Geoff Edgers has an illuminating interview with the MIT assistant professor Nick Montford in today's Ideas, on the subject of Atari and the "golden age" of video games. Coincidentally, I stumbled on 2600online.com last week, a site that replicates amazingly well (minus that classic joystick) a few dozen of the most popular games for the Atari 2600, the ur-home-gaming system.
There's Space Invaders, of course, which I think came with the console and which mirrored the arcade version pretty well. Adventure was also very good, even though the medieval "adventurer" you controlled was, literally, a square, and the dragons that pursued you looked like ducks sketched by a modestly talented 3-year-old. Ah, and Missile Command! Perusing the ancient games is a reminder of what Montford says: the quality of gameplay doesn't necessarily correlate with computational horsepower.
Of course, Atari had its share of duds, too. I'd never seen E.T., but it does appear to be as epically lame as the professor says. And I remember just how disappointing Pac Man was, but for different reasons than Montford mentions. When you moved Pac-Man up or down, his mouth stayed horizontal, which was just ridiculous. Also the ghosts were blinky and cheap-looking; they must have overtaxed the system.
P.S. It's never a good sign when developments concurrent with your childhood are described as "deep history," as they are in the subhead of that Q & A.
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