Youtube influencer GenXGrownUp has just livestreamed a hands-on review of the MyArcade GameStation Pro.
The big news is that the GSP has an SD card slot. And apparently, according to GenXGrownUp, it will play ROM files from the SD card. This is exciting news and should heighten interest in the system. My initial impression of the system is improved considerably with this information. I think I can safely upgrade my recommendation from “wait and see” to “buy” based on GenXGrownUp’s review.
GenXGrownUp reports some latency in the controls, which is to be expected, but GenXGrownUp describes it as minimal, and manageable, and he likes the quality of the controller.
He also mentions that the joystick has three buttons, not two, and that the placement of these buttons works better for some games than others. The layout has the A button in the top-left corner of the base, in the traditional position for the classic Atari joystick. The B and C buttons are on the stick, on the top knob and in a trigger position, like on a fighter plane. All of which are fairly classic, normal placements for additional buttons.
One downside of the system, the console switches for the Atari 2600, for difficulty A and B, and B&W/Color TV, are accessed through on-screen menu. There are a few Atari 2600 titles ( such as Space Shuttle, Riddle of the Sphinx, Raiders of the Lost Ark) where these switches were used during gameplay, which would make playing these games a bit awkward, but these are the exception rather than the rule, and I don’t know if any such titles are among the catalog of pack-in games, so this could be a non-issue for the most part.
The year was 1982-83 when I was in 3rd grade. Video games were very popular. ’83 would become known as the Year of the Crash for home gaming, but we didn’t know it yet.
Anywhere you went out in public, you were likely to see an arcade cabinet or two. At gas stations and convenience stores, at the checkout of the grocery store, at bowling alleys and at the local recreation center, and especially at dedicated arcades like Aladdin’s Castle or Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Space Invaders. Asteroids. Scramble. Donkey Kong. Pac-Man. Galaga. Dig Dug. Defender. Missile Command. Pole Position. Berzerk. Joust. Frogger. Popeye. Q*Bert. Qix. Time Pilot. Zookeeper. Legends. It was a golden age.
At 8 years old, I was now tall enough to reach the controls and see the screen. We had an Atari 2600 hooked up to the TV at home, and a growing collection that was about to explode when the Crash put games in bargain bins for pennies on the dollar.
And I occasionally had quarters and enough time to insert coin into a cabinet and get my ass handed to me in under a minute. Arcade games were beautiful — with vibrant, bright colors, booming sound, and evocative, illuminated marquee cabinet art. But they were damn difficult compared to the games we had at home. Arcade games were tough.
Sometime during that year, one of my classmates brought this book to school:
I was blown away by the photos of the arade graphics. So colorful. So detailed.
There were other books published about video games in this same period, but none of them had the production values of Consumer Guide. Most of them were in black and white and had few illustrations, and frequently the illustrations were actually drawings rather than screen captures or photos. Photography of CRT monitors was difficult, laborious, and expensive at this time, and printing at good enough quality for screen shots to be legible was expensive. Consumer Guide really stood out in giving this publication an outstanding treatment.
It was endlessly enjoyable to read. Each game was given a 4 page spread which briefly explained the game’s basics, and then went in depth to provide strategies for advanced play.
How much would it have retailed for back then? It must have cost a lot to publish, with its high quality printing in full bleed, full color. Consumer Guide showed the games so much respect by going high end. Justice done. I imagine today it would have run about $10. Back then, maybe $3-4? $6? I carefully peeled the price sticker off of my copy after I got it home, so it wouldn’t ruin the cover.
I don’t remember how, but I managed to get a copy of my own. I think maybe they had it at one of the scholastic book sales that they had at my school’s library, or something. Possibly it may have been on a magazine rack at the Waldenbooks at the local mall. Its format was like a glossy magazine, but the cardstock cover made it feel like it was meant to be a more permanent tome, to be held onto.
However I managed to find it, I bought a copy and immersed myself. I wanted to memorize it cover to cover. The patterns of to allow perfect play of Pac Man and Dig Dug were a bit much for me to memorize, but I still loved learning that there was some kind of order to the way the games presented their levels, that this order had a pattern, and that knowing the pattern could give you an edge to play better and get a higher score.
I also loved reading about the glitches in some of the games, like the trick in Galaga that causes the bugs to stop firing, or glitches in Robotron: 2084 that could be triggered by a skilled player with specific knowledge of them.
I spent hours and hours studying this guide, even for some of the games that I never saw in an arcade, such as Sinistar, which I only ever saw on a new TV game show, Starcade. I only saw a Sinistar cabinet in person many years later, at CLE PIN, just a few years ago.
Although short at only 96 pages, How to Win at Video Games was an encyclopedic guide to some of the best arcade games of 1982-3. I wish that they had done more of these books, in the same style, covering more of the classic pre-’84 arcade games.
Those games were so hard, if you didn’t know what you were doing you’d be out a quarter in under a minute. And a book like this only gave you evened odds to last a bit longer, and if you practiced, you could get the high score.
Today it’s a time capsule and a treasure. I still have my copy on a bookshelf, and it’s in remarkably good condition considering how much I read it. I really cared about keeping it in good condition. It bears the wisdom of the ancients.
