Retro Rewind: Atari 2600

I’ve spent the last two posts talking about some of my favorite golden-age arcade games. This time, I’m going to focus on one of the earliest home video game consoles, the Atari 2600.  Interactive video games had actually been around for a quite some time.But they really hit the mainstream in the late 70’s-early 80’s. Hoping to cash in on what believed to be the “next big thing”, Magnavox developed the Odyssey – the first home video game console. However, it wasn’t until Atari released the Atari 2600 Video Computer System that the public really took notice.

The Atari 2600 was originally released in 1977 and took the market by storm. At last, friends could enjoy two-player video games in their own home. New and unique games were being released for the 2600 at a rapid-fire pace. Famous arcade titles were even being ported to the system (albeit in very poor quality). For several years, it seemed like the sky was the limit for Atari. However, by 1983 interest began to wane for the system. The overall poor quality of many of the games, as well as an over-saturated market ultimately led to the 2600’s downfall.

Many of the best games for the Atari 2600 were actually classic arcade games (Frogger, Pac-Man, Centipede), but these ports are dreadful when compared to the original arcade versions. Regardless, the 2600 still played host to some worthy titles. Four of my favorite 2600 games are as follows:

Adventure

Adventure – This was the first overworld exploration game. The purpose of Adventure is to explore an open environment in search of a magic chalice. Once found, return it the golden castle at the beginning of the game. To say Adventure was ahead of its time is an understatement. Games like The Legend of Zelda likely would not exist if it wasn’t for Adventure. This game invented the concept of free-roaming enemies, “continues”, and even Easter Eggs. Naturally, when compared with modern equivalents, Adventure has not aged well. But it is still worth a look for curious gamers.

Haunted House – If Adventure is considered the first fantasy-action games, then Haunted House might very well be the first survival horror title. In this game, you explore a dark haunted mansion in search of pieces to a broken urn. The gameplay is best described as “bumping around in the dark” while looking for items. To actually find anything, the player must light a match that illuminates a small area around them – but doing so will attract monsters. Haunted House was a favorite of mine as a child. But most everyone I knew refused to read the instruct booklet and therefore did not understand/enjoy the game. This a shame, as the game itself is quite well done.

Pitfall!

Pitfall! – If I had to pick a favorite Atari 2600 title, it would be Pitfall!.  This is a side-scrolling action game in which our hero must jump over rolling logs, swing on vines, and avoid mean little critters as he searches the jungle for rumored treasure. Pitfall! may have been the first side-scrolling game that I ever played. As a result, it kindled my interest in the genre for years to come. If you are going to play any game that the Atari 2600 has to offer, this is the one I recommend.

Swordquest – As an honorable mention, I’m including the Swordquest games in my list. I’m not doing so because they were particularly good games… but rather due to the legacy that follows them. Swordquest was a series that consisted of three released titles (Waterworld,  Earthworld, and Fireworld), and a fourth unreleased title (Airworld). These games were part of a larger real-life contest. Depending on which game you were playing, clues were hidden in the game’s instruction manual as well as in a comic book that was included with each game. Players who uncovered the game’s secrets could then write in and hope to be selected to participate in a special contest. The winner of the contest would be awarded with actual treasures. The rewards included: an 18-karat gold talisman that was littered with various gemstones, a jewel-adorned solid gold crown, a jeweled platinum chalice, and a gem-encrusted jewelry box. Of these rewards, two were distributed. The fate of the remaining two are shrouded in mystery… The gameplay itself is a mixture of various genres. For the most part, the main areas of the game were similar to Adventure. But occasionally, the style would switch to various puzzles and platform challenges.  Since the games themselves were designed around a now defunct contest, and the storyline for the games has been left unfinished, there’s very little reason to play these titles today. But the mythology behind them still fascinates many.

 

So, let’s say you’re curious and want to get your hands on these (and other) classic Atari 2600 games. How to do that? Well, a vast number of Atari 2600 titles are included in a the Atari Vault collection. This collection features one-hundred classic Atari titles (both 2600 and Arcade versions). Classics like Centipede, Crystal Castles, Adventure, Haunted House, etc are all included. Xbox One and PS4 users also have their own collection of classic Atari games. However, if you’re hankering to play some Pitfall! The Atari Vault will disappoint.  Currently, the only modern way to enjoy that game is on the Atari Flashback console (version 8 or newer).

