The Buy

As I have said before, I loved my Atari 2600 growing up. I didn’t have a huge game collection, nor even all the games I wanted, but I had enough that it made a life-long lasting impression on me.

atarilogoSo yes, I have a soft spot for the Atari. I currently own four 2600’s, although one of them is a Mac computer now. (I will write about that eventually.) The one that has the most meaning for me was given to me by my Uncle Robert ten years ago. I was at his house, fixing a computer problem he was having, when I started to talk about how much I still liked video games, and that I was now looking back and trying to buy (on the cheap!) old video games that I had as a kid. Hearing this, Uncle Robert mentioned that he had an old Atari in the basement I was welcome to have. I accepted, and when he brought it out, it was an original 2600, and in the box. The manuals were in there, as well as a bunch of games.

Uncle Robert passed away almost two years ago now, so this Atari 2600 has even more meaning to me.

Talking about it, he told me he picked it up the weekend after Christmas when I, as a kid, brought mine to my grandparents house on Christmas day. (Again, that story is here.) So this Atari from my Uncle Robert was built right around the same time mine was, and was purchased from the same store that my parents picked mine up at.

My Atari died, I think, many years ago. I don’t actually remembering getting rid of it. I had it, and then I didn’t. That’s what happens when you grow up; you get rid of the things that meant so much to you as a younger child in an attempt to distance yourself from your younger self, to move beyond being just a kid to a teenager, then from teenager to adult. I don’t know the year I stopped caring about the Atari, but I do remember laughing at it as a teen. I was, by then, into Nintendo and Sega, and the Atari 2600 was a quant children’s toy I had outgrown. Had I the wisdom then as I do now, I would have boxed up many of the important things from my childhood and saved them for later in life.

So my “on display” Atari has special meaning to me, as does the console in general. That’s why, when out with my wife, I got excited when I saw an Atari box at a garage sale.

I don’t like going to garage sales. I feel strange walking up to some strangers house and picking through their stuff. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what they want you to do. That’s why they are having a garage sale after all! But still, I don’t usually enjoy it. My wife, Julie, loves it. So do my younger kids. So on this nice, warm June day this past summer (2014, for those finding this years from now), I braked the car hard when I saw an Atari box sitting on the floor inside a garage, sitting by a table full of… stuff for sale.

I was out of the car in a flash. What I found was an Atari 2600, in the box, with controllers, power, converter, and tons of games. Not only that, but another Atari 2600 in a Sears Tele-Games box. For those who don’t remember, Sears started selling video games with the Atari Pong in 1975, but the product was not sold under the Atari name. Sears and Atari continued this relationship until 1983. This particular box, however, was the Rev A. “Heavy Sixer” model from 1977! The most sought after of the Atari 2600’s! In the box, however, was an all black “Darth Vader” 4-switch model from 1982, and not a big deal. No idea how a ‘Vader made its way into the Sears box, but there it was.

The woman I spoke with was eager to sell the old game systems. I asked how much for both systems, and she didn’t know. So she asked her husband. Julie, my wife, also found something she wanted for $15. We settled on $30 for everything, and so by my reckoning, I spent $20 on the two Atari’s and the games, and Julie spent $10 on what she wanted.

IMG_3736I was pumped! I promptly got home, opened the boxes, and laid them out on the floor to take a picture and share my find with a FaceBook group about older game collecting. The response was amazing from the group, and everyone agreed it was a great deal. One person, however, said he needed an Atari 2600 box for his collection, and asked how much I would sell him just the box. Jokingly, as I had stated how much I paid, I said $20. And he agreed! So I shipped the box, and the Sears one, off to the FaceBook collector, making my end cost effectually zero for the buy.

IMG_3735I don’t collect the boxes. If I find a game or system still in the box, great, but I don’t collect or display them. I could care less, honestly, about the packaging. For me, it’s all about the games, not the boxes.