This was like a precursor to 1987’s The Official Nintendo Players Guide, a black book that was the Holy Bible for the NES before Nintendo Power existed a few months later. A much thicker volume, it covered what at the time must have been the full library of games that were available at the time, or close to it.
And for a time, in the 1990s, it became customary for popular games to receive their own strategy guides, dedicated to a single game, going far more in depth, to give readers all the secrets.
Today, books like these have been largely (if not entirely) supplanted by the web, with sites like GameFAQs, Fandom, and others, usually fan-made, sometimes official. The web is a better medium for this content, for many reasons. But I do miss these books. Not that books are completely absent, but mostly it seems these days that books being published about video games tend to be more focused on the industry history, or take a more academic interest in appreciating their design, and putting them into a cultural context, than they are at providing tips and strategy. We are rather fortunate to have so much material available to us today.
Pong (1972, Atari) was the first commercially successful arcade video game cabinet. It marks its 50th anniversary this year.
Often considered “the first video game”, it was not. But it was the first popular, commercially successful video game. Atari released Pong after Computer Space, which was a bit more complex to play, and wasn’t as well received. Pong was simple enough that it was easy to pick up and play. This success made it a pioneering milestone in the history of video games. A simple, yet engaging 2D simulation of table tennis, Pong was a sensation at the time of its release, and spawned an industry which quickly established itself as a culturally significant fixture.
Coin-operated arcade machines were already a thing by this time, but prior to the video game revolution they were electro-mechanical games like pinball tables and shooting gallery games.
In 1972 dollars, $0.25 is worth about $1.78 in 2022 dollars. That’s how much people paid to play Pong back when it was new. It’s a bit surprising to consider that a single credit to play a video game once cost this much. I’ve always been willing to put a quarter in a game, but I’ve always felt reluctant to insert more than that for a single credit, no matter what the game was.
Home Pong systems quickly appeared in the market, introducing the video game console to hundreds of thousands of homes. Pong is older than I am. I was born in 1975, and as such it was a few years before my time, but I still remember it well — in its home incarnations. But I don’t have any experience of what it was like when it was brand new. I never saw a Pong arcade cabinet in the wild, not until many years later, when I got to see and play one at the CCAG Show one year, in 2004 or 2005. I was surprised by how small the cabinet was, compared to the arcade cabinets I was more familiar with from childhood.
My first video game memories date to 1981 or ’82. We got an Atari 2600 for Christmas, I think in 81, and at this time I was barely old enough to see over the control deck of a stand-up arcade cabinet to play. Games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong were in their heyday. Pong was already almost a decade old, but we still knew about it. Even if I didn’t see it in any arcade, there were still home console versions of it.
Arcade games were literally everywhere by this time. It was the Golden Age of arcade games, and a very special time in history for those of us who were young then. You could go to a convenience store or gas station, and there’d be a couple of them out by the door. Sometimes other vending machines were found nearby: gumball machines, or soda machines, and the vending machines never went away. But in the early 80s, video games were in these spaces as well, even in the space after the checkout at the supermarket. Bored kids would drain quarters into them while waiting for their parent to pay for the week’s groceries. In 1982, a quarter was worth about $0.74 in 2022 dollars.
This ubiquity made games mainstream, not just something you could only find to play at arcades and carnival midways, but something you could find almost anywhere. They encouraged, even invited you to loiter. Whether you had a quarter, or just had to watch someone else play, it was exciting to be around these tall cabinets, full of technology and glowing, electronic life.
Galaxian. Moon Patrol. Pac Man. Space Invaders. Scramble. Frogger. Joust. Dig Dug. They were mesmerizing to watch, and if you were younger than 6 you could pretend you were playing during the demo sequence and it felt real, and you got that rush of excitement for free. Put in a quarter and you’d maybe last a minute or two, often less, and you’d lose all your lives before you could even get started, so it kind of hurt. But I wanted to become their master.
And it wasn’t long before I wanted to create games of my own.
Pac-Man, the original game, was developed by Namco in Japan, and distributed by Midway in the United States, and was a massive, massive hit — the most popular arcade game of its day, and still one of the most popular arcade games of all time.
The videogame industry was different 40 years ago than it is today, and video games were still new enough that a lot of the intellectual property rights weren’t yet established in law, leading to unsettled (and often unasked) questions.
As a result, there was a sub-industry of third-party mod kits for arcade games, which gave arcade proprietors a way to renew interest in older games that had waned in popularity. It wasn’t illegal to modify an arcade cabinet that you owned, and so over time kits were developed by third parties to do just that.
One of the companies producing these hardware mod kits, named GCC, hacked Pac Man to create an unofficial “sequel”. To avoid trademark infringement, they named it “Crazy Otto” at first, but that wasn’t enough to avoid a lawsuit. In the end, a settlement between GCC and Namco turned Crazy Otto into an official sequel which became Ms. Pac Man.
GCC’s contract entitled them to royalties on each Ms. Pac Man cabinet manufactured or sold by Midway-Namco. Ms. Pac Man was a smash hit, just as popular as the original Pac Man. Everyone got rich and everyone way happy.
