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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Life Spent Gaming: Part 2 - Playing With Power

Playing With Power

Two things come to mind when I think back to the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, or just “The Nintendo”. The first is that I almost never had one, and had it been up to my parents I probably never would have. The second is that, truthfully, most of the most influential games of my lifetime were not games I played on the NES. That first Nintendo system was my gateway drug, the pot or prescription painkillers that led me to the wonderful world of crystal meth that was the Super NES.
That probably wasn’t the best metaphor I could have gone with.
It was Christmas… I want to say 1988, but it could have been 1987. I had long since resigned myself to my fate: my parents were convinced that my Atari 2600 was enough video game for one household, and that this whole “Nintendo” thing was just either more of the same or a fad that would soon pass. No amount of references to blurry, squinty images of The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. screen shots in the Sears/Roebuck Christmas catalog would convince them otherwise. No, there would be no Nintendo for me. I would spend the rest of my life condemned to playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! or Spelunker (or games that stunk of cigarettes, rented from a local mom-and-pop video store) at my friend Steven’s, or every other game ever made at my friend Jason’s, i.e. that kid whose parents bought him every game ever made.
Did not have.
Ditto.
I am the youngest of six children, but it’s more complicated than that. My dad was married twice. His first wife passed away when their two children, Jimmy and Regina, were still young, and he married my mom when they were in their early teens. Now it’s important to note: although I was always AWARE of the details of these familial connections, it never OCCURRED to me until my early 20’s that Jimmy and Regina were, in reality, my half-brother and half-sister. They were always just my way-older brother and sister, a decade and a half separating us as opposed to the two-years-like-clockwork between Maggie, Lizz, Mary Cate, and myself.
Thinking back on Christmas ‘88 (or ‘87) it occurs to me that the whole thing may have been a set-up, and my parents may well have known exactly what was going to happen. In my memory, though, they were as surprised as any of us, although much more frowny in their expression of said surprise. As I said: I knew that a life with the NES was not in the cards for me. Imagine my surprise, then, when my brother Jim, home for Christmas with his wife Christine, hauled out a big wrapped box, a “family” gift.
You already know what it was.
Let’s get real: this was a “family” gift in name only, and in hindsight my parents, on a limited budget but knowing there was only one thing I really wanted, or maybe not wanting to spend so much on me in comparison to what they were spending on my siblings, may have set the whole thing up with Jimmy. But again, as I remember it, they were kind of pissed at him and the semi-smug enjoyment he took in watching me unwrap the present and going ape-shit bananas, not unlike this:
This is how we should all react to presents.

