Friday, January 21, 2011

Retro Arcade

The past few days I got to talking with my old buddy Dave about some of the old Atari computer games we'd play back in the good old days. We were probably 13-ish and I'd usually go over his house because he had the cool games and the slightly newer Atari computer. We'd usually slap in the Whitesnake cassette tape, crank it up and get things started.

Those were the days when in order to get a game you would either purchase it in a store or use your computer and modem to actually dial-out on the phone line to something called a BBS (Bulletin Board System). That was the precursor to places like AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, etc. You would dial-out, connect up, sign-in and either post messages, similar to forums of today, send email, chat or download/upload software.

You'd actually be dialing directly into someone else's computer/modem that was setup to receive calls. If someone else was already connected up to the BBS, you'd get a busy signal, which happened quite often. It wasn't like the internet where everyone can connect up at the same time.

Unless they had multiple phone lines, you'd have to keep trying continuously or wait until their phone line wasn't busy. If you did get connected, you'd be tying up your phone line for hours TRYING to download a game. If you're old enough to remember using a modem, you probably recall that even if you did get connected to something on the other end, that any static on the phone line would kick you off or cause your download to be corrupt. This was more often than not.

If someone in the house picked up the phone, they'd hear that shrieking noise on the line and would yell at you to STOP USING THE PHONE LINE...and you'd yell back, DON'T PICK UP THE PHONE...cause you had just spent the last several hours downloading something and probably just lost it all! What fun those days were. It's quite amazing to think how far we've come with instant access to so much information. These days if you can't download a 50MB file in less than a minute you get annoyed, back then it would take you around 2 hours to download a file 100 times smaller and probably 7 times out of 10 it would fail. Funny how when you stop and think about it, we've got it pretty good!

Our favorite game of all time was M.U.L.E. on the Atari 800XL/130XE. It was like a barter/trading type of game that took place on a fictional planet called Irata (Atari spelled backwards). I'd describe it as like a cross between Sim City and Farmville with some supply/demand economy skills mixed in. It may not sound like extreme fun, but it really was. Dave mentioned yesterday that he was playing M.U.L.E. via Emulator software on his PC with his young kids and they were having a great time. I have it running via Emulator on my PC, the Wii and even my Android phone. So far it plays the best on the Wii on the big screen, I just got that setup last night. If you never plan to try it out yourself, at least go to this site anyway to see the startup screen and music. Catchy tune.

There is free emulator software out there for everything from the old Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, old computers like the Apple IIe, Commodore 64, etc. etc. Anything that existed in the past is available as an emulator. Even all the old standup arcade games you would play at an arcade with quarters, like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, etc. If you're using your laptop as the place you want to play the games, you would download and install the emulator software for whatever game console you want, then you would search for and download the game ROM files online. Technically you are supposed to have a copy of the actual games, but if you're doing this for things like the Atari 2600, original Nintendo or old Arcade games that haven't been made in 15-20 years, I'd say you're good to go.

What were your favorite games growing up? Pac Man, Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, perhaps M.U.L.E.? I'd be interested to hear your favorites. I probably liked them too and would like to download them and play em, so let me know!


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