Ms. Pac Man went on to have a long life, and has been ported, re-packaged, and re-released on many platforms over the years, but GCC’s contract entitled them to royalties only from “coin-op cabinets”. Twenty-five years later, new cabinets were produced for the anniversary, and hybrid Galaga/Ms. Pac Man cabinets were a popular sight in bars in the mid-2000s.
By this time, the executives now running Namco had forgotten about the contract with GCC, who reminded them of it by suing for their royalties. Namco paid what they owed, and weaseled out of paying on arcade cabinets made for home use, which didn’t have coin slots, since the contract wording specified “coin-op cabinets” (which was simply what arcade machines were called at the time the contract was signed). And then, to avoid ever having to pay another royalty to GCC again, Namco wrote the Ms. Pac-Man character out of the picture, replacing her with other female pac-man characters such as “Pac-Girl” and “Pac-Marie”. Thereafter, future Ms. Pac-Man re-releases only came out on platforms not covered by the GCC contract, so Namco wouldn’t have to pay the royalties.
It just goes to show the level of sheer greed that companies have when it comes to paying creators and ownership of intellectual property. If the company can make money without having to pay the creators, they will do that. Granted, GCC wasn’t producing an authorized work, and this could have colored the relationship. But considering how much money Ms. Pac Man earned for everyone over the years, you’d think that those profits could go a long way toward smoothing over any rough spots in the relationship. Apparently not.
GCC later sold their ownership rights to Ms. Pac-Man to AtGames. If they had instead sold to Midway-Namco, this might never have been an issue. But because of how things worked out, one of the most iconic videogame characters of the 80s golden age of the arcade is basically sidelined indefinitely. Because contested or jointly owned intellectual property rights are that much of a legal pain to negotiate around that it’s better to just kill the property and make no money from it at all than to try to work out agreements for sharing revenues. How sad.
Champ Games revealed their latest project last night: an Atari 2600 port of Robotron 2084. One of the best videogames of all time.
The announcement, released through ZeroPageHomebrew’s twitch.tv stream, comes a year after Champ announced their homage to Galaga, later renamed Galagon. Champ is also working on an Atari 2600 port of early 80s arcade classics Zookeeper and Lunar Lander, both of which look fantastic even in pre-release work-in-progress states.
Champ have been consistently delivering amazing port of classic games on the Atari 2600 platform that far exceed the system’s original capabilities, and play very close to arcade-perfect. This version looks a tad bit slower and not as smooth, but is incredible considering it is running on an Atari 2600. There’s an ARM processor inside the cartridge helping out, too.
This is a must-own port of a classic game if you own an Atari 2600, and it’s on my very short list of eagerly awaited Atari 2600 games that I want but don’t have.
Even if 2020 is a complete dystopian hellscape, at least we’ll have Robotron and Zookeeper to play during our indefinite social distancing and sheltering at home. That makes it almost OK, right?
An interesting thing happened to me few months ago.
I was reading Shovel Knight, by David L. Craddock, published by Boss Fight Books, and thoroughly enjoying the ride, when I received an email from none other than… David L. Craddock. Craddock had found my contact info through this website, and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in reading a pre-release copy of his latest book, Arcade Perfect, and publishing a review on it.
I thought that the name sounded familiar, so I looked him up, and found that he’d written the book that was in my left hand, as I read the email on the smartphone in my right hand. I wrote back, asking him if he was indeed one and the same. He was. I felt oddly watched.
Shovel Knight was a fantastic read, a detailed history of Yacht Club Games’s origins and how they came to create one of the best videogames of 2014. It was well paced, thorough,, interesting, and covered the human side of the story as well as the technical.
Of course I said yes.
I also offered to provide feedback on the manuscript, as I have helped several other authors in the past with technical review of their manuscripts. Craddock appreciated my offer and offered me an acknowledgement in his Foreward. I say this not as a brag, but for transparency’s sake, to say that this may not be a review completely free of bias, although I’ll strive for that anyway.
The book is long. At nearly 600 pages, it will take you a while to get through. It spans almost the entire the breadth of video gaming history, starting with Pong and going through about 2015-17. Golden age titles Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac Man, Missile Command, and Donkey Kong are all given treatment, as is Tetris, and the 90’s are represented by the games NBA Jam, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each of these games has an interesting back story of how it came to exist, and how it was brought from the arcade to home consoles. The challenges the developers faced are many. Most if not all of these games were ported to other platforms not by the original developers, but by another talented programmer or team. Oftentimes, no original project documentation was provided to the porting effort, and developers had to “interpret” the game by playing it until they knew it backwards and forwards, reverse engineering to the best of their ability, and working within the constraints of the target platform’s hardware, dealing with hard deadlines and high expectations to deliver an acceptable translation of a very popular title eagerly anticipated by a rabid consumer fanbase.
The last 150 or so pages of the book are devoted to full transcripts of the interviews that Craddock conducted with various creators who worked on the games. This is primary resource material and very nice to have in its entirety.
The book is illustrated, although in the advance copy I saw, the image layouts were still rough. I would hope that these issues will be addressed before the first edition of the book goes to print.