That Christmas was spent stomping Koopas and hunting ducks. I even (begrudgingly) let Jimmy play for a little while. But again (and I can’t make this clear enough) the only member of the family really interested, long-term, in the NES and the hours of joy it would bring, was me.
The introduction of a Nintendo to our household brought regulations that were swiftly pushed to the wayside, because what were my parents going to do? I was already an honor student and a pretty well-behaved kid, I was already doing household chores for a relative bargain-rate allowance; there was very little they could reasonably hold over my head as a device through which to dole out to me my Nintendo playing time.
Now before I get into specific games, I need to repeat: the NES laid out the groundwork for the standards to which I would hold my video-gaming life. This was where so many of the great franchises of gaming were born (even those that would later move exclusively to other systems), though many of those franchises would not see their best incarnation on the 8-bit NES. This was just a start, and I think on some level I understood that even then, I understood that the games I played and loved and devoured were… incomplete. Imperfect. Part of a larger process. So the number of stand-alone NES games I now point to as being influential or impactful are surprisingly few. Remember: this was a brave new world of mass-consumer home gaming, the first time the console gaming experience was beginning to rival in quality the product being pushed on PC or in the arcade. “Nintendo” was the battle cry of a burgeoning culture, synonymous with video games the way “Coke” was synonymous with cola.
My point? Moreso than arguably any other console system, the NES sure had a lot of half-assed crap on it, mixed in with all the classic games that we remember so fondly.
But who wants to talk about the crap? Not me. No, not when I spent a good five years doing nothing but playing…
The Classics
Starring: your closest friends from childhood.
Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, Combat, Ikari Warriors, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Mega Man 3, Castlevania, Skate or Die!!, Contra, Tecmo Bowl, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Donkey Kong Classics, Castlevania 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Super Mario Bros. 3, Ice Hockey, RBI Baseball, The Adventures of Lolo, Bionic Commando, City Connection, Maniac Mansion, Mighty Bomb Jack, Adventure Island, Metroid, Double Dragon, Kung Fu, Double Dragon 2, Ninja Gaiden, River City Ransom, Battletoads, Shadowrun, StarTropics, The Goonies 2, Gradius 2, Excitebike, Bubble Bobble, Blaster Master, Dr. Mario
I’m not writing about each and every one of these games. And I’ve undoubtedly forgotten to mention some. But… man. My childhood was AWESOME. And listing all of these great games at once does two things: 1.) It illustrates why Super Smash Bros. is such a great franchise. 2.) It brings me to my next point…
Nintendo Culture
Did you have a Nintendo Club with your friends called The Totally Radical Video Gridiron Warriors? No? Just me?
I understand. Odds are your Nintendo club was called something very different.
The Nintendo was not just about the system and the games. That first Nintendo system impacted modern culture in a way no other video game platform has ever managed.
We live in a world where Mario has become as internationally recognizable an icon as Mickey Mouse. What other figure in video games can claim that? Pac-Man, maybe? Lara Croft? Sonic the Hedgehog? Those are the only ones I can think of, off the top of my head, that maybe come close, and let’s be honest: they don’t even come close.
Still one of the best things ever.
What other gaming platform (not GAME, but PLATFORM) has been the focus of a feature-length Hollywood film? I mean, not a GOOD one, but still? How many notes does it take for the average human of a certain age to recognize the World 1-1 music from Super Mario Bros.? How many of us grin knowingly when they see a t-shirt that reads “Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start”? How many of us know that a star makes one invincible, and that it’s dangerous to go alone and we should take this? Do you actually think we’ll see a Captain Playstation: The Game Master TV show anytime soon? When you hear Russian folk music do you think of Tchaikovsky or Tetrinos? DO all your base belong to us? DO you love your Power Glove? Tell me, which OTHER console established the standard by which all future platform, puzzle, shooter, adventure, RPG, and sport games would be judged? Have you ever tried to make a piece of technology work by blowing in it, and follow-up question, where did you get THAT move from?
Nice tag.
As huge as the video game industry is now, it is, like all modern entertainment options, fragmented amongst a disparity of content providers. Nintendo, though, in the days of the NES… Nintendo was a culture. Nintendo was a cult. Nintendo… was a way of life.
And we were all playing. With power.
Yes. Yes it is.
Nintendo Power
Speaking of…
It all began with the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide, a black-covered serious-looking tome of insider tips for that first generation of classic NES games, complete with full maps and full-color screenshots and illustrations. It was not a book I owned, but it was a book I borrowed from friends probably a dozen times.
Like the Bible, only super useful.
As I was not on-board the NES train from day one, I missed out on the Nintendo Fun Club, the early officially Nintendo-licensed organization, with a newsletter and other perks. The membership form came in the box with my Nintendo, and my parents sent it in and signed up for me, but in that pre-Internet 6-8 weeks of processing time the Fun Club went kaput, and instead of my newsletter and trinkets what eventually arrived in the mail was so much cooler: the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine.
First issue.
Last issue.
Clay statue Mario was on the cover, pushing the much anticipated (and incredibly bizarre) Super Mario Bros. 2 on an eager readership. Nintendo Power proved to be a monthly dose of what I loved the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide for, and more: maps, tips, tricks, previews, “Classified Information”, “Counselor’s Corner”, Nintendo-themed contests, celebrity Nintendo gamer profiles, the “Howard & Nester” comic strip… there was not a feature in Nintendo Power I did not devour. In the early burgeoning field of video game magazines Nintendo Power was the best.
Calvin and Hobbes, step aside..
Now, was it a publication chock full of Nintendo propaganda? Well, sure. It pushed Nintendo product like the mass marketing machine it was designed to be. But it was also the definitive ad-free, Nintendo-only source for game-breaking maps and secrets. The fuzzy screenshots and map-less content offered besides lame tips in early competitors like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly could not hold a candle to the production value and Nintendo exclusive strategy guides offered under the Nintendo Power banner. Sure, as other gaming platforms gained traction and other publishers figured out their game, Nintendo Power dwindled down into a shadow of the greatness it once was (much like Nintendo itself). But in those early halcyon days where Nintendo was king, Nintendo Power was the law of the land.
