Something Unheard Of, Sort Of

So, as I might have mentioned, I often have a game of Civ IV running in the background so I can play a couple turns whilst waiting on a build or something. It’s been that was for over 15 years and many PCs, as I mentioned. But I’m really trying to find things for little work breaks that are not reading the news or blogs because that’s not optimal for my frame of mind.

Given that I’ve also taken to playing it a bit at night when my boys have taken over the den with video games, and suddenly I’m getting a little tired of Civ IV. After only fifteen years, right?

So I did something crazy. I opened up the Steam store to look for something else to play.

And immediately, I got list after list in category after category of games, some of dubious provenance–Chinese or Japanese characters in the screenshots and whatnot. Screen after screen, with prices ranging from free to under a buck to sixty bucks for new big releases in known franchises.

So I scrolled, and I paged forward, and I tried different categories, but I found it hard to decide. I’m sure my boys are used to picking games from a list, and are probably not hesitant to download and try a bunch of things before deciding what to play long-term (and since they play online with friends, critical mass sometimes contributes to their decisions).

But you know me, gentle reader. I like to browse. I like to pick up books, music, and video games turn them over in my hands. In the case of the video games, look at the box, read it, look at the screenshots on the back. The listings on Steam have all of these things and videos, but just the packaging indicated whether it was a cheap game (just cellophane on a sleeve) or something more elaborate (a box). But I did not get that.

And let’s just reflect upon those games that I have bought in boxes. A lot of times, I install them, run them once, maybe play the training level, and then wander off. It’s certainly true for RPG, real-time strategy, or first person shooters that I’ve downloaded. I’m not looking for games to fill up large blocks of my evenings; I want something I can switch windows, play a bit, and switch back. What I’m probably looking for, then, is casual gaming, but aside from downloads of PopCap games back in the day, for some reason I want something a little meatier.

Clicking through the menus and screens, I got the anxiety of an old man, afraid to click on things. Well, maybe not quite that bad–maybe it was just the indecisiveness of a person in a bookstore with a gift card.

But, eventually, I did settle on a game. Master of Orion. Widely characterized as Civilization in space. And it’s from 1993.

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In Researching, I Find A Gap In The Noggle Atari Collection

So I was researching my post for this morning (that is, I searched the Internet for Private Eye Video Game or something), and I re-discovered the Atari 2600 video game Private Eye.

I remember that game, too, although I am not sure who had it. Jimmy? Jimmy T.? Someone else?

I don’t actually have a copy of it and certainly have not seen it in the wild in the 20 some years that I’ve been acquiring things like it (although a lot less over the last decade–you don’t find stuff like this at garage sales any more, and you don’t even see things like it at antique malls, where common Atari cartridges are marked $7 or $10).

I’ll keep my eyes open for it, but I’m not sanguine at my prospect of finding either of these games out.

Maybe I should start going to estate sales again. Especially since I’m getting to the age where peers are dying, and they might be my best chance at getting a hold of things like these.

And, brothers and sisters, watch out for my estate sale someday. It will be quite the trove of miscellany.

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How I Got My First Jazz Album

So I took the back-up car to drive the youngest to school yesterday, and I have my audio course lectures in the primary vehicle. So I set the audio system to pick up music from my pocket computer.

Instead of my workout playlist, which I tend to stream from my wrist computer when I’m at the YMCA, it started playing a Keiko Matsui album, a light, jazzy tune as I drove along. Suddenly, I’m having a flashback to driving a car in 1996 or so. But it’s not me driving: It’s Philip Marlowe in a video game called Private Eye.

Screenshot courtesy Good Old

I bought the game at a little PC shop that started out in High Ridge but ended up in Murphy; I had done my own time in a different PC seller before hand. I was driving a grey sedan at the time and had been wearing a fedora for several years by that point. So when I spotted this game, I hopped on it. I remember playing it in the dining room of my aunt’s house in Lemay, where my mother and I lived for a couple of years.

When Marlowe is driving, the game plays a little jazzy music. And I wanted the same for myself.

Although St. Louis had (and has) a jazz station broadcasting from across the river in Edwardsville–WSIE–reception is a bit spotty towards the southern part of the St. Louis area (such as Lemay and later Old Trees when I lived there). So I thought about picking up a jazz album–on CD, as I was not thinking in terms of records then. So I did a little research, perhaps on AOL (lol), and I decided on a saxophone jazz album:

To be honest, my cars at the time did not have a CD player–and I don’t think the grey sedan even had a cassette deck–so I was dependent mostly on the radio for my music listening. So my foray into jazz at that time didn’t go very far. I did end up with a Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald CD, though, by the time I moved to Casinoport–where I could receive WSIE on my radio when it was on the top of the bookshelves and the antenna was pointed just so.

Well, that was a long time ago and many jazz albums ago. Although, as you know, gentle reader, my jazz tastes tend to run to pretty women doing jazz these days, so I haven’t listened to the Coltrane album for a long time. I should probably rectify that. At some point, probably around the turn of the century, my beautiful wife gave me a Coltrane box set which I should listen to as well.

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Speaking of Civ IV

I mentioned two weeks ago about how a post about Civ IV appeared on my Facebook Memories feed.

Last night, I found an ad for it in a comic book that also has ads for Age of Empires III and other video games.

Were video games the last things along with movies and television shows to advertise in comics? I’ll have a definitive answer for the state of the industry in 2019 sometime in 2022, when the comic books of 2019 are marked a dollar somewhere.

