Category Archives: nintendo

The 7800 ProSystem, a home video game console by Atari.

Happy Birthday Atari 7800!

 With the 27th anniversary of the proper launch of the Atari 7800 this month, here is a little retrospective on the console.

While the Atari 7800 might be historically viewed as a misfire on Atari’s part, we can at least appreciate the console for what it is. The console was intended to get a headstart on the NES as Nintendo had already approached Atari and asked them if they wanted to handle distribution rights in North America for the console for them. While in retrospect this was a boneheaded move times were different and Atari was a self sufficient company who wanted to remain that way.

After some legal tussling the proper launch of the console was delayed until 1986 and in a somewhat questionable strategic move the 7800 launched with games that were developed 2 years before and as such seemed dated.

The POKEY sound chip

 

What about the console itself? It’s an interesting beast being capable of playing 2600 software in addition to 7800 games. The hardware was similar to Atari’s earlier systems in that it rendered in between scanlines. The audio hardware was also identical to the 2600 in the console itself but developers could include a POKEY sound chip in the cartridge to enhance the soundtrack of a game. The POKEY was a flexible chip that could be used for a few different things but was mostly used for music generation in the Atari 8-bit family.

What about the games? Unfortunately due to limited developer support the 7800 library pales in comparison to the Master System and NES. That isn’t to say the console doesn’t have its fair share of great games though! The console featured a brilliant conversion of Commando which used the POKEY chip to enhance the sound. This game really stands out as one of the best on the console. 

Screenshot of Commando.

Another great game that used the POKEY was Ballblazer which was a fast paced 3D tank shooter with a great soundtrack.

This doesn’t look like much here but it’s actually quite amazing.


Other beloved games in the Atari 7800 library include the brilliant Ninja Golf which incorporates ninja combat into a traditional game of golf, Midnight Mutants, Desert Falcon and even Xