Retro Active: Remember where you were when….

Anybody who has been playing games for a while can point to moments that define them as a gamer. These are the games, memories and decisions that truly lead to the passion we now have for these virtual worlds in which we spend so much time.

I could think of no better way to really kick off Retro Active than giving the staff of Everyday Gamers a chance to share some of our gaming memories.

Eric Bouchard It all started in a laundry mat:

I couldn’t tell you what the first game I played was. More than likely, it was Pac-Man, though Space Invaders also may have been the one. I can tell you the first one I remember, though.

It was summer, and I was in Las Vegas with my mom (she lived there, my parents were divorced). I was probably about 5 or 6 at the time. We had to make a trip to the local laundry mat, something kids don’t exactly relish. Still, mom told me I would enjoy it. Why? Because they had a new video game I had to see.

That game was Donkey Kong.

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May not look like much now, but Donky Kong blew me away when I first saw it.

Up to this point, all I had ever seen were games with no real point. Sure, you ate pellets in Pac-Man and shot enemies in Space Invaders, but to what end? All you got to do was go to the next stage and start all over again.

Donkey Kong was different. The goal sat right in front of you; rescue the girl from the ape. As the hero, you could jump over the barrels or you could grab the hammer and take them out. It didn’t matter to me that if you got far enough to rescue the girl it all started again; there was a tangible goal, and I was hooked.

From that moment on, I was drawn to arcades. I remember watching in awe as Dirk the Daring ducked sideways and bumbled his way to victory or defeat in Dragon’s Lair, feeling the thrill of sitting in the cockpit of an X-Wing in the first Star Wars arcade game, and grabbing my whip and chasing after vampires in Castlevania. Putt Putt, a local mini-golf and arcade center in Albuquerque, NM, used to have Super Saturdays, where for a reasonable price you got unlimited golf and 30 tokens. I spent many a Saturday there.

The Commodore brings it home:

As much as the arcades were starting to shape my love of video games, it was the Commodore 64 that cemented it. When my dad got us that computer, I’m sure he thought it would be a good teaching tool for me. In many ways, it probably was.

I just don’t think he ever dreamed it would also further cement my love of video games.

The game I really remember playing for hours on end in the beginning was Load Runner. I loved that game! Trying to figure out just how to get to the various gold pieces while avoiding or trapping the bad guys became an obsession. Each game, I strove to get further than I had before.

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Load Runner, Jumpman and Aliens were just a few of my favorite C64 games.

My mom remarried when I was fairly young, and my step-father had a C64 as well. He had a floppy drive, however, and that was something my dad did not have. With that, I was introduced to a whole slew of new games, including Montezuma’s Revenge, Jumpman and the series of sports themed games by Epic. I spent hours playing those and many others.

Then came the ultimate C64 game in my opinion: Aliens. Based on the incredible movie, the game gave you the chance to fly the drop ship down to the planet, hold off the aliens long enough to burn through the door to escape, rescue Newt and climb into the power loader as Ripley to battle the Queen. Sure, the fight against the queen only involved slamming her against the sides till she was tired enough to grab and drop through the airlock, but I did not care. I was hooked.

THE GAME that made me a gamer for life:

It was the height of the arcades. Games were getting better, and more people were playing them. I had found an arcade very close to my home in Albuquerque, and I was visiting it frequently.

One game caught my eye. It was a sequel to a game that had one of the more…unusual interfaces I had seen. You see, in the original version of this fighting game, there were just 2 buttons, big ones that reacted to how hard you hit them. The sequel had gotten rid of that clunky interface in favor of 6 separate buttons, split by punch and kick and short, medium and hard. On top of that, you had a colorful cast of characters to choose from, and you traveled the world fighting other challengers in the attempt to take out an evil organization bent on world domination.

If you have not guessed by now, I’m talking about Street Fighter II.

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Street Fighter II was an arcade phenom that will never be duplicated.

No other game in all the time I have been playing them has affected me the way this one did. In one summer, I spent over $200.00 in arcades, most of it being spent on this game. Nothing captivated me the way this legendary brawler did, in all its various forms.

I was not the only one. Crowds would develop around this game. Every arcade had its regulars, and everyone knew when they were there. People would watch these legendary players battle each other, gasping as moves were countered, blocked and timed to perfection. Quarters were placed at the top of the game to hold one’s place in line to battle one of these greats.

Street Fighter II was the first game I ever remember seeing “tournament” style rules used. It was not unusual to adopt the No Throws rule, unless someone was using Zangief who was all about throws. When a player was dizzy, you were not allowed to hit him; if you did, you had to give the opponent a free shot at your character. And heaven help you if these rules were in place and you refused to abide by them; the crowd of onlookers was not kind to those who broke the code, and you would not feel welcomed at that arcade again.

Even with all the competition of that game, however, there was a camaraderie that could not be denied.  Players would swap strategies, especially if they were trying to learn how to use a new character. It was also common to see someone help someone else who was trying to beat the game. The challenger would put his quarter in the machine and wait. If the player was struggling against the computer opponent, the challenger would jump in just before the finishing blow, giving his opponent the chance to beat him and then face the CPU anew.

And yes, before you ask, Chun Li was my best character.

There are many other memories I could bring up here, and many I will when we do our Retro Active podcast. These, however, are the ones that truly helped make me the gamer I am now.

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Thomas Pine– Down at the Arcade:

There’s no doubt that every gamer has that moment(s) when they can look back and emphatically say “that’s when I was hooked”. Much like Eric, I was introduced to the hobby that I have grown to love on an arcade cabinet.

It was the late 80’s early 90’s at The New Castle Square Mall. What was once home to booming businesses, profitable retailers, and excited shoppers – the mall had become a shell of it’s former self. Only a few shops still existed, and save for the pharmacy, a pizzeria, and a dollar movie theater not much remained to attract the crowds that once gathered there. It was inside that mall that I was introduced to my first arcade –  I can still make out the musty smell, sounds of quarters clinking, and bleeps from the cabinets – it’s all still there implanted in the memories that made up my youth.

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I know what you’re thinking.. “Where’s Chris Hanson when you need him?”

Buried in the corner of that arcade was the one cabinet that would introduce me to the hobby that has consumed hours of my life. I still remember the first time that I saw Michael Jackson’s Moon Walker. I don’t know what it was, but something made me want to play that machine over any other cabinet in that entire arcade. Hours later and several dollars poorer I made my way home – changed – a gamer.

Nintendo Is What Genes-isn’t:

So there I was a gamer junkie, and like any junkie I needed my fix. The infrequent visits to the arcade would only temporarily subdue my pinned up gaming desires, and even at that young age I somehow knew that a full-size Moonwalker cabinet was out of the question. Nintendo to the rescue.

I can’t recall the exact Christmas, but I still remember the feeling I had as I unwrapped that magical box from Nintendo. Sure there was no Moonwalker (Genesis only), but I didn’t know and neither did I care. There was RAD RACER, EXCITE BIKE, GYROMITE… I mean Gyromite, and numerous other games that would devour hours of my life.

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8 bit graphics and tube televisions!

The addiction quickly grew into a love for all things game related. Christmases, birthdays, and any other holiday would consist of requests only for video game related items. There was something magical about opening a new game, and for the first time exploring a world that was only accessible with a controller in my hand. I was experiencing the very thing that has created generations of gamers.This is what makes us passionate about our hobby – it’s the reason we read EGM (unfortunately no longer) – it’s why we wait in subzero temperatures for midnight game releases – and it’s why we do Rectro Active… press start to continue.

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