Now You’re Playing With Sequels: The Curiosity, the Catastrophe, and the Classic
The Nintendo entered our household just as the second wave of titles for the machine, the second generation, began to appear. One development cycle under their belts, the programmers at Nintendo and at their third-party licensees (that’s right; they used to have those) had begun to figure out the real tricks of the trade that would result in the system’s golden age, an age that lasted from 1988 to 1990.
(Aside: 1990, of course, is the year the last great NES game, Super Mario Bros. 3, launched, and although games were published for the system until 1994 most gaming historians, I’d wager, would agree the book can be closed right there. You’d do better arguing me that the golden age began earlier; my defense is those early games created an industry but weren’t better designed than their sequels: Super Mario Bros. didn’t let you scroll back, The Legend of Zelda was a fantasy adventure that took place in a lifeless wasteland Nintendo has been trying for years now to fold into the series’ canon, Metroid’s greatest design appeal (its atmosphere of isolation and foreboding) made it into the game due to system limitations… etc., etc.
I digress. So while my parents didn’t want me to get a NES, once I had one they were as on-board with it as a limited budget household could be. In fact, my dad was quick to score me a gaming coup: when Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 2 not long after my brother gave me the best Christmas present ever, it became a Holy Grail of gaming, in-demand and sold out by the truckload. In one of those rare moments, though, when the stars align and the cosmos bring forth true justice, my dad happened to know a guy who knew a guy at work, and he scored me a copy of the game before any of my friends had it. It was one of those rare moments in life where I had something first, where I was cool. (Remember grade school in the 80’s and 90’s, when ownership of a Super Mario game could make you cool?)
I’ve spent more time playing Super Mario 2 than I have any other game in the Super Mario series. Yes, that vegetable throwing Doki Doki Panic facelift game, that one that made zero sense even for a Super Mario game, the one that, while largely ignored in future Super Mario canon, has been cherry-picked over the years of its ripest fruit (Bob-ombs, Shy-guys, Birdo, the different abilities of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad)... I’m as familiar with the ins and outs of Super Mario Bros. 2 as I am with any other game ever made, and even more than the original Super Mario Bros. it defined my sense of what made a platformer a platformer. While it is often regarded as the black sheep of the Mario family of games, it’s always been on my list of favorite NES games (very close to the top, actually) and if Nintendo ever made a true sequel to it, not an impossibility given the quirky throwback nature of the company, I’d be a very happy retro gamer.
My other big NES ownership item was another franchise classic sequel just as different from its predecessor as Mario 2 was from Mario 1, but time has not been anywhere near as kind to its reputation. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is as different from The Legend of Zelda as you could imagine, foregoing the top-down dungeon crawling of the original for a hybrid RPG/Action-Adventure mash-up with a top-down overworld that would throw you into side-scrolling battle if you collided with an enemy’s shadow. (Abuh?) Zelda 2 had experience points that you doled out as you leveled up to increase your magic, attack, and life meters, and you learned combat and defense spells as you did in almost every JRPG ever made and as you didn’t in just about every Zelda game before and since… and those three useless spells from Ocarina of Time don’t count. It was a departure from the series, yes, and is now perceived as the red-headed stepchild of Zelda, but I really think the un-Zelda play style is not the real reason for its dismissal by many gamers.
The real problem is that Zelda 2 is, by far, the hardest Zelda game ever made.
Look: the gameplay and overall game experience was as spot-on and polished as you’d ever expect from a Nintendo published title, particularly a core title like a Zelda game. The two-level side-scrolling sword fighting comes to mind, which was arguably more challenging, rewarding and even fun than the lock-and-wait Z-target combat popularized in the 3D Zelda games. Zelda 2 was, however, controller-throwing hard. (The quest through Death Mountain for the frakkata hammer comes to mind.) I finished Mario 2 numerous times as a child. I never finished Zelda 2 as a child. Nor, actually, as an adult, and I’ve tried, but even on the Virtual Console I haven’t been able to defeat the game’s final palace. To this day, Zelda 2 is the lone Zelda game I’ve really tried to beat that I haven’t been able to. And yet, my experience with the game is as formative as any gaming experience I’ve ever had on the NES. I imported many of the attributes given to Link exclusively in Zelda 2, particularly his combat spell system, into the daydream superhero version of Link I’d fantasize about being, running around and fighting alongside Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe.
But enough about that.
Carrying the antithesis of the reputation Mario 2 and Zelda 2 share, Mega Man 2 is widely recognized as the best Mega Man game of the 8-bit era, and perhaps even when you take into account all the Battle Network and X and Zero spin-off titles, as well. Inspired in level design and balanced within an inch of rock-paper-scissors-fire-bomb-bubble-boomerang perfection, Mega Man 2 bested its predecessor and successors in just about every way: challenging without being frustrating, lengthy without being tedious, packed with various items and power-ups without being overwhelming.
Unlike Zelda 2 and Mario 2, Mega Man 2 was a title I did not own, but I did borrow it and take it along on a family vacation to visit our cousins in Maryland. Play outside? Pfft. My cousin Kenny and I played the crap out of Mega Man 2, and it was a legitimate cause for celebration when we figured out which of the Blue Bomber’s many weapons we needed to use to take out Dr. Wily’s android form, and if that last sentence made any sense to you, then congratulations! You’re as cool as I am.
Take that for what it’s worth.
Mega Man 2 set the bar for action platformers, a genre mastered during both the 8 and 16 bit eras by Capcom, the game publisher of Street Fighter 2 fame. Capcom’s platformers were funtime masterpieces in every way, but they exceeded all but Nintendo’s own published titles in one area: play control. The physics and precision of control in Capcom’s platformers ingrained in me what I, to this day, consider to be the most important element of any action game. ‘Cuz if you can’t control it, it ain’t fun, and if you CAN control it, then even insanely challenging games aren’t hyper frustrating because at least the playing field between you and the CPU is even.
So it should come as a surprise to nobody that the absolute best game of the 8-bit NES era was also a Capcom platformer:
Ducktales
Hell yeah, it was.
Ducktales. Woo-hoo.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Walrus and the Carpenter

