Sunday, December 30, 2007

Game Over Photos

The store was virtually empty when my wife took these photos, but the signing actually went very well (I swear!). Game Over Video Games is a nice, clean, well-lit, professionally run operation that specializes in retro gaming, but also sells lots of newer items. Owner David Kaelin did a fine job organizing the event, and the staff was great.

Awesome store--wish there was one like it where I live

Auntie Aimes pretends to buy a book

My son beats Jaws on the NES once again

Retro living room

Filled to the brim with classic gaming goodness

Here I am talking to David prior to the signing

Friday, December 28, 2007

Game Over Video Games

On Saturday, December 29th, I'll be appearing at the North Austin location of Game Over Video Games from 2:00-4:00 P.M, signing my book. If you happen to be in Austin that day, feel free to stop by the store and say hello. From what I've heard, they've got an incredible selection of classic video games.

Game Over Video Games
911 W. Anderson LN. #106
Austin, TX 78757

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Every year, my multi-talented wife comes up with a too-cool-for-yule Christmas card. This year, since the family has been having a blast with the Nintendo Wii, she cooked up this little number:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Recently published in...

The penultimate issue of Toy Shop Magazine, where I report on my trip to the Toy and Action Figure Museum in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. Photos courtesy of my lovely, overly indulgent wife.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Movie Trading Company

Vintage Stock recently bought out The Movie Trading Company, a Texas-based retail chain selling new and used merchandise. One benefit of the buyout for nostalgia enthusiasts is that The Movie Trading Company now carries classic video games, including cartridges for the Atari 2600, Odyssey2, ColecoVision, NES, Super NES, Genesis, and more. Pre-NES carts usually go for a buck or two, regardless of the scarcity or condition of the game. After visiting several locations around the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I found the following Atari 2600 games for a mere $1.99 each: Tapper, Karate, Mountain King, Bank Heist, M.A.D., Deadly Duck, No Escape!, and Quick Step.

Other brick-and-mortar stores that carry classic video games include: Video Game Connections; Video Game Exchange; Game X Change; and The Digital Press Videogames Store.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

I recently learned that the March 2008 issue of Toy Shop Magazine will be the last. This news bummed me out considerably. Not only was Toy Shop a fun read, it was a nice market for writers, paying $150-$200 per article. The article below, my first for Toy Shop, was published in the October 2007 issue:

Watch for Pitfalls! -- Recapture Your Youth with Classic Video Games

Like Barbie dolls, G.I. Joe figures, Star Wars toys, baseball cards, and any number of other pop culture playthings that transfixed so many thirty- and forty-somethings during their childhood years, classic videogames have become a commodity in the collector’s market. Videogame conventions, such as the Classic Gaming Expo (, have sprung up all over the country, bringing in fans by the thousands to ogle dealers rooms filled to the brim with nostalgic goodness. Items for sale generally include older games still in their original packaging, rare systems such as the Adventure Vision and the RCA Studio II, boxes of common (and thus inexpensive) Atari 2600 cartridges, newly released “homebrew” titles (produced by fans), vintage handheld electronic games, back issues of Electronic Games Magazine, and much more.

For those who can’t make the convention scene, but are craving the simple, yet challenging pleasures of retro-gaming, there’s always eBay, which at any given time has thousands of retro games up for auction. Ten years ago, rummaging through garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores was a good way to go about building a classic videogame collection, but these days, such a quest is usually fruitless (at least for those looking for pre-Nintendo era games), thanks to the proliferation of online dealers, the perceived value of game cartridges, and the increasing scarcity of older games. To give gamers some idea of what to expect when looking to purchase a specific title, a number of resources are available, including Video Game Collector (a quarterly magazine with price guide), Atari Age (a comprehensive Atari website), and the various collector’s guides published by Digital Press.

Atari Nation

Although it wasn’t the first programmable videogame console (that honor belongs to the Fairchild Channel F), the Atari 2600 was easily the most popular system of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, meaning it is now the most sought after system by those looking to revisit the Golden Age (pre-Nintendo era) of videogames. The 2600 (originally called the Atari VCS) was released in October of 1977 and wasn’t officially declared dead by Atari until January of 1992, making it the longest lived videogame system in the history of the industry. And, at more than 30 million systems sold, it is also one of the most commercially successful.

When compared to today’s offerings, Atari 2600 games have terribly primitive graphics. However, the actual gameplay of many of the system’s titles have a timeless quality that cannot be denied. Some of the more enjoyable releases include: Space Invaders and Phoenix (shooters); Jr. Pac-Man and Jawbreaker (maze games); Kaboom! and Dig Dug (action games); and Super Breakout and Warlords (ball-and-paddle games). Those looking for more complex titles should seek out games like Adventure (a spiritual forefather of The Legend of Zelda), Pitfall! (a progenitor of Super Mario Bros.), and Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space (an innovative flight simulator). Hundreds of games were released for the 2600, meaning players of all stripes should be able to find something to their liking.