 

For 2600 fans, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold is my currently my official recommendation. But, if you can be patient, the Atari Flashback 9 is just around the corner and will included even more long-forgotten games. These consoles simply plug into your TV using an HDMI port. – Just make sure you’re getting the GOLD version if you decide not to wait for the Atari Flashback 9. The non-gold “8” console does not use HDMI and will likely not be compatible with most modern televisions.

Atari Vault

 

 

Atari Vault is available on Steam,

Atari Flashback Classics (vol 1 and 2) are available on PS4 and Xbox One

 

My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 2)

My nearly six-month experiment came to a close earlier this month when I officially retired “Chichi” and restored Kijimuna to his former glory.  For those of you that may have missed the original article; back in January I wrote a piece about my attempt to see what gaming is like through the eyes of a female. Having spoken with several girls I know in Final Fantasy XIV, I decided to quietly moonlight as a female character for six months to see just how different, if at all, I would be treated.

If you read my original article, you’ll learn that aside from people being just generally nicer, my initial experience was not all that different. Back in January, I wrote that I had not encountered any harassment or sexisim, etc. So, now, six months later has that changed? Well, the answer is both yes and no.

In the months since my original article, I finally consented to joining a free company (guild). I decided to pick one of the largest on the server. From my personal experiences, larger MMO guilds tend to be busy and impersonal. People come and go all the time. I didn’t want to become close to anyone or have to lie about my identity, so a large guild would allow me to simply be another face in the crowd. This worked well for quite some time. Then, one day I volunteered to join some members on a trial (big monster battle). This event marked the first time since I started playing a female character that I was “hit on”…

As I stood there, healing my companions, a member of our party made a semi off-color comment about how well Chichi was able to “handle her staff” and would I like to see if I could “handle his”. This was quickly dealt with as Chichi informed him that if he presented his staff to her, she would snap it in half and sheathe the two pieces in a very uncomfortable place. This person later apologized to me in private for his behavior.

A few weeks later, another person seemed to become infatuated with Chichi. He followed me around and volunteered to help me with whatever I was doing. At one point, he even offered to pay for a private house so Chichi could have her own dwelling. For those who do not played FFXIV, let me tell you this is a VERY generous offer. Housing is scant and expensive on nearly every server in the game. I politely declined the offer.

As my time playing as Chichi drew to a close, I found myself realizing that I was going to miss her. Chichi had come to grow on me. The character was simply adorable. I entertained the thought of just continuing to play her, but I also missed playing as Kijimuna, a character I created almost seven yeas ago. So that I wouldn’t have to completely say goodbye, I came to a compromise. I hired a new in-game “retainer” or virtual companion and named/modeled it after Chichi. So now, even though Chichi is no more – a part of her still exists in the world of Eorzea.

So, after six months of playing a female character incognito, what are my thoughts?

Well, overall – even though I never actually presented myself as a female, acted flirty or feminine, the majority of players did seem to treat me nicer that they did when I would play a male. As I originally observed, many players were more patient and helpful. Aside from one sexual remark by a single individual, I was never objectified or harassed.  Perhaps this was because I never did come out and claim to be a woman. I really can’t say. But based on this experiment, albeit unscientific as it was, I was relieved to see that players perceived to be female are not the subject of sexual harassment day in and day out.  I’m not claiming that women gamers tend to to cry wolf about such topics, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as one might think by simply hanging out on twitter for five minutes.

When dealing with other players in any multiplayer environment, it’s always wise to remember the wisdom of Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure… regardless of who you are or who you are dealing with, “Be excellent to each other”.

My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 1)

So, as I promised, in 2017 I’m going to try to do more with this site besides write and post reviews. This post is a prime example of that. This is an article about a secret experiment I’ve been conducting. One that I’m now ready to share. In this post, I’m going to describe my experiences as playing an MMO under the guise of being a female.

