Retro Gaming Podcasts

I spend a solid 90 minutes on the road every weekday commuting to and from work, so I spend much of that time listening to podcasts.  I’ve always been a fan of gaming podcasts, but recently I’ve been listening to several geared around older consoles and computers.

This list is by no means comprehensive, just some of the ‘casts I’ve found to be both entertaining and informative:

Dreaming of Missile Command

The Polygon has published a great retrospective on the arcade classic Missile Command and it’s creator Dave Thurer – a game inspired by, and the inspiration for, nightmares of nuclear armageddon.

While I had experienced the arcade version of Missile Command (1980) at the local movie theater, my definitive version was the Atari 2600 port. It was the first cartridge I purchased with my own money – a big deal for a kid who hadn’t reached double digits yet.

I spent hours upon hours playing it, taking down the incoming missiles as they approached faster and faster.  While there were limitations compared to the original – only one missile base, fewer enemy types, no trackball – it is one of the more faithful 2600 arcade ports.

At this point in my life, I was still trying to convince my family to partake in my burgeoning video game hobby.  My brother was too young, and my mom had absolutely no interest. Though my dad would play with me occasionally – he enjoyed Galaga, and join in for a round of Combat with me from time to time.

I remember watching him play Missile Command in our living room, but after a while he said he was done.  While I don’t remember his exact words, he conveyed a sense of unease with the game’s premise – probably for the same reason the game haunted the dreams of its creator.  While I may have known that “Russia” was something to be feared, the concept of nuclear war was not something I was capable of grasping at my young age.

For me it was just a fun, albeit tense, video game.  For baby boomers who grew up under the specter of mutually assured destruction, Missile Command was less a game and more a bad dream come to life.

PLAY Missile Command for free (Atari’s Greatest Hits iOS/Android App)

The Commodore 64 turns 30

Commodore 64 photo courtesy Bill Bertram, Wikimedia.

FIle under “this makes me feel REALLY old”

The Commodore 64, one of the first affordable home computers, turned 30 this week.  With a whopping 64 kilobytes of RAM, 16 – count ’em, 16 – colors, and a disk drive that was slower than Christmas, it was nevertheless a minor revolution in home computing.

Launching at the relatively low price of $595, which dropped to $200 in under two years, it sold between 12 and 17.5 million units, making it the best-selling single personal computer model of all time.

Besides being a great programming machine, it allowed you to do your home finances, write letters to Grandma, and… wait, nevermind. Who am I kidding?

Everyone who had a Commodore 64 knew it was first and foremost an awesome game console.

With several thousand games published over the course of a decade, it blew away everything that came before, and gave later consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System a run for  their money with the ability to provide deeper gaming experiences due to it’s keyboard, greater storage capacity, and superior sound (thanks to the Sound Interface Device, or SID).

But time marches on, and today’s dumbest smartphone has far more computing power than the Commodore 64. BBC’s Mat Allen showed a working C64 to some schoolchildren to get their impressions of this classic bit of technology:

Pac-Man CE DX & Choplifter HD free on Playstation Plus

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

At E3 last month, Sony announced their Instant Game Collection promotion for Playstation Plus subscribers.  Basically, it entails a rotating collection of 12 downloadable games, ranging from “excellent” to “meh” which are yours to keep for as long as your subscription remains current.

For July, they added Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, which falls on the “excellent” side of the scale.  A follow-up to 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition, both games successfully bring the classic Pac-Man gameplay into the 21st century.  Highly recommended.

Leaning more to the “meh” side of things is Choplifter HD with a thoroughly mediocre Metacritic score of 71%.   The arcade version of Choplifter was one of my favorites back in the day, so I’m willing to give it a bit more latitude.  It’s a decent update to the classic Choplifter gameplay, and worth a look if you’re a fan of the 80s incarnations, but ultimately it’s nothing special.  Here’s hoping developer inXile will be bringing their A-game for the upcoming sequel to Wasteland.

Atari’s Greatest Hits – 100 free games, today only!

