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.

Atari 2600 – 1979

I think it started in 1979 for me. I’m sure I had seen the arcade games before that, at least Space Invaders, but for me, video games really started in 1979. That’s when I saw my first Atari.

We didn’t call it the Atari 2600 then. It was just Atari. Neither my friends or I had ever seen anything like it, and when one of my friends got it, and not even at Christmas time!, we all rushed over to play it. His name was John, and I remember it was Summer Vacation of 1979 when either his parents or some rich uncle gave his family the Atari.

He told us about it at the playground where we all went to Elementary school. There were tanks, and jet fighters, and you flew them around the TV screen and shot at each other. The way he described the game, we could all imagine how cool it must be! You could control a tank! And Jets! There were clouds that you could fly through, and fortresses to maneuver your tank around!

2600-Combat A few hours later, we were all spent from having gone to John’s house and played Combat. Looking back now, 36 years later, the blocky graphics could barely be called Tanks, Planes, or Clouds. But to eight year-old boys in 1978, who had never seen a home video game, it could not have been more real than a pair of VR goggles with stereo sound today. It was amazing!

It would be months before I would get my hands on my own Atari, which would be the big Christmas present from Santa that year. Every Christmas morning, growing up, was the same. I would wake up early, see the pile of presents, and beg my parents to WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP! so I could tear into the colorful packages. I would be bouncing all over the house trying to make them get up FASTER. The ten minutes my Mom would spend boiling water to make her coffee would take FOREVER. (As a parent now, I understand the NEED for the Coffee that early, and looking back, Christmas morning just would not have been very Merry for anyone in the house had she not got it!)

A few hours after the event, we would get into my dads 1970 Delta ’88 (which would become my first car ten years later) and head to my Grandparents house, on my Mom’s side, and meet the rest of the family to celebrate the holiday, open presents, and have one of the best meals of the year. (Deviled Eggs, Ham, REAL mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, and much more!) Around 7PM, we would spend a half-hour saying our goodbyes and heading a couple miles back home. Usually, at least it seemed to me, the night was always glowing with fresh, but not heavy, snowfall. The sound the tires made on the snow, a continuous humming/crunching sound. The pile of presents both in the trunk and in the backseat with me, promising new ways for my mom to cook, a new knife my dad would display, and new toys to join the other new toys waiting at home from that morning. Usually by 9PM I would be fast asleep, dreaming of the weeks left of Christmas Break from school, and the hours to play with the new toys.

1979 was different.

First, I KNEW the size of the Atari box. The rectangle box had been calling to me every time we went to the few stores that sold it. (Sears, Kmart, and Meijer’s) I knew the shape, the weight, the SMELL of that box! And sure enough, sitting front and center under the Christmas tree that year, was THAT BOX! Covered in neatly folded Christmas wrappings with a smiling Santa (Yes, I remember the wrapping) true, but I knew what it was. I also spied what HAD to be a video game that went with it, also a rectangular box albeit much smaller.

My hands were itching to rip the packaging open, and delve into the world of Combat. Plus whatever the other game was. (Turned out to be Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers. I remember liking it a lot) When the time finally came, I was rewarded with HOURS of fun. Except… we had to leave to go to my Grandparents house! OH NO!!!

We brought the Atari with us, and I (at eight years old) connected it to the TV there, where all my relatives enjoyed the system all day long.

The Atari was one of my favorite “toys” as a kid, and while I really liked it, it was not until Christmas of 1982 that it REALLY exploded for me when Atari released Pac-Man. Looking back, yes, it was a terrible port of a great game. It blinked so badly it almost cause people to have seizures, which was not funny to me, a kid who had a mom with Epilepsy. But it was Pac-Man, and I could play it AT HOME!


And it was amazing.