Other Systems Join In

In 1979, Mattel Electronics released the Intellivision, giving birth to the first true console war. Marketed as a more sophisticated, more powerful alternative to the aging Atari 2600, the Intellivision boasted games with superior visual detail and more realistic features. The system’s popular, groundbreaking sports titles (such as Major League Baseball and NFL Football) haven’t aged as well as some of the 2600’s more action-oriented efforts, but armchair athletes will definitely find the Intellivision to be the Golden Age system of choice when it comes to sports. Fun non-sports games for the system include Beauty & the Beast (a Donkey Kong-like game), BurgerTime (a great port of the arcade classic), Diner (the sequel to BurgerTime), Demon Attack (a game that Phoenix fans will love), and Thin Ice (a cute take on the Qix formula).

Nineteen-eighty-two saw the release of two next-gen systems, the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200, both of which blew away previous consoles in terms of sheer audio/visual power. Bolstered by marvelous ports of such coin-op classics as Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mouse Trap, Lady Bug, and Zaxxon, the ColecoVision was the first system to give gamers the true sensation of playing their favorite arcade games in the comfort of their own homes. Released just a few months after the ColecoVision, the 5200 was also a success in terms of arcade quality, giving gamers exceptional ports of Defender, Moon Patrol, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Robotron: 2084, and many others. Unfortunately, both systems were victims of The Great Videogame Crash of 1984, which, for a variety of reasons, brought the industry to a virtual standstill (until 1985, when Nintendo released the NES to wide acclaim).

Obscure Yet Classic

In addition to the aforementioned fab four (Atari 2600, Intellivision, ColecoVision, and Atari 5200), there were a variety of other systems released during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, including the obscure APF MP1000, the interesting Arcadia 2001, the underrated Astrocade, the Odyssey2 (which had its own keyboard), the Vectrex (which had its own monitor), and the Microvision, which was the first programmable handheld system.

By far the best way to play any of these systems is to acquire the originals, along with the accompanying cartridges, controllers, and other peripherals. There’s nothing quite like hooking up an actual ColecoVision to a 19-inch television set, plugging in a Roller Controller trackball and a Centipede (or Slither) cartridge, and blasting away at bugs and mushrooms (or at snakes and cacti) for hours on end. Or, booting up an Atari 2600 and playing Video Olympics (a collection of Pong variants) with up to three other players using Atari’s wonderful rotary paddle controllers.

For some gamers, it is simply not practical to purchase and install vintage videogames. And, there are casual gamers who may want a blast from the past, but are only looking for a taste, not a full course meal. For these non-purists, there are a number of retro collections available for various modern consoles (and computers), including Intellivision Lives! (featuring more than 60 titles), Activision Anthology (containing 48 Atari 2600 games), and Atari Anthology (home to 67 Atari 2600 titles and 18 Atari arcade games). Unfortunately, most of the other Golden Age systems, including the Atari 5200 and the Odyssey2, lack such compilation discs, but most systems have been emulated online, meaning gamers can download and play hundreds of console classics on their home computers.

There are a number of other ways to play classic games, including retro-style joysticks and control pads that hook up directly to the audio/video ports of modern television sets. These nifty gadgets, such as the Atari Classics 10-in-1 and the Intellivision 25, are an easy way to experience old school cool without dishing out a lot of dough or taking up a lot of living room space. Slightly more ambitious gaming enthusiasts may want to try the Atari Flashback and/or the Atari Flashback 2, both of which are modeled after the original Atari 2600, but with the games built inside the unit.

Whatever route nostalgia buffs care to take, playing console games of yesteryear is a great trip down memory lane. And, for younger players, classic videogames provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, when games were simplistic both visually and conceptually, yet imbued with a certain charm and elegance all their own.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Commodore 64 Turns 25

As I mentioned in my Popeye post (excuse the awkward alliteration), I collect cartridge-based computers, in addition to consoles. Today, my wife sent me a link to a cool story about the Commodore 64, which turned 25 this year.

In honor of the endearingly dated computer, here is my description and review of Omega Race for the Commodore 64:


Never one to turn down a challenge, you eagerly accept the invitation to compete in a space duel against Droids, the galaxy's most powerful force. Piloting a triangular space ship that can rotate, thrust and fire missiles, your objective is to destroy the enemy ships and all the Photon Mines and Vapor Mines they've planted. You'll exchange fire with Droid Ships, Command Ships and Death Ships. After you destroy an entire Droid force that consists of four full rounds, you receive bonus points and acquire an extra ship.

The Omega Race play field is a rectangular arena with reflective walls and when you run into one, you simply bounce off. A bordered, rectangular area in the center of the play field displays your current score, the high score for the day and how many ships remain in reserve. You can choose from a number of colors for the outer space action and background. Choosing certain color schemes, however, will make some or all of the enemies invisible, increasing the challenge substantially.