As part of their 40th Anniversary celebration, Atari is giving away their Greatest Hits collection (iOS) for free, today only.  That’s 100 classics (and quite a few not-so-classics), normally $9.99 as an in-app purchase.

Download the app from the iTunes store, then launch the app and download the games.

The catch is, once you delete the app from your device, the games are gone as well, unlike normal in-app purchases.

There’s also an Android version of the app, but I can’t tell if the free games are available on that platform or not.

Atari is also giving some swag away via a Facebook sweepstakes.

Worlds of Ultima games available for free!

Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire title screen

As a youngster, some of my favorite computer games were those in the Ultima franchise.  After the disappointing series finale of Ultima 9, Electronic Arts killed the franchise (save for Ultima Online), and shut down Origin – the developer of the Ultima games – for good a couple of years later.

Between Ultima 6 and Ultima 7, Origin released two “Worlds of Ultima” games: The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, which were side stories that took place outside of Britannia.  While the games were well-regarded by fans, they did not sell particularly well and eventually became collector’s items.  I found a copy of The Savage Empire in a Wal-Mart bargain bin for $5 in 1995, and eventually sold it on eBay for nearly $150 a few years later.

They have never been re-released in any form – until now.  This week, both games showed up on – for free!  (and yes, they are completely legitimate)

If you can get past the 20+ year-old interface – which really shows it’s age – there’s a lot of good gaming to be had in these two forgotten gems.

Download Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

Download Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams

The Atari 2600 celebrates 30 years of low-rez fun

Playing my new Atari 2600 on Christmas morning, 1980.

As my 35th birthday approaches, an old friend is celebrating 30 years… the Atari 2600! Retro Thing is doing an “Atari Week” feature, with several pieces about the first device that defined “video game” for Generation X:

The Atari 2600’s impact upon the gaming world was immense. No less than eight variations were produced over its stunning 14 year lifespan, along with three Sears-branded models and over a dozen clones. The system sold in excess of 40 million units, and AtariAge lists well over 1300 different game titles. This is all the more incredible because the system was envisioned to have only a two or three year lifespan before being replaced by something more sophisticated. That day never came. Even though Atari made repeated attempts to surpass their initial design, the 2600 remained the pinnacle of the company’s console gaming success.

I have many warm (and a bit fuzzy) memories of the 2600:

  • Begging my parents to drop me off early at my piano teacher’s home so I could play her son’s 2600 before I had one of my own.
  • The hilarity of Basketball’s square ball.
  • Being awed by the ability to play Space Invaders without having to drop a quarter at the arcade. (and the syncopated rhythm when there’s only four attackers left)
  • Finally getting an Atari of my own for Christmas. Thanks..uhh… Santa!
  • Staying up all night at a friend’s house to beat Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Playing, enjoying, and beating E.T., years before the internet told me I was supposed to hate it because it was the “worst game ever.
  • Checking out my friends’ latest acquisitions each Saturday at the Cub Scout meeting. Including Journey Escape – Now THAT game was a stinker.
  • …and finally giving it up for the Commodore 64 a few years later. [links to an archive of my C64 site from several years ago]

The Atari 2600 seems so quaint in comparison to what we have today, but it was capable of some truly amazing things given it’s limitations. It had a meager 128 bytes of memory – to put that in perspective, this blog post alone is 20 times that. Your average home computer today with a gigabyte of memory can hold over 8 million times that amount. The ability to create anything with those limitations, let alone some of the classics that were produced for the 2600, is nothing short of incredible.

There is no Frogger vanity board – George is getting angry!!

Seinfeld - "The Frogger"

As I was flipping through the channels last night, I ran across one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes – “The Frogger.” George discovers that the Frogger arcade machine he got the high score on years ago still has his initials at the top of the vanity board.

As I was watching this, it hit me – Frogger never let you enter your initials for a high score!  While most arcade games did let you enter your initials or your name,  Frogger wasn’t one of them.

Of course, they had to use Frogger for the payoff at the end of the episode where George is pushing the arcade console across the street and subsequently gets destroyed by an oncoming truck.