball machine and seeing just a glimpse at the brink of a new universe.

Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part II will delve into the early 80s and beyond, quite possibly setting up a “Part III” along the way. Not sure. Time to play a bit. There are soooo many new games out there.

And for those of you who may be a bit confused about this “Gray Mouser” guy, he is my main in-game identity.

–Mouser/Simply Tim

© Copyright 2014 by Simply Tim  All rights reserved worldwide.

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How can we help (ourselves)?

 

I recently received an email from Lowe’s informing me they have changed their “Privacy Policy”. These are the same folks who — every time I purchase something and try to check out — matter-of-factually ask me for my telephone number. I always refuse. Why do they need my telephone number? I mean, chances are good (since I normally use a debit card for my purchases) they already have access to WAY more than just my telephone number.

The Lowe’s Privacy Policy Change email contained a link to their new Policy Page, no more or less frightening than other such policy pages, I’m sure. I spent some time reading through all the gobbledegook, finally taking a breather at their “Your Choices” section, wherein they pacified me a bit into believing I could remove myself from the insanity of online shopping data sharing, because everyone is in cahoots nowadays; Google, Amazon, Facebook — all of the biggies — wantonly swapping, sharing and receiving personal information and shopping habits as if it belonged to them, not you. How many times have I purchased something at Amazon and a day later the item I just bought is plastered on every browser page I visit? Depending on the item, that can be rather embarrassing if you have a visitor who asks to use your computer.

“Hey, Tim, how do you like that hemorrhoids cushion?”

I suspect the Lowe’s Privacy Policies are no different than most, but I gotta tell you, when I got to the part that said: “To be removed from all of Lowe’s official email, telephone and postal mail marketing, choose one of the following options: email customercare@lowes.com and type “REMOVE FROM ALL MARKETING” in the subject line…” I felt a shimmy of hope wiggle through me like a bolt from that first shot of tequila.

I opened my email program and began to reply. That’s when I read a couple more sentences and got down to the: “For any of these options, please include your name, address, phone number and email address in the request, and let us know how you provided us with the information.” part.

You have GOT to be kidding me. Let me get this right. They want MORE private information about me so they can remove my “old” private information  from their “Lowe’s official email, telephone and postal mail marketing”? How crazy is THAT!  Damn, they also want me to tell them HOW I provided them with “the information” they already have about me. Give me a break.

Little did we know — years back when we rushed like children toward the Google Candy Store and all the other personal information black- holes-from-Hell-blood-sucking-vampire-ish-mega-sites — the can of worms we were uncapping. Did I just say children and can of worms? Silly me. My bad. I really meant lemmings and Pandora’s Box.

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Sometimes, small victories are the best kind.

As many of you know, about a year ago I became heavily involved with the free, online shoot-em-up video game, UberStrike, where my screen name is “Gray Mouser”, a fictional character introduced in 1939 by the famous science fiction author, Fritz Leiber.

It wasn’t long before — with some amount of trepidation — I joined the UberStrike Forum, a game-related “chat room” of sorts. As the year progressed, I became fascinated with a particular section of the UberStrike Forum called “Cmunity“, a special area where appointed UberStrike gamer-“WRITERS” published Uber-related articles.

I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to become a part of it. After wrangling with UberStrike’s Manager, I was quickly accepted as an official Cmunity Writer. It wasn’t long before I was promoted to Cmunity LEADER, the equivalent of Spider-Man’s boss, Jonah Jameson. Gray Mouser had suddenly become Cmunity Newsroom’s Editor-in-Chief!

Soon, word got out there was a new, 62-year old UberKid on the block.

Cmunity Writers are hot stuff, all of them volunteers and highly admired by the mostly 13-19 year old UberStrike gamers. Everyone wants to become one.

It was somewhere along this timeline that I decided I wanted to help these aspiring wannabe writers. It was time to give something back.

After much juggling and jostling, I managed to get my boss (screen name: “Lady Daga”) to agree to something I called the  [Cmunity FREELANCE] Program, a program designed to encourage these aspiring non-Cmunity Writers in a self-discovery kind of way, by giving them a taste of the real publishing world complete with rejection letters. The Cmunity FREELANCE program gives these young wannabes the chance to have their writing displayed right beside the Cmunity Writer big dogs.

This past weekend, I “accepted” the first [Cmunity FREELANCE] Program article, a small victory made larger for me by the fact that I shot and edited a YouTube video to enhance the writer’s (screen-name “Elite|Phoenix”) article. I had spent 20 years of my working career as a television editor-writer-story producer, shooting and editing all kinds of stories, but none of them as rewarding as Springs for the Win, my personal return — after 30 years — to the world of editing. It was like riding a bike once again, a bike super-powered by light years of technological editing advances.

Sometimes, small victories are the best kind.

+ + + + +

Tim says: Point-and-shoot games like UberStrike are not for everyone. But if you geezers out there want to join me in jump-starting your heart rate, getting those hand-eye coordination brain cell synapses firing again, and discovering that today’s international youth are pretty damned amazing after all, I invite you to get off your butts and give UberStrike a shot. The game needs more of us seniors showing these young whippersnappers a thing or two. Mac user? A free Mac App version is available in the Apple App Store.

Cya in game!

–Mouser

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Tim says: I always enjoy Walt’s writing. Strange Universe. “American Impressionist” is a great blog.

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