Tag Archives: Atari

High Score Episode 1


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 Google doodle. Yes, it’s playable. Not here, but on Google.

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!

Have You Played Atari Today?

(Editor’s Note: Our summer vacation has extended for far too long. However, we hope to be back next week and every week for the rest of the year. Until then, I will warm up with a gaming article here to break the stretch of comic reviews.)


For the last week, the answer to the question posed in the title is emphatically “Yes!” My first gaming system was the Atari 2600. It isn’t the first one I purchased myself. That honor goes to the SNES or Sega Genesis. I can’t remember which I bought first. However, our family owned an Atari 2600. We also got a 7800, but honestly, that one didn’t last long and got quickly eclipsed by the original NES. So, while you will often read about me waxing poetic about Nintendo, my gaming lineage has roots much deeper.

Why do I bring this all up? Well, recently I had the idea to acquire a method to play my old Atari 2600 games. Let’s just leave it at, “My current laptop (after all of my mishaps in the past) is not very powerful and I wanted to test the waters with something that wouldn’t tax it’s meager capabilities too much.

Plus, I have this cool retro joystick to use!

The Good

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to convince people that nostalgia is a liar. Things weren’t better then and even if they were, they’re really not all that bad today. Well, I’m here to admit that maybe sometimes nostalgia isn’t a liar. I mentioned earlier that I’ve played this at least once a day since getting it. It has been for at least an hour each time. I started with Frostbite, probably my favorite game for the system. Then, I moved on to Pitfall, which I played a couple of times until I got 10 minutes of the timer cleared. As a kid, I cleared the whole timer more than once.

As I searched the games, I found Yar’s Revenge, which was a game that I “borrowed” from a friend and enjoyed so much that I never returned. The last game that I got is perhaps a more obscure game, a deep cut if you will, Plaque Attack. It is Activision and I noticed that the sound effects were recycled from Frostbite (or vice versa) and maybe that’s why I liked the game so much. I mean, it certainly wasn’t gameplay, which revolves around you controlling a tube of toothpaste and shooting food that is trying to decay teeth in a mouth. Okay, so yeah, maybe sometimes nostalgia is a liar because I didn’t last long in that game before moving on to River Raid and Frogger.

For those who think I was making up Plaque Attack. I have a good imagination, but not even I would think to make this game up if it didn’t exist.

The Bad

Unfortunately, I don’t any of these consoles anymore. I shouldn’t say that. Honestly, my mother might still have the Atari, NES, and possibly the SNES and Genesis in her basement or attic. Me, though, lacking any foresight and (as we’ve seen) little sense of nostalgia, I have either sold or given away most consoles I’ve owned as an adult.

PS1? Gave it away because it only played when flipped upside down. N64? Sold to a local YMCA for gas money, basically. Original XBOX? Gas money, too. I do still have my PS2 and Dreamcast, so I guess I got some sense in me eventually. Granted, the Dreamcast was bought after the console was already dead and I just found it at the bottom of my closet, but I still have it!

The bad about all of this is that I have to resort to questionably legal means to play all these old games. I mean, I got a 2600 joystick console one year for Christmas or birthday. It was fun and I played it a few times, but the games are limited and most of them aren’t my favorites. The classic Nintendo consoles are also limited in the games they play, and the games are often the good ones, but good luck getting one in the current environment of limited runs and eBay resellers grabbing all of the stock. So, I go the emulator route and hope that I don’t get a cease and desist from my internet provider again.

I fully admit that I’ve engaged in quite a bit of questionably legal content online and should have been warned. But, really, this was the last straw? It wasn’t even that great of a movie.

The Ugly

You probably think that I’m going to go with the obvious choice of E.T. here. Well, if you think that, you haven’t spent much time on the page. I know that E.T. is always pointed to as one of the biggest failures in video game history and said to have essentially killed Atari as a company. I refer you to the documentary Atari: Game Over for an entertaining look at the second claim. As for the first claim, the game might have failed, but I owned one. I also enjoyed the game immensely. It is one of the first games that I finished completely.

I mean, how is E.T. still considered the worst game ever with this turd out there?

The real ugly is that ultimately, nostalgia is a liar. The games are fun and they do the best that they can with limited pixels and colors. However, the graphics are still terrible, the sound effects are lame, the gameplay for most games is repetitive, and there’s not much here other than the reminder of simpler times. With all of the other options out there, what is the reason to choose a 40+ year old console with all of those limitations?

The Verdict

Playing these games gave me some insight into what people say when they go on about “the good old days”. I had some potentially bad news (that has ultimately worked out well as of right now) and going back to the games of my youth when I didn’t have to worry about all of these things was a powerful attraction. I have kept coming back to the games daily for a bit of a distraction.

In the end, though, they are little more than that. Like the games on my phone that I cycle through on a daily basis, I’m not terribly invested in the games. I play them to give my brain a break. I’d much rather be playing Skyrim, Fallout, Portal, or even the Lego games with the boys. I don’t know if it will have staying power in my daily routine, especially since I’m going back to school and time will be more limited. For now, I like the feeling of experiencing the games for the first time again and remembering other games that send me on the hunt for them. If you’re not worried about the questionable legal ramifications, I highly recommend the run, jump, and chomp down memory lane.