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Zen and the Art of Playing Laser Blast...and Other Philosophical Musings

This is something of a beast of a blog post. I meant to write as I went along, documenting each Activision Patch conquest shortly after it happened, but real-life kept getting in the way. This is the main reason I haven’t played along with the rest of AtariAge members on the Summer Patch Quest. While that would have been my preferred way of earning my Patches, buoyed along by the enthusiasm and camaraderie of other Patch Questers, I never know when I’m going to get any time. I’m also very slow at mastering games, and I just wouldn’t be able to keep up. I will endeavour though, to make my blog posts more bite-sized in future. Just this once, though, in order to catch up with my most recent Atari activities, I’m presenting this epic entry.

Laser Blast

Some time ago - the last time I blogged, in fact - AtariAger, Nathan Strum, pointed out to me that Laser Blast was an easy Patch to attain, but a boring play…and dear me, was he right. Or so I felt during my first few times trying to reach the magic 100 000 (so, I guess I didn’t find it that easy;-)), but around the 20, 0000 point of probably my fourth play through, something strange happened: the game ceased to be boring and became meditative. That’s right - I entered…The Zone! I developed a simple pattern of play. Stay at the top of the screen (as it’s by choice, it makes the later forced placement of my craft there to increase difficulty, somewhat redundant), and then, when the bases appear, move the joystick one push to the right and fire, and again…and again. Screen cleared. And that’s it. Rinse and repeat until the 100,000 (or 1000,000 if you have the time and inclination) is reached. This pattern of play, rather than dull, became soothing and enjoyable. It was, without wanting to sound pretentious, a Zen experience!

I may even return for that one million score at some point.

When I want to meditate for five hours.


Before turning to Megamania for my seventh Patch attempt, I was aware of its accolade as 1982’s most humorous game. I can sort-of see why this was awarded, but I have to say I didn’t laugh once. This is not a bad thing – I’m not sure if games should ever make us laugh. Wouldn’t chuckling break our concentration a little? I guess the ‘most humorous game’ honour was bestowed as a result of Megamania’s somewhat eccentric enemy design, but we gamers know that we should never look upon Atari enemies lightly. What seem like quite innocent items sometimes turn out to be quite the opposite. Ignore the peril of Plaque Attack’s strawberries, for example, at your peril. So, without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the Megamania’s ‘enemy objects’.

The hamburgers
– these were the most satisfying to clear, which probably shouldn’t be the case, as they’re the easiest, certainly in regards to their first couple of appearances. I can’t comment on later waves of any of the enemies, as my skills never took me that far. The reason that I found the hamburgers the most satisfying, is down to the how you can take the whole lot out as they make their first trip across the screen. I mean, I didn’t
manage to, but I felt that it wasn’t totally beyond my ability!

. Taking these out on their first pass from top to bottom will, I imagine,
be beyond my ability! And the slight left to right movement is plain frustrating. Make your doughy minds up! Even thinking about the cookies now is making me sweat!


The bugs’ movements are similar enough to the hamburgers to make me love them too. Just keep all waves like this, I say - left to right. I like the bugs. Bugs are good.

Radial Tyres:
It’s odd how the tyres are of a very specific type, while everything else remains generic. Maybe it’s because radials supposedly have the best grip of all the tyres, and Steve Cartright may have wanted to add a dash of realism to proceedings - only a bullet will take these fellas off the road (well, you know, screen). Whatever the reason, they’re certainly speedy and I could have very well done without them, frankly.

These are hard. I should have known this. They’re diamonds. Another inspired bit of realism!

Steam Irons:
I did initially think these were cats. Thinking this did not make them easier to defeat. The irons are another enemy with an unnerving attack pattern. Once I knew they were irons, I felt that they wanted to iron me. They wanted to gang-iron me!

Bow ties:
I’m always a little thrown by anyone wearing a bow-tie for anything other than a formal event. This makes me wary of bow-ties in general. And I was right to be here. They’re cocky, bomb-happy little twists of silk!

Space dice:
These are not space dice, they’re asteroids, and they’re falling on me. And I don’t have a hyperspace button. I want a hyperspace button.

And that’s Megamania for you.


And so we come to Oink!, a game which seems to very lowly regarded indeed. I actually really like Oink!, but I don’t know how anybody achieves anything when playing on the higher difficulty. For this, you need to move the pig close to the bottom of the screen in order to lay bricks. To me, doing so, feels like you’re deliberately tormenting the wolf, and so deserve everything you get. And it makes the game really really hard.

The first time I scored the 25,000 score needed for the Patch, I was on a plane. It was the start of my summer holiday and I was playing Atari, and that’s how it should be. Obviously.

“I’m in the mile-high club!” I announced to my traveling companion.

“That’s not what the mile–high club is.,” she announced back, before explaining things to me.

I raised a hopeful eyebrow at her.

She gave a no-nonsense scowl back.

I returned to Oink!

I did feel that playing Oink! in the sky was a great use of my time, a belief which I imagine would only be held by a gamer well and truly lost to the cause. To everyone else, it is no doubt seen as anything but.

I also recorded the run, something about which I felt very smug, until discovering later that Android doesn’t record internal sound, not a without much fiddling about with…rooting and other things I don’t really understand. So I felt smug no more. Part of me was strangely relieved, though, as using emulation just felt plain wrong.

So why is this? After all, I’m perfectly happy to emulate almost everything else. I think it’s partly to do with the very slight input lag I feel (or possibly imagine) when playing Atari via Android emulation, and perhaps partly that the image is just a little too crisp. The main reason, I think, though, is because the 2600 - of all consoles that have ever been - is so tangible, so present, so solid, that when you’re not playing the real thing, it feels like you’re not playing Atari at all. You need to feel the cartridge thunk into the slot, you need to see the somewhat marvellous mess of wires snaking from behind the woodgrain, you need to feel that cold metal of the switches and to grip that joystick in your hands until the suggestion of a blister forms (maybe I hold it all wrong!). Because then, and only then, do you feel that you’re properly involved in the game. In the case of Oink!, you feel that you’re really lifting those bricks and releasing them over the gaps. You can almost feel their weight and their coarseness.

Only then do you feel like you’ve played Atari today.

So on my return home, bleary eyed and sunburnt, I tried Oink! again. And this time, it felt right. I managed the requisite score first time and so recorded my next run - complete with sound! Another leg of my quest was complete.

Take that, Android and the fake mile-high club!

As I said at the start of this post, I intend keep up to date with my future blogs, to avoid any more giant ones such this. So, every time I gain a Patch, for instance, an entry on it will swiftly follow, while the memories are still fresh in my old-man mind. That’s the plan anyway.
The question is, which Patch next?


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