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Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Favourite Games (Arcade Edition)

Over the years I've played a lot of games, and they've brought me a lot of joy. It only just occurred to me that I've never chronicled my appreciation for those games, so over the next few days I'll share some memories of my favourites.

Whenever I visited my cousin Darwin Jones in Devon, we'd head downtown to play Space War. I loved this game for its complexity; you could choose all kinds of variables, including inertia, gravity, how the edges of the screen behaved and so on. It didn't hurt that one of the ships looked like the Enterprise, and the other like its symbol.

Pac-Man seems pretty old hat now, but when Keith Gylander and I first encountered it at a fish and chips restaurant in Leduc one summer in the very early 1980s, we were hooked. Gameplay is simple but challenging, with the pace growing more frenetic with every level.

At the height of the video arcade craze, Leduc had at least three or four dedicated arcades, plus other machines scattered throughout the city (the roller rink, the used book store, the convenience store, etc.). I played Wild Western pretty obsessively in the arcade closest to Leduc Junior High school; it was nestled on the first floor of an apartment complex. I liked Wild Western for the music and its relatively complex gameplay; not only could you ride and shoot in all directions, you could jump atop the train and gunfight the desperadoes from on high.

I played Berzerk at the 7-11 on 50th street in Leduc. I was amazed by the robot voices, and fighting my way through the mazes gave me the feeling of being on a real adventure, though of course there was no way to truly escape the robots; eventually, you were doomed, as was the way of things in most arcade games.

I loved the movie Tron, and when the game came out I leaped at the chance to enter its world, user-like. Four games in one! You couldn't beat that in 1982. The lightcycle chase was my favourite, even though I wasn't very good at it.

Defender was probably the most challenging game I attempted back in the day; its multiple controls and relentless enemies ate up my three ships with astonishing speed. But having a noble mission - rescuing the spacemen trapped on the planet - provided excellent motivation for me to keep on pumping quarters into the machine. I played Defender in the arcade that used to exist on the top floor of the then-new theatre on 50th street, not far from the 7-11 where I played Berzerk.

Galaga had great audio effects and a really neat feature that kept me coming back: the bad guys could capture your ship, but if you managed to set it free with another ship, it would join with your second ship for double the firepower (and double the exposure to enemy fire, of course).

Star Castle wasn't as popular as a lot of other games, but I enjoyed its clean vector graphics and free-flowing gameplay.

Discs of Tron was played in a neon-lit wraparound cabinet that really drew you into the game. The immersive experience was helped by smooth controls and simple but challenging gameplay; just knock your opponent off his perch with your flying discs, while preventing him from doing the same thing to you.

If I had room for one arcade game in my home it would be the Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator; specifically, I'd want the sit-down version with the controls on the armrests. Star Trek has a hit-and-miss history when it comes to game adaptations, but this is a great-looking, great-sounding space shooter, with authentic effects and great voiceovers from Spock and Scotty. "Entering sector 1.6..."

Atari's Star Wars simulation was another excellent adaptation, this time giving players the chance to assault the Death Star itself, complete with emulated John William's music and character voices. The cabinet featured a very solid two-handed flight control stick that made you really feel like you were flying an X-Wing.

Of course I played dozens of other arcade games during those golden years of the 1980s, but these are the ones that stand out in my memory. I shudder to imagine how many quarters slipped through my fingers during those years, but they led to many hours of great entertainment. 

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