Am I In The Video Gaming Elite Yet?

Last night, the family and I went to the local arcade, 1984, and played video games.

1984 has an electronic leaderboard of the monthly high scores, and if you get the monthly high score on the video game, you get a free pass for a future visit, your initials in a slideshow that displays on two big monitors, and a button.

So I looked at the monthly leaderboard and picked out a couple of low-hanging fruit:

Spy Hunter and Tapper had the default values, 20000 and 8000 respectively. I played a couple games of Spy Hunter to make sure I surpassed the threshold. The first game of Tapper I played I beat the minimum, which means that not many people have played it. Perhaps because it is a cocktail game, one that you sit at (although a cocktail game about tapping beers seems somehow wrong).

So I got my button and my free pass.

The button, though, represents my second award for a video game high score.

Way back in 1987ish, the Arnold Bowl, where my mother was on a bowling league, had a promotion where they’d award trophies for monthly high scores on some of the machines. As with my later trip to 1984, I cherry-picked and looked for the machine with the lowest high score on it. Strangely enough, this was Pac Man on December 30. Perhaps it was not as popular of a game some seven years after its release. Perhaps someone had unplugged the machine. It was ridiculously low, and I managed to surpass it. My high score held up for a day and a night, so I got a trophy.

A trophy with an engraving error. Funny thing that: My sainted mother won a trophy of her own for being the most improved bowler in the league, and the trophy shop at the bowling alley managed to misspell improved on her trophy. So of the Arnold Bowl trophies our family accumulated, they were 0 of 2.

At any rate, it’s kind of funny. At some point, I stopped really getting into video games. I might have been confused by the complexity of the NES controller. I haven’t really played them that much, and I spent a lot of time in 1984 last night just wandering around. Thirty years ago, playing all you wanted in a video arcade would have been a dream come true, but last night, at least until I decided to try for a high score, it seemed like it was going to be a long slog of a night.

Perhaps it’s the video game selection at 1984. I might have matriculated into the video game scene a little later than its titles skew. If it had a Double Dragon, an Ikari Warriors, or a Heavy Barrel, I’d be on it. Of course, I spent most of my time on the Arkanoid they have, which is sort of silly and embarrassing with how little skill I have at it, since I’ve got one standing here in my office less than four feet away but that I don’t play but a couple times a year.

At any rate, BOW BEFORE MY VIDEO GAME SUPERIORITY! The trophies are only slightly better than participation trophies, BUT THEY ARE SYMBOLS OF MY PROWESS!

In other news, my beautiful wife also got a high score, but hers was for the game Joust which other people play and whose commemorative button represents actual skill and effort.

A Show I Didn’t Give Up On: Almost Human

Sadly, although I’m years behind, I’m almost through with the series Almost Human.

Almost Human

The series, if you’re not familiar with it, takes place a couple decades from now. Technology has advanced, and criminals have new means indistinguishable from magic for committing their crimes. A cop is injured in an ambush and loses a leg; it’s replaced with a prosthetic. Worse, he’s an old-school throwback kind of cop, and he doesn’t like being paired with an android. Instead of choosing the normal kind, he gets paired with the last of a line of androids programmed to have feelings–but all the others were decommissioned for going crazy. Together, they work on some crimes revolving around different science fiction technologies.

Unfortunately, it lasted only a season. The show kind of fell in a middle spot between two audiences: young geeks who watch things like Lost, The X-Files, Sleepy Hollow, and the comic book shows might have liked it, but it was a bit episodic and cop-showish. The show had a couple of overarching mysteryesque story lines that extended for a couple of episodes with little hints–Did the cop’s girlfriend at the time of the ambush, who has since disappeared, have something to do with the gang that ambushed him? What are these strange memories from someone else implanted in the android’s memory banks? However, these mysteries seem to have gotten dropped in favor of completely detached episodes. And the audiences that drive cop shows for decades, who like episodic plots, (that is, older people) might not have enjoyed the science fiction element. So it didn’t get renewed.

It definitely fell into my sweet spot, though. A throwback cop in the future, isolated from others around him. He’s sweet on a fellow officer, but she’s a Chrome–a genetically altered person who’s just discovering the camaraderie of her own kind as opposed to her fellow police like him. So the last episode ends with him alone out in the city, brooding.

Suddenly, it reminded me a lot of the Tex Murphy games.

Mean Streets/Tex Murphy

For those of you who don’t know, the Tex Murphy games feature a throwback private investigator in San Francisco about the same time as Almost Human, but it’s a post-apocalyptic San Francisco with mutants and whatnot. But the premise is a bit noir and a bit tongue in cheek. It started with Mean Streets in the early 1990s–I played it on my old 286. Remember when you referred to computers by the chip inside? The Olden Days. I liked the Mean Street so much that I wrote Access Software a letter (in the mail, child, in the mail!) and expressed hope for a sequel. Access sent me a very nice form letter about not accepting unsolicited ideas or resumes. So I sent them a resume from my twenty-year-old self. (I was not hired.) Eventually, though, Access did add other titles to the line, but I picked them up after my prime computer game playing days (that is, college). So I bought them, noodled with them, and sold them or gave them away.

“I wonder if the Tex Murphy games are on Steam,” I said to my wife after the penultimate episode of Almost Human.

So they are. The complete pack for $29.99. And there’s a new Tex Murphy title for Tesla Effect.

So after I watch the final episode of Almost Human, I might be crazy enough to buy one or more of these games and give it a go.

Which probably means I’ll do like I’ve done with every new game since Civ IV came out in 2005: Install it, run it once, make it through the introduction, and decide I don’t want to waste my time on video games when I have so many books to read.

All this would have been far easier if there’d been a second season of Almost Human.

A Trademark You Didn’t Know You Were Violating

So I just gathered and organized all of my Atari 2600 game manuals (at least, those I know of–there are probably a bunch floating around in stray boxes here and there), and I discovered something.

Back in the day, Game Program was a trademark of Atari.

Check it out.

Here’s the manual for Defender, which says it is the Atari® Game Program™.

Atari 2600 Defender manual cover

Here is a catalog saying that there are 45 Game Program™ cartridges.

Atari 2600 game cartridge catalog cover

Ergo, Game Program is a registered trademark of whoever holds the Atari intellectual property these days.

So watch yourselves.

Return to Apogee

Hey, whoa. 3D Realms, the software company that apparently used to be called Apogee, has a page where you can download all those shareware side-scrollers from the late 80s and early 90s.

Just like I used to play on my 286 after spending an hour downloading them from a BBS.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t have a bunch of them on 3.5″ diskette, but I will complete my collection.

Shareware’s Triumphant Return

A CNN article describes how shareware is making a comeback. Well, duh!

The shareware distribution model makes a lot of sense. Smaller applications, many of which are home grown at first, have lower development, marketing, and distribution costs, and the author of the software can pass the savings on. Best of all, you get stripped down versions to evaluate at your leisure for free and for an unlimited time.

It’s hard not to appreciate it. Hey, I have been a fan of shareware for over a decade. I still have the original Duke Nukem and Cosmo’s Great Adventure loaded on my Windows 2000 box, running in all their two dimensional scrolling glories. Not only do they it run as well on my Athlon 1000+ as on my 286-10, but the replayabilty remains. Todd Replogle, where have you gone?

Hopefully not off somewhere to write the interchangeable first person shooters, like Duke Nukem 3D. I hope you retired off of your old Apogee earnings before sinking to that level.

(Link seen on /..)