Friday, April 18, 2003

I've spent far too much time at this encyclopedic site about videogames old and new.

The site lets you sort videogames by the year they came out, among other parameters. So I've been looking at games that came out in 1976. I'm fascinated by this Atari/Namco car racing game--which, to judge from the description on that web page, as well as my memory, was a game in name only. You sat down and saw a crude, blurry, endlessly looping projection of a race track. Sometimes you would run into stuff. The author of the page has it right: the game's chief draw was that it was big.

(That game makes think about other games you could sit down inside, like Atari's 1983 Star Wars. These games always had a strange allure for me when I was a kid: they were dark and loud inside. Of course, inside there also usually was chewing gum, odors and fluids. "Use the force, Luke." To get the gum out?)

Another thing that intrigues me about games of this vintage is the wood laminate manufacturers often seemed to favor for the cases, as with this game, and this one. The influence here seems to be Atari's 1972 Pong, the first commercially successful game. But what a pity: Pong was designed by Nolan Bushnell, who a year earlier designed Nutting Associates' Computer Space. If nothing else, Computer Space had a truly dynamite cabinet. But it flopped. Perhaps the lesson Bushnell learned was: don't spend any money.

This game has cabinet imagery that reminds me of the new (sic) horror movie House of 1000 Corpses, which I reviewed for the Isthmus last week. This game also reminds me that sometimes the cabinet imagery was far better than the actual game.

Clearly I'm obsessed with my childhood. I sometimes wonder what Proust would have come up with if he'd had the Internet for fact checking.

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