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Short Memories

As you might expect, gentle reader, I review the Facebook Memories section every day to see what I was thinking or posting about in the past on this day. Kind of like when I mope through the archives here when following a link from the stat tracker to a page someone visited from 2004.

Yesterday, I got this one:

Of course, I had a game of Civ IV running in the background.

I never really got into Civ V; I think I rebelled at having to sign into Steam to play it. So I kept installing Civ IV on new PCs, up until my Windows 7 box where I had to do a special hack to turn off a graphics service to play it. Which lasted until the video card on the old PC began to choke out, probably under the weight of Civ IV running all the time.

Instead of trying to re-create the hack on a Windows 10 machine, I went ahead and installed Steam and bought Civ IV through Steam, and I still play it far too often today.

I know, I could have installed Civ V or even Civ VI since clearly I’ve gotten over having to connect to Steam each time I play Civ IV, but I tend to look at it as comfort food. Something I can play without much thought. I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to learning new games these days, and I don’t even buy games with the thought that I would play them (which I did for much of my 30s and early 40s–buy a game, install it, watch the intro and maybe play the training level, and then I’d decide that I’d be better off reading a book or tending to my household during that time.

So fourteen years after its release, and nine years after I predicted I would move on from it, I’m still playing Civ IV.

I’m not sure if it counts as a thread weaving through my life connecting me to my pre-child past or a deep, deep rut I’m stuck in.

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What MAME Cabinet Is He Playing?

A story at Hollywood in Toto claims ‘The Last Starfighter’ – Still the Best Video Game Movie, and I cannot argue with the premise as I have logically proven The Last Starfighter is better than Star Wars.

However, I cannot trust any of the authors facts or assertions since he says:

Some helpful exposition clearly explains how the arcade game [The Last Starfighter] works (it’s one of those fun shoot-em-ups with multiple joysticks, a la “Centipede”).

Sweet peas and chicks, Centipede is played with a track ball and fire button.

But I guess not everyone has the advantage of a local arcade with original machines so one could actually have played the game in the last seven months.

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Brian J.’s A-10 Strategy For Getting High Scores At The Local Arcade

The middle of last year, I got a couple of high scores at the local arcade. I mused that the scores had been reset recently as they weren’t very high. When we went back last week when our kids were on Christmas break, I discovered how it works: 1984 resets its annual high scores on July 5, the anniversary of the arcade’s opening.

So I’d hoped for another easy score of a free button and free pass for my next visit to the arcade (between high score free passes that my beautiful wife and I both earned, we had a two-for-one coupon, so the whole family got in for only $7.50), but with six months of previous players, and quite honestly, better players to contend with, I decided to go with the A-10 Warthog strategy: Low and slow.

Instead of working on video games that I enjoy or games that I can play passably well (which is, come to think of it, none of them), I looked for old, slow games that won’t captivate the players from today who’ve grown up on PlayStations and Fortnite. So I watched the board scroll by, and I saw that Elevator Action had a high score of 10400.

So I went to work on the game.

I played a couple of times straight up, trying to get the secret documents and whatnot, but I wasn’t improving fast enough to make the high score. Each set of documents was worth 500 points, and killing an enemy spy was worth 100 points, so I decided to camp in a defensible position and try to shoot or jump side kick 105 bad guys.

Which I eventually did after hogging the game for about an hour.

Did I say “hogging”? Clearly, I exaggerate, as nobody else seemed to want to play the slow, 35 year old game. It was pretty busy at 1984 that night, but everyone crowded around the later games or the more popular games, leaving me to shoot and dodge bullets until I had the high score.

I guess in a loud arcade, en sounds like em. But I got a button and a free pass.

I could have gotten a little higher in score, as I didn’t realize I got an extra life at 10,000 points and stepped back for my final brief life.

But the A-10 strategy looks to be a winner:

  1. Pick an old game, probably a slow game that bores modern players.
  2. Which will most likely have a low high score.
  3. Play the game to score points, not to advance the plot.

We will see if this strategy holds true the next time I go to 1984, which might be in the middle of July again. But I know what game I’ll spend my time on: Space Invaders. It looks like one only needs to get through the first two levels to beat the high score, and I’m pretty sure in a couple of hours I could do that.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in studying up, here’s someone playing Elevator Action for an hour:

You know, my kids watch YouTube videos about video games all the time. I can only hope that the videos they watch are more interesting than this video. BECAUSE THAT MEANS THE KIDS WILL BE TOO BORED TO PLAY THE OLD GAMES UPON WHICH I NEED TO SET HIGH SCORES.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Collier Speaks Truth To Power

VodkaPundit2 uses a quote from Nolan Bushnell to explain why 18 million video game players represents a net loss over 20 million gamers over the last 20 years.

To his entry, I’ll add this codicil: This will explain the growing popularity of games like Luxor, Zuma, Bejewelled, PopCap games, simple Yahoo! games, Uproar, and other sites moving into the simple games space. Granted, their games won’t have the glitz of super graphics nor of Hollywoodization of video games, but in terms of profitability and marketshare, they will eat Take Two Studios’ lunch.

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Post-Garage Sale Refrain

Those $30 Space Invaders and Asteroid cabinets must not have worked.
Those $30 Space Invaders and Asteroid cabinets must not have worked.
Those $30 Space Invaders and Asteroid cabinets must not have worked.

Because if they had, I would have had to buy them out of principle. So I didn’t even ask, because of course the owners must have known the real value of working games. So I didn’t heed the spontaneous stories in my mind that would have explained it….such as their belonging to the woman’s ex-husband….and drove away.

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