There comes a time, of course, when you have to pick your head up out of whatever self-preserving bunker you've dug out for yourself and take a good, hard look at your world.

There comes a time when you'd like to know if you're a bankable commodity to your employer, someone worth investing in... and when you ask, it turns out they'd prefer to keep you around on their terms.

There comes a time when it's time.

This, I think, is the last show. I've always had an overly romanticized notion of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle or Portland or the like. Maybe we should try our luck out there.

I'd like to open a sandwich shop. That's what I'd like to do.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Life Spent Gaming: Part 1 - The Early Years

I am a lifelong gamer. 
I am not a hardcore gamer, not by a long shot. You won’t find me on Xbox Live bagging achievement trophies, or building a meticulously detailed landscape out of Minecraft blocks, or anywhere near a line or pre-order form for the next Next-Gen console. What you will find is that, at every moment of my life from age eight on, ownership of a video game console has been a part of my existence.
I used to sit with the Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog every year (remember those?) and stare at the poorly reproduced images of Atari 2600 games, all the more tragic a picture when I recall the amount of wearing down it took before convincing my parents to buy me one. It was the last generation of that console, the really really really small version…
… not the old let’s-design-this-to-look-like-a-piece-of-wood-paneled-furniture-or-maybe-a-radiator classic console.

That was the version one of the high school girls who would babysit my sisters and I used to drag over for us to play in a big carpet bag, when I was young enough to be too scared to play but old enough to be captivated by Ka-boom! 
So gaming has been a part of who I am, for as long as I can remember, and I have decided to honor that thusly: this is a four-part blog entry (that started life as a top ten list but quickly ballooned into something well beyond that) reflecting on NOT the best games ever made, but on MY favorite games ever… some of which are on many “best games” lists, and many of which are decidedly not. These are the games that have had the biggest impact on me and my life, as a gamer, as a writer, and as a consumer of culture and media.
We begin… at the beginning.
The Early Years
My earliest memories as a gamer are dominated by two devices: a Frogger game watch and a Ms. Pac-Man tabletop game. 