Game collecting, when I first got into it ten years ago, was inexpensive. I picked up many vintage gaming systems for the cheap via ebay back in the day. Today is a different matter, as more people are into the hobby and prices have gone up. I don’t have every system I want (I’m looking at you, TurboGrafx-16 and 3DO), but I have a large collection that I didn’t spend much money on.

Vintage game hunting can be fun. There is even a YouTube series called The Game Chasers I enjoy dedicated to it, though they seem more interested in finding the super rare games, or being completist. Still, I enjoy the show, and while I wish they were into the Atari games, I enjoy their never-ending hunt for the rare NES game.

It’s not an expensive hobby, even with the recent price hike for vintage systems. It can be, if you buy retail or go after the rare games on ebay. But there are still many deals to be had, such as my Atari find here, and all you have to do is go out and look! And if you DO find something cool, let me know about it!

Of Joysticks and Roller(s)

Having a MAME Cabinet is great. Putting the legality issues aside for now, this is the best video game system I have ever owned. The reason is simple: unlimited games on a controller correct system.

For instance, I have owned Ms. Pac-Man on about every gaming system there is. Atari, NES, SNES, Xbox, PS1-2-3, Xbox 360, Wii… you name it, I have owned a copy of Ms. Pac-Man on it. But the biggest problem with each and every one of those has been the controller.

Growing up, I played a lot of arcade games, especially my favorites of the day: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, BurgerTime, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, and many others. All had one thing in common: the joystick. Playing those same games on, say, the NES control pad sucked. And while the Atari 2600 had a joystick, it sucked as well. (Too spongy.) These games demanded a proper joystick.

For years, I would occasionally look in at the MAME stuff, and even dabbled in it from time to time. But playing these games on a computer with a mouse, keyboard, or even a game controller was no better than on the NES. The only difference, really, was that in MAME, these games were the arcade games, not a port like the console games were. They were copied from the actual ROMs, so they were nearly identical.

(Side note: not all MAME ROMs are 100% accurate. In fact, most are not. There are times when an arcade used a special chip, or special hardware, and there is no real way to emulate those things on the computer. Still and all, the people who do work on these ROMs are amazing people and do wonderful work.)

So having an arcade means I can finally play games the way they were meant to be: with a real joystick!

Since my first post, dated mid-October, things have already changed with my MAME arcade. First, I have a dedicated monitor/screen for it. Second, said screen is on a wall-mount that allows me to rotate the screen vertically. Most arcade games were built with the monitor in the vertical position, so it was long, not wide. TVs all just the opposite. So being able to rotate the TV and set the MAME games to rotate 90-degrees brings an even truer arcade experience than before.

While I am not done “messing” with my arcade (I may never be), I spend most of my time with it playing games. A great feature on my MAME software is it allows me to tag a game as a Favorite, and that is a very selective list for me. With one button push, I bring up my favorite games, so I spend less time searching through over 10,000 games just to play a few rounds of BurgerTime. I initially added all the games I was most excited to play, of course, and now spend quite a bit of my time trying out some of the lesser known games. But finding those other fun games can be a challenge, and that’s where the internet comes in.

Just today, in fact, I was searching YouTube for information on an arcade game (I forget which one now) and in the suggested linked videos, I saw one that caught my eye. It was a three minute video showcasing a game I had never seen, or at least don’t remember. It was called Crush Roller, and it had some maze-like Pac-Man gameplay to it. Interesting! A quick look through my MAME library showed that I had Crush Roller.

What a fun game! And it made my Favorites list! Instead of eating dots to clear a maze, you are a paint brush and your job is to paint the maze. There are two… I don’t know what they are. (I’m not going to Google it to find out) They chase you around the maze. So far, I can (sometimes) get to the third maze, but no further. The bad guys in this game are SMART! Level 1 is not so bad, but after that, man these things are brutal! I am embedding the video below for you to see what it’s like. I love this game, but HATE the sound and music, so I play on mute:-)

So much fun…

*A reader let me know that this game was also called “Make Trax” by Williams Electronics, Inc. I looked at the screen shots from that game and yes, it is the same game.