I watched “High Score” Episode 1 yesterday while I was working out. It was suggested to me by Netflix when I logged into the account to watch another docuseries I had been watching, “Champions”. Well, not one to pass up history of video games, I switched for the next week or so. Look, I realize that this isn’t at all related to Nintendo or Pokemon, as promised earlier in the week. However, TLDR, it was good enough to inspire me to write this review.
Space Invaders – “Grandpa”
There’s a reason that I went gender specific with the subtitle and it isn’t strictly personal bias. They mention in the episode that women felt left out of the realm of video games. I think the exact quote was, “There are no games for women.” That’s not a surprise. For much of the history of math and related subjects, women have been a footnote of that history. Unless, they are seen as consumers to be exploited. But, more on that in the next section.
My favorite part of the Space Invaders story is that a woman became the first Space Invaders world champion. And so, once again, a woman ignored the restrictions placed on her by society and proved herself as the “best man for the job”. Congrats, Rebecca Heineman, your story was inspiring and I genuinely smiled at the conclusion.
Before we move on, a couple of notable factoids. The game was so popular that arcades were often called “Invader houses”. Also, Japan suffered a 100-yen coin shortage because of that popularity. Crazy.
Pac-Man – “A little somethin somethin for the ladies”
I will give the compsci nerds credit. When they realized that women weren’t playing video games, they tried to do something about it. Generally speaking, that segment of the population (be it women or men like me) aren’t attracted to games that are simply shooting at things. Enter Pac-Man.
The creator of the game insists that the iconic shape is, in fact, inspired by a pizza with one slice missing. No idea if that’s actually true, but it does validate years of speculation. During the segment, they talk to two teenage girls from the time that seem to uphold the theory that Pac-Man brought girls into video games. I’m not sure what it says about me that I’ve always preferred Pac-Man from that generation of video games.
I hadn’t planned on ending each section with a random factoid, but I have one for our round yellow friend. His name was originally Puck Man, which makes more sense. However, as Puck very easily becomes a well know obscenity, they changed it.
Father of the Cartridge – Jerry Lawson
They interviewed his kids in High Score episode 1. Unfortunately, he passed away about 10 years ago. However, when his son said his name, I paused briefly and said, “Hey, I know that name.” It’s no wonder why. For a generation of gamers my age, he revolutionized the way we played. No longer were consoles restricted to one game any more.
With cartridges, as his son says, your library increased exponentially. Alas, other than video game historian nerds like me, his name has been relegated to an afterthought. Once Atari got into the cartridge business, nobody else stood a chance. More on that 900-lb gorilla in the next section.
Random Factoid: When I was younger, I split my head open and had to get 14 stitches. My parents, so impressed by my handling of the situation, let me get a gift. I chose Jungle Hunt because I played the game in the arcade and enjoyed it so much. Incidentally, when we got the Atari 7800, I bought the game again, making it the first game I purchased more than once.
Atari – “Big Bad”
Like most people at the time, I loved Atari. Even after they crashed and burned with ET (see next section), I still loved the company and support them even today. I haven’t ordered their new console, yet. However, one of the first things I do when I get a new computer is download Stella and a few of my favorite games.
I probably should have, but I had no idea that they were such bullies in the industry. It started innocently enough as a bunch of guys making video games. Then, the company sold to Warner and its a tale as old as time. The suits tried to squeeze every last penny out of the company. They sued a bunch of college kids for making improvements to their games. They bullied Midway into allowing them to release a version of Pac-Man using pretty much the same technology that they attempted to end with the lawsuit. And then, their come uppance.
Random Factoid: I promised a conversation about ET in the next section. Before that, I did want to speak on the process. Apparently, the programmer had 5 weeks to program the game. At the time, it took anywhere from 6-8 months to develop a game. Also, when meeting with Steven Spielberg (after only 36 hours to develop a pitch), the programmer said that Spielberg wanted the game to be more like Pac-Man. See, it could have been worse.
ET – What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Apparently, you can’t have a video game documentary without mentioning ET. Hell, they made a whole movie about that single game. As is often the case, the story is a bit more complicated than just ET killed Atari.
But, for the sake of this article, I’m choosing to be poetic about it. Karma can be swift and furious vengeance. Atari paid for their hubris when they made the “worst game ever.
Random Factoid: I know I’ve told this story before, but here goes. I liked the ET game. Yes, the controls are frustrating. Sure, given more time, they could have polished it a bit more. But, I played the hell out of it and beat the game. Hell, it is one of the games that I download first after configuring Stella. It certainly doesn’t deserve the reputation it’s gotten. Alas, that’s how myths grow.
The Verdict – High Score episode 1 makes me want to watch the rest of the series
If you read the TLDR at the beginning of the article and you are still here, it bears repeating. High Score episode 1 is entertaining and engaging. I’m looking forward to watching the other five episodes. If you like human interest stories or video games, then I think you’ll like this series. Come watch with me!