Friday, April 25, 2014

Whatever Happened to the Arcade?

Whatever happened to the arcade? I could just as well ask whatever happened to the mall, as for the most part, that's gone as well, or at least its function as a hangout for teenagers and adults young at heart alike. Back in the day, and I'm talking the 1970s and 1980s, the mall was the place to be. It was where you wanted to be, and where you wanted to work. It had everything. The record store, the fast food joint, the movie theater, the food court, for the nerds the book/game/comics store, and of course the crème de la crème, the arcade.

Every mall had its arcade. Cherry Hill, Echelon, Deptford, Moorestown, Burlington, some had two, heck even the Berlin Farmers Market had its own arcade. As videogames entered its golden age, arcades were everywhere. Malibu Grand Prix took prominence. There was Bally's across from the Cherry Hill Mall, the Galaxy (not the rock club) on Route 70, and even in my own hometown Atco, we had the Sweet Shop on the main drag, Atco Avenue.

Most of the mall arcades began as pinball places but moved forward with the times. The Sweet Shop in Atco started as a penny candy place, thus the name, but soon became something else all together. I remember when they first opened, they had one machine, a tank game, which may or may not have been Atari's Combat. In a very short time they added a poolroom in the back, got rid of the candy counter, and filled the front room with videogame machines. I loved playing Space Invaders and Astro Fighter there notably, and remember how the place was always filled with smoke.

As home video systems advanced beyond Pong and the Atari 2600, there soon was little reason to leave the house to play videogames. It took a long tme, but it eventually happened. I remember seeing my first NES in 1982 at a college friend's house, Donkey Kong, groundbreaking graphics for the time. If you could have that at home, why go to the mall?

While there are some still around, some even as nostalgia museums like Barcade, the arcade is for the most part dead. I think the last tiny one I know of was gotten rid of when the Marlton 8 theatre was remodeled. Malls are dead too, some crushed by 'forward thinking' opportunists, look at what used to be the Echelon Mall for an example of that. That place ironically does have an arcade of sorts, more skeeball and the like than videogames, but still. I guess home gaming and social media have killed the mall and the arcade, and it's a shame.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Are the Worst Videogames?!?

This, from PBS Game/Show:

Hmmm… am I a bad person now that I want to find Carmageddon and Flappy Bird?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Welcome to San Andreas

We've talked before about my utter inability to play Grand Theft Auto in its intended form. And we've also talked about my love for the tiny little game GTA: Chinatown Wars that I played on the iPhone for hours and hours until my eyes bled or the battery ran out. Well, I've found another GTA like the latter, that I just can't get enough of.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was originally released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2004, but that's not where I've played it, or even seen it before. I got on board when I first got my iPad, and they were offering it a reduced price. I liked Chinatown Wars, so why not? At first glance, it reminded me a lot of the PS3 game I'd played, lots of things I wanted to do, but was unsure I could make it work - that old bugaboo I have with controls, ya know.

Surprisingly and happily, the controls were similar to those of Chinatown Wars, so easily playable for me, and of course a whole step up from the tiny size of the iPhone screen. The graphics were incredible as well, on par with some I've seen on the PS3. I love this game, and like the iPhone game, I've been playing for hours on end.

Of course, my buddy Ray has pointed out that I'm not exactly playing the game the way that I could. Both he and I hesitate to say 'play the game right,' as it's an open world game… you kinda can play it any way you want. So if I just want to mug folks and take their cars and run from the police forever, it's totally cool.

While I was on a GTA kick, it should be noted I also downloaded Vice City for the iPad. Did not like it. While it's not bad, and it could be fun, I got spoiled by San Andreas and its fancy graphics. They make Vice City look and feel downright primitive. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to crash more cars. If you need me, I'll be in San Andreas.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Star Castle and the Discovery of Vectrex

Back in the day, everyone had an arcade game that they played all the time, a game they could play for hours on just a quarter or two, a game that they had mastered, yet still enjoyed. For me, that game was Star Castle.

I first encountered the game, and conquered it at Malibu Grand Prix some time around 1980 or 81. I would play it dependably every time I was there. When I first went to college, there was a Star Castle machine in the lounge that I'm sure contributed to my low grades that first semester.

I loved it, and sadly, it was not a game I saw again that much in the years since. Star Castle was supposedly the basis for Atari's Yar's Revenge, though similar, and even though I loved that game too, it wasn't the same. I never saw it much because, as far as I knew, it was never available for a home video game system.

Just because I wasn't aware of it doesn't mean it didn't exist. Recently my friends Ray and Justin mentioned they had gotten a Vectrex app for their iPads that included Star Castle. Like I said, this was new to me, but back in the day there was this thing called a Vectrex. A box halfway between the size of a GameBoy and a full-sized arcade machine, so still kinda bulky, but it had a huge selection of games available like Berzerk, Pole Posistion, Mine Storm, and Star Castle.

I have been since able to find Star Castle online, but with keyboard controls, it's just not the same. Check it out here. Then I found Vectrex on my iPhone and my iPad. Granted, it's bigger, and therefore more fun on my iPad. And the touch controls make it easier to work, but for the real thing, I guess I'll just have to break down and buy a real Star Castle machine. I could always hustle folks for the money to pay back the machine…