The day - back in "the day", how appropriate. I don't recall the precise date, but back in the day I bought an Atari VCS from Selfridges in Office Street, London. This was before most of the good games had come out, the choices on offer were Air/Sea Battle, Outlaw, Space War, and the ubiquitous Combat among others. It didn’t matter, because the Atari VCS was miles ahead of what we had experienced before - Pong.
You have to appreciate the times. Pong was an extraordinary advance, and countless consoles were released for hooking up to your home TV (usually a black and white set). We weren't used to interacting with a TV's - that big box in the corner was for staring at, and nothing else. But then Pong came along (and its variants) and suddenly we could take control of the picture, guide little paddles up and down, listen to the beep "beep bonk beep" that was Pong as its most height. Wow!
But news was out that Atari was coming out with a console that would replace our Pong machines. It was hard to believe, but this computer thing was programmable (whatever that was) and you could buy different games for it. Things were never the same after that.
I saved up and then hit London - no-one locally was selling it. I bought my console and head home. I played Surround, Breakout, Street Racer - and none of them were crap. Just to be able to race cars, knock out colored bricks, and shoot around a cactus, was the very height of excitement.
Soon after, there was a game changer. Pubs, cafes, arcades and just about anywhere you could fit one in, came a king to conquer the land - Space Invaders. Space Invaders was a revelation, from its pounding soundtrack to the rows of alien creatures that exploded when you shot them. Lines formed to play. You'd go get some change and await your turn, when it was your turn you'd put all your coins on the control panel of the machine, that way everyone knew you’d be a while. Not that you were. Space Invaders was HARD.
When Space Invaders arrived on the VCS it was tantamount to Atari kidnapping anyone who owned it. School? Yeah, right! To own this game made you the talk of the town, suddenly you had friends cropping up everywhere. And so on.
Back in the fabled day, we viewed arcade conversion differently. These days we talk about how faithfully the games reproduce the "real thing". But my recollection of those earlier days were different. We knew our little consoles weren't arcade machines, and a close approximation was close enough – and by close I mean the difference between the arcade Space invaders and the VCS.
By the time Missile Command was released, well, things were just ridiculous. Sure you didn't get alien ships going horizontally across the screen, but who cares? It was the same game! Wow! Asteroids was out too, and that - unlike the arcade machine - was in color!
Other games came and we obsessed over, a couple of my favorites being Dodge Em, Circus Atari, and Video Pinball. Basically I couldn’t get enough. The distributor was Ingersoll in the UK. I recall going to their offices in Sidcup, Kent to buy Warlords on its release date.
Questions of heavy sixer, light sixer, four switch etc. weren’t even a consideration – they were ALL heavy Sixers. I recall joysticks breaking, paddles getting the jitters, and the text around the switches fade away through constant use. But never once did the thing let me down. Those systems are still going today – who’d have thought it?
I wish the tale had a happy ending, but to be honest I don’t remember what happened to my first VCS. I think I sold it when I decided to take the plunge into the world of Atari 400 (and then 800). One thing that never went anywhere, the memories.
I still love the VCS, but for somewhat different reasons. The console may screen 70's design, and the joysticks – once the epitome of great design - actually feel a little clunky now. But then again, this was about the games , and for me they still hold their charm. The minimalistic designs, albeit forced on developers due to very little resources, are a thing of beauty. The sounds, the subtle variations, the annoying theme tunes going on and on, all have charm.
I’ve only just recently got back into Atari – I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long. But it feels good to see that thing under the TV when I get home.
Edited by Vaughan, Tue Sep 6, 2011 7:35 AM.