Omega for the Commodore 64 is a competent port of a decent arcade game but it pales in comparison with the same title for ColecoVision. It has none of the options that make the ColecoVision version even better than its arcade counterpart. This rendition has no Astro Gates, no Tunnels and no Fast Bounce. Even worse, there is no two-player head-to-head mode which is the key feature of the ColecoVision game.

On a more positive note, there is one distinct advantage the Commodore 64 iteration of Omega Race has over both the ColecoVision and Arcade versions: color options. You can change the traditional grayish graphics to a pleasing assortment of rich color schemes. Some of my favorites include a blue background with white foreground, red on black and blue on white. Lest you think these color options are purely for aesthetic purposes, some of them render certain objects invisible. This is reminiscent of Mouse Trap for the Atari 2600, which features invisible mazes not found in the arcade or ColecoVision versions.

Comparisons aside, this is a mediocre shooter that lets you decide whether to control the game using joystick, paddle or keyboard. Since the C64 uses a one-button joystick, you must pull back on it to thrust, an aspect that makes it difficult to rotate your ship without thrusting. You can use an Atari 2600 paddle controller that simulates the feel of the Arcade game's rotary controller but, once again, you're left with only one fire button, requiring you to hold down the fire button to thrust. In terms of rotation, the ship is incredibly responsive to the paddle. However, if you spin too fast, you risk losing calibration in the middle of an intense moment, resulting in your ship sitting still until you can find the point at which the paddle will rotate the ship. Using the keyboard is your safest bet because there's a separate key for every function.

If you've never played Omega Race in any of its forms, think of it as a clumsy, hard-to-control Asteroids derivation in which you shoot ships instead of rocks and bounce off walls instead of fly off screen. Fans of the arcade game will approve of this port, but others should stick to better shooters, such as Asteroids, Centipede, and Robotron: 2084.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Digital Press

Since I plugged Atari Age in my last post, I figure I should give equal time to Digital Press, which is run by some of the most dedicated, most selfless guys you’ll ever run across in the world of classic gaming. Not only do they publish the various Digital Press collector’s guides, not only do they host the Classic Gaming Expo each year (where they often give away classic games), Joe Santulli and the boys maintain an excellent website devoted to the timeless hobby. In addition to news and reports, the site has lively forums, in-depth reviews, pithy interviews, substantive columns, and much more. Classic gamers and nostalgia enthusiasts should definitely check it out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Atari Age

If you are a classic gamer who spends a lot of time on the Internet, you’ve probably heard of AtariAge, the stunningly comprehensive website that documents games for the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, as well as the Lynx and the Jaguar. The massive project contains box scans, game instructions, forums, screenshots, and much more.

The site got its name from Atari Age magazine, which debuted in black-and-white in 1981 and went full color in 1982 (the last year the periodical was published). The mag was a blatant promotional tool (much like Nintendo Power today), but it holds fond memories for those of us who were gaming during the Golden Age of the Atari 2600. Copies of Atari Age are hard to find in today’s collector’s market, but retro enthusiasts wanting to check it out can read all 13 issues online.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Now playing...

Popeye for the TI-99 computer!

I'm mainly a console kind of guy, but I do collect games for cartridge-compatible computers like the Commodore 64 and the Atari 800. I've been playing Popeye the last couple of days, so I thought I would write up a review for the TI-99 version of the game:

Based on Nintendo’s 1982 arcade game, Popeye for the TI-99 computer is missing some of coin-op classic’s finer details, but is nevertheless a competently programmed port.

Popeye’s Passion

Well, blow me down and shiver me timbers! This game lets players take on the role of Popeye the Sailor Man, the famous cartoon character who gains super strength when he eats a can of spinach. The action is divided into three screens, each of which involves climbing up and down ladders and stairs and running around grabbing items (hearts, musical notes, and the word “HELP”) being floated down by Olive Oyl, Popeye’s emaciated, yet endearing girlfriend.

Popeye in Peril

While Popeye scurries about, his archenemy, the bloated Brutus, stays in hot pursuit, chasing him around the screen. Brutus should be avoided at all costs, but he can be punched if Popeye grabs a can of spinach. Unfortunately, there is only one spinach can per level, making the action somewhat limited in nature (though still enjoyable). Occasionally, The Sea Hag pops in from the edges of the screen, throwing bottles at Popeye. The bottles should be avoided or punched. The third screen, which takes place on a ship, adds vultures to the mix. Bouncing skulls complicate matters as well.

Missing in Action

Popeye is a fun climbing cartridge, but it is missing certain relatively minor elements found in the more cartoon-like arcade game, including the intermissions. The punching bag that players hit to drop a bucket on Brutus doesn’t move from side to side, making it easier to punch, and the platform Swee’Pea sits on in screen two doesn’t move up and down, making it easer to grab.

Pop for Popeye?

Classic gaming enthusiasts who already own the ColecoVision or NES version of Popeye shouldn’t feel obligated to pick up the TI-99 rendition, but fans of the computer system looking for some lighthearted, largely nonviolent action can’t go wrong in adding this game to their collections.