I was very good at the former, as it was mine, it was on my wrist, and my sisters could not dominate it. I was not as good at the latter. It was my sister Lizz’s domain, the family perfectionist who was the best at everything she tried her hand at. (Except for school. That honor went to Maggie, who ended up going to Harvard. To this day she makes us all look pretty bad.) These two devices were my first two extended exposures to the world of video games, but by no means would I place them on my list of important games. No, the first spot on that list goes to…

Lode Runner (Tandy 1000)

Our first family PC was a IBM compatible box, the Tandy 1000, part of the user-friendly Tandy home computer line.
Cutting edge, amirite?
A strong graphics processor (16 whole colors!) made this a fairly powerful gaming computer of its day. We had several games for our Tandy, but by far the one that got the most playtime was Lode Runner.
Pictured: childhood time suck.
The Broderbund brick-drilling, gold-snatching, android-crushing classic, initially developed by architecture student Doug Smith, has been remade and re-released and re-worked many times, in many forms, most recently for iOS and Android devices (something I just now realized exists and excuse me while I go get it AND PLAY IT FOREVER.) The Tandy ran a port of the DOS version of the game, and it was a smash hit in my household growing up. I spent hours on Lode Runner with my sisters, eventually beating all 150 levels and designing probably twice that amount in the game’s ultra-awesome level designer, the best level design feature I’ve ever used in a game to this day. Our greatest joy in the level designer was no different than the joys players today take in designing levels for their friends and families: we wanted to create heinous, torturous boards that, while playable, would drive the others to madness. Kids are mean.
We played and controlled Lode Runner completely on the keyboard, controlling the stick figure hero with the arrow keys and drilling to his left and right with the Z and X keys in order to create holes to fall through and capture enemies with. I’ve since played Lode Runner in other forms with other control schemes and it has never been the same. I need to be controlling a stick figure, not a detailed sprite. I need to be playing on a keyboard, not with a control pad. I need to be playing a full screen version that allows you to see the whole board at once, instead of with a zoomed in view. And the color scheme must be: white player, blue bricks, red enemies. Anything else, as far as I’m concerned, is NOT Lode Runner.
Well, okay, it is. But it’s not MY Lode Runner.
Kings Quest II/The Black Cauldron (Tandy1000)
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for games powered by the SCUMM engine, the old LucasArts point-and-click adventure engine, variations of which drove Sam & Max, the Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island series, and a whole slew of other classic PC games. But my love affair for the genre didn’t start there, nor are they the games of graphic adventure genre I remember most fondly. 
On the good old Tandy we, as did many PC gamers of the 80’s, found ourselves sucked into the worlds crafted by the California-based Sierra On-Line, founded by the husband and wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams. The Williams’ were pioneers in the graphic adventure format, realizing that the text-based adventure games they enjoyed could only be enhanced by the addition of graphics, something that seems obvious today but was once, in fact, an alien concept. By the time Sierra titles found their way into our home the company had been at it for almost a decade, and their wildly successful games had made the transition from text adventures with static black-and-white images…

Don't get scared now.
... to graphic adventure games featuring colorful three-dimensional fantasy landscapes and a player-controlled avatar.
He gave up rather quickly.
The most well-known Sierra series is arguably the Kings Quest series, and the game we had on our Tandy was King’s Quest II, which sent the series protagonist, King Graham, on a journey to find a wife to share the throne he had won in the first game.
He's all yours, ladies.
The game was a fantasy mash-up that borrowed from any number of well-known fairy tales and legends, including Little Red Riding Hood, Dracula, and 1,0001 Arabian Nights.
I didn’t play a lot of King’s Quest II, actually. The anticipation of the music that would blare out of the Tandy’s internal speakers whenever an enemy would (very suddenly) appear on-screen to capture or kill Graham was far too stressful for me to grasp. Furthermore, it’s to be remembered that the King’s Quest games were extensions of the text adventure genre, which required you to type in commands in phrases so specific that lots of the areas of the game that got us stuck were sections where we just didn’t possess the vocabulary to tell the stubborn King Graham what it is we wanted to do.
Also, like most Sierra games, King’s Quest II had a quirky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and featured among its many Easter Eggs a cameo by the Batmobile.
Photographic proof.
The other Sierra graphic adventure that found its way into our house was The Black Cauldron, based on the Disney film of the era. 
It was the second of genre we played, and it came into our lives at a time when my sisters were losing interest in the novelty of the computer, and I was older so I wasn’t as easily scared by a video game. The Black Cauldron, then, holds the title of the first adventure game I ever completed on my own.
Now, let's be honest: The Black Cauldron film is not one of the better Disney animated features. The game is how I know the story of the film, and the game was excellent, featuring yet another breakthrough in the graphical adventure genre. 
See? Pig.
The entirely text-based gameplay of King’s Quest II was discarded in favor of a “hot keys” approach. The game came with little stickers that you would place on keyboard keys, designating each particular key as a popular command button through which you could tell the player character, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, what to do. (Again, it wasn’t the best movie.) 

