We found my wife’s old Atari 2600 at her mother’s house a few months back. I’ve been fiddling around with it off-and-on ever since. Sadly I discovered that it was missing some pieces. Thanks to what must have been divine intervention, I found the final piece I needed this past weekend. With great anticipation and trepidation I inserted the Pac-Man cartridge and clicked the power toggle to “on”. I didn’t realize it, but I was holding my breath hoping it would work. The moment between flipping the power toggle and seeing the result on the screen felt like an eternity, but was actually probably less than a second. Astonishingly my house was filled with glorious plinky music and my TV shone with a beautiful 128-color palette! Within seconds, I heard my wife shout from the other room, “I hear Atari!” This was amazing because she had no idea I was working on the machine, and she hadn’t heard the music from these games in probably 25 years.
Moments after the machine was turned on, my nine year old step-son came running into the room. Most likely he could sense that his fondness for video games is directly descended from this machine. Perhaps some sort of genetic race memory.
We set him up with a few games: Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Video Pinball, and Chopper Command. Below you can see him tackling Space Invaders. On a related note, I was nearly in tears when I discovered that the cartridges no longer worked for Pitfall and Q*bert.
We discovered very quickly that the controller’s response wasn’t very good anymore. I guess 25+ years of entropy had an effect. The next photo is him in mortal combat with Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.
Chopper Command and Video Pinball seemed to grab his interest more than the slower-paced games such as Pac-Man or Space Invaders. I had forgotten with Space Invaders that once you shot, you could not shoot again until your bullet had either hit something or run off the top of the screen. That is extraordinarily frustrating while playing. He was pretty excited once we discovered how to set the auto-fire on Chopper Command – more destruction in less time. Frustration was also compounded because the controllers weren’t responding as well as we’d like.
Overall, he played Atari for about 30 to 35 minutes. While my wife and I were caught up in the nostagala, he was clearly underwhelmed by the graphics and playbability of these games. As soon as he could politely excuse himself, he was back to his Club Penguin and Playstation II Lego Indiana Jones.