Now, I’m not doing this in attempt to be controversial or shocking. This was an idea borne out of sincere curiosity. Please allow me to explain. If you’re a frequent reader to this site, you know that I’m an avid player of Final Fantasy XIV. My character, Kijimuna was created during 1.0 early access and has persisted throughout the entire course of the game. It was with this character that I founded one of the first Free Companies on the Balmung Server:  The Luminous Company.  However, over the years being a “casual only” company on one of the most competitive and overcrowded servers took it’s toll.  The numbers of active players in my company dwindled from over a hundred, down to about two dozen in a few years. In the last twelve months, I found that only myself and about three other players were active in company. Eventually, the company finally just came down to myself and one other player; a girl I had known since the original 1.0 version of the game. The day finally came when I logged on and noticed that even she had not logged on in over 30 days. It was then, I decided it was time to close up shop and consider finding a new group of in-game friends to join.

The problem I ran into was this: my server was jammed packed with elitist players. Despite my long term experience with the game, I am very much a casual player. I cannot commit to any schedule and I don’t have the ability to dedicate hours and hours to endless grinding. A few companies I did join up with never really felt like home to me as I was unable to participate in many activities due to my schedule. The one thing I really loved doing in the game, helping new players, was an impossibility on my server. You see, Balmung (my server) is super popular and therefore almost always locked for new character creation. There are simply no new players to help. That’s when I decided to take the plunge and move to a non-legacy server. A place where I could interact with newer players. As I was preparing for this move, I recalled a conversation that I had with my longtime in-game friend. One night, when it was just the two of us playing, she described to me her experiences being a female player in an online game. She explained how for the most part, people are generally kind. But how occasionally, she would find herself being objectified or suffering some minor unwanted advances. She also described how, if she really wanted to, she was able to manipulate a large portion of male players into providing her with help and sometimes even get them to carry her through difficult content.  I always wondered just how true that was.  – Well, as I sat there preparing to move Kijimuna to his new home, a thought occurred to me; what would happen if I transformed Kiji into a female? I mean, I had a number of these Fantasia potions (character re-design items) stashed away, perks from playing 1.0. I could use one and design my character as a female, temporarily – and blog about my experiences. It sounded like an interesting idea, so… I did it!   With that, Kijimuna Kudaka was no more.

……… drumroll

                                   ……..                            ……..

                                                                      …….                  …….  MEET:     Chichi !!!

First, I want to clear something up. When I transformed Kiji to Chichi, I did so solely with this article in mind. I had no intentions of using the transformation as an attempt to benefit or enrich my character. In fact, when creating my new persona I decided to stick with the very mundane and “unsexual” Lalafell race. The last thing I wanted to do was create some buxom, sexy fem fatale. I wanted to see what a real female mmo-player might experience.

I have now been playing as Chichi for almost three months and it has been an interesting experience. But before I get into the details, I want to layout some important facts around this experiment:

First – I never come out and claim to be a female. I’m simply playing a female character, and allowing others to make assumptions.

Second – I don’t flirt, act girly or cutesy, or change my in-game behavior in any way.

Now, with that in mind let’s talk about the results. Well, the last three months have been interesting. First, I’m amazed at just how many people automatically assume that because I am playing a female character, that I must be a female. Perhaps it is because I’m playing a cute little Lalafell and not some bikini-clad Valkyrie… I don’t know. But the majority of players I interact with do assume that the person behind my keyboard is indeed a female.

I’m proud to report that most players treat me no different than they did before. I’ve not been sexually harassed, or looked down on. However, it does seem that people actually seem to be a little kinder and patient with Chichi then they were with Kijimuna.  If I’m playing with others and I botch something, there’s less frustration exhibited.  I have also received more offers for help and more invitations for groups than I did before.

In fact, this led me to making another very important decision in regards to this experiment.  I decided to politely decline all free company invitations for the first few months or so. Just so I could see how many invites I would receive.  When playing as Kijimuna, after disbanding The Luminous Company, I received a total of two invites in the three months before deciding to leave Balmung.  As Chichi, I received a total of eleven in the same amount of time!

In fact, my refusal to join with any established groups created a bit of a buzz. A lot of people seemed puzzled by my insistence on playing solo. Well, I’ve recently caved and accepted an invitation to a small, but established Free Company. This will no doubt result in more social interactions with other players. So, I’m curious to see just where that might lead.  To date, I have yet to experience any off-color comments or negative experiences. Let’s see if that changes as I begin to mingle more with other players. Stay tuned for an update in the coming months!