Some of these sticker commands (“USE”, “LOOK”, “TALK”, etc.) became parts of the aforementioned SCUMM engine that drove LucasArts graphic adventure successes, and for a generation of adventure games commands and these like them are how you told your little digital avatar what to do.
Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)
As a child, I loved maps. As a child, I loved mazes. So as a child, I loved Pac-Man. I was Pac-Man for Halloween one year. I had a Pac-Man lunchbox, the Pac-Man board game, Pac-Man finger puppets (they were awesome)... I even had the world’s greatest record.
That's a lie. It's terrible.
That said, in terms of actual gameplay, I’ve logged far more hours on Ms. Pac-Man than on the original game. Why? I think the answer is obvious: Ms. Pac-Man is a better game. Why? More mazes.
Count 'em yourself if you don't believe me.
It befuddled me as a child when I realized that Pac-Man only had one maze that repeated over and over and over again. Why would anyone design a game like that, and not like the far more enjoyable Ms. Pac-Man, with four whole mazes to play through? Also, Ms. Pac-Man and not the original Pac-Man was the game cabinet at our local pizza place. Rainbow Ices at Angelo’s and Ms. Pac-Man? Now THAT’S a friday afternoon.
Unlike Lode Runner, I find the Pac-Man games are almost unplayable without a joystick. These days my tastes tend towards the Ms. Pac-Man hacks you’ll find in some places, the Illegal Hyper-Accelerated Editions. One such cabinet showed up just a few years back in the cafeteria of the teen theatre group I was directing one summer, and a high-score competition quickly unfolded betwixt myself and the teens in my charge.
The show that summer was… not the best.
The Atari 2600 Jr.

Now, as stated earlier, my first true video game console was an Atari 2600 Jr., the little silver-and-black machine that was the 2600’s last gasp of air (and arguably the last good Atari console ever.) I got my 2600 for my birthday in 3rd grade, October of 1986, very late in the system’s life cycle and well after the much ballyhooed North American video game crash of 1983. As such, a lot of the Atari games I had were not the classic games the system is best known for, like Pong, Space Invaders, Adventure, Combat, etc., etc. These are all games I had played at friend’s houses (years earlier), but never actually owned. My 2600 catalog included games that came in the latter half of the system’s life cycle, with a handful of classics mixed in. Key components of my Atari game library included Centipede, Pitfall!, Super Breakout, Pac-Man Jr., and Ghostbusters, and allowing for system limitations they were all very solid gaming experiences.
More or less.
The most impactful titles in my library, though, proved to be impactful for all the wrong reasons. I owned the port of two games, well-known games, published by a company that was NOT primarily known for it's Atari ports. That’s right. I owned the little-celebrated 2600 versions of Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Jr. So while I was playing these:
That's a turtle. Trust me.
That's a child-sized turd. Right?
 My friends were playing these:
Can you spot the differences?
Look close now!
Or even worse… this:
The humanity.
We had reached the point, obviously, where the 2600 just wasn't going to cut it anymore. My parents, alas, were insistent that they would not purchase me a Nintendo Entertainment System. To be fair, money was tight. To be unfair, they thought one gaming system was just as good as any other.

I guess they didn't look at the pictures.
So while the Atari did provide me with hours of gaming fun, those hours were by no means countless. Little did I know that a Christmas miracle was waiting for me just two years later, and my true love affair with video games had only just begun.
Next: Playing With Power