Monday, August 1, 2016

My Very First Video Game

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and will be writing out entries, hopefully I can get all thirty days without any breaks, and if I manage to do that (since August has 31 days) I will think of an additional entry to write about.  I have done a 30-day challenge before, it for movies, but that was a while back, feel free to read those too if you like.

            Today is day 1, and the topic is fittingly, “My very first Video Game”.
            When I was four years old my family moved from Ohio to Florida, my father got a job and he and my mom got the money together to build the house I grew up in.  Why that house was being built we were lucky enough to stay in my grandparents’ mobile home which was in a neighboring county (they were not living there at that time, it was more like a spring and fall vacation spot with the mobile home part being long ago built into a larger house).
            In that mobile home, in the winter of 1989 my family pulled out the 16-inch crank-this-switch-with-pliers-to-set-the-channel TV and attached to it was my uncle’s old Atari 2600 and some assorted games, something I was not at all familiar with but my uncle showed me how to use it when he and my grandparents came to visit for Christmas.
            The only game I remember from it was “Mouse Trap”.  I managed to find game footage of it for the Arcade, and some for the home version I remember…. OH Boy, does that suck the shine of my nostalgia googles.  The colors are simple, the sprites are rough drawings, and the music sounds like the caterwauling of digital watches who were damned to electronic hell.

At least something like this is more conducive to a cartoon, which might have led to it being a little more successful had it gotten off the ground initially.
            The game was a Pac-Man clone.  You are a mouse gathering cheese in a maze, hunted by cats instead of ghosts, and when you get a power up (a bone) you turn into a dog and are able to eat the cats.  There was one twist on the classic that did set it apart, the maze had a series of trap doors that you could activate with the press of a button, allowing you to duck away from the cats closing in on you.  Another difference was the presence of a hawk that would swoop into the maze and attack you, but I forgot that existed as an element of play till I started researching for this blog because they took it out of the home version for being pointless.
            And I had to research this.  The game is not iconic and because it was “just another maze game” it did not do well in arcades at the time.  What I do find funny is how this sort of generic knock off thing has always been a part of video games.
While creativity was of the charts in the early days of console gaming (plumber takes magic mushrooms to fight king murder turtle) the limitations of the hardware led to certain game types (platformers and mazes for instance) being super prevalent.  And I could almost understand this games existence as a competitor to Pac Man, because the trap door mechanic dynamic and the animal motif is relatable, not so much for Pac Man whose motif is often debated.

One of many possible interpretations of what was going on.
What this game needed to survive was a rival system to be released on to compete with Pac Man.  Seriously, if there is anything that makes a mediocre game standout it is being the underdog rival to a much more iconic game.  That is the only reason “Sonic the Hedgehog” is so remembered now, having not made a good game in 20 years.
"Mouse Trap" was my first video game long before I got a NES or Genesis or N64.

I am getting old.

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