128-bit Memory Lane

In my pre-work blog perusal this morning, my one of my bookmarked gaming blogs (Level Up at Newsweek) linked to a piece on MTV Multiplayer featuring little blurbs from gaming luminaries/writers/creators/journalists about their first real gaming memory.

Seeing as a lot of these people are older than me, though not by too too much, most of the memories involve the Atari 2600, or cabinet arcade games, but a few choice nuggets really triggered a flood of memories in me as well.

I’ve been on a big gaming kick lately, and 2007 was a very, very good year in video games, so it was a good time for me to jump back in. Probably even a bigger kick than towards the end of my university career, when I went on a very short but intense kick of sending resumes out to video game publishers in hopes of getting a (very elusive) job on the creative/production side. Turns out, if you can’t program, you better have a game or two to your credit already, or years of experience elsewhere that is somehow applicable.

I still believe gaming is the next big entertainment front, one where there will be a huge break in the next few years as a primary storytelling form, maybe even nearing the impact that movies or TV have, so maybe I can look into it in the future. For now, I’ve sufficed with reading a ton about what’s going on in the industry, and taking in the amazing games that have been on offer lately (having finally purchased the 360 that had been saved up for for more than a year).

But as to the nostalgic kick mentioned earlier, it only took seven words: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

I loved those games. The word “Broderbund” is forever etched into my brain as a bringer of good things. But that recollection sent me back even further. I knew Carmen and her motley crew thieved away with a big part of my heart as a kid, but they weren’t the first, so who was? I pictured a mountain. A mountain made up of blue lines, pretty basic early computer art. Big blue letters. What did the letters say?

Sierra.

I saw big ears. Who did these ears belong to? Oh man, that takes me back. Soft white vinyl case, creaking plastic.

Mickey’s Space Adventure.

There may have been earlier games, those floppy disks full of 4-bit bowling games, game shows, dozens of games probably no bigger than 5kb for the Commodore (we had a 128, no stinkin’ 64 for us, no sir), but that space-faring mouse and his quest for … something were the beginnings of what I’m only now realizing is a lifelong and close friendship with video games. I truly believe that those early educational games helped sate my need for dynamic interaction (I was a bright kid who craved stimulation), helped me solve puzzles (even when they got repetitive, and I did play them until I knew them backwards and forward) and develop my brain, and I may not be who I am today if I resorted to amusing my only-child self in front of even more children’s TV or other solitary activity.

So I googled it for fun, and guess what? It still runs. Those geniuses at ScummVM (the emulator that runs old Lucasarts games, among many others, on modern computers) has included Mickey’s Space Adventure in its most recent build.

I found the ROM, updated my (*sheepish eyes* … work computer) version of ScummVM to the recent beta, and heard that familiar bleeping within about 90 seconds. I switched off then, as I’m not a complete layabout at work and I had plenty to do, but just knowing that I can go back and explore the solar system with Mickey and Pluto again anytime I like, even though our Commodore 128 is long, long, long dead, is immensely comforting.

It even more or less sums up my current feelings on video games. The best experiences, to me, involve adventure, intrigue, a decent amount of heart, and no less thought, preferably more. Where hundreds of thousands of other impressionable youth were gobbling down pellets in Pac-Man, or shooting down 10-pixel planes in Combat for the 2600, or God-forbid playing E.T. for Atari, I was flying the solar system in a primary-coloured, slow-to-load, memory crystal-searching starship from the planet Oron.

Good times indeed.

P.S. Stay tuned for reviews of the last five years in my gaming life, maybe more. Seems to me that reviews are something I’m quick at, and can help me write with a purpose on a regular basis. I’ve got a list here, I plan to address it.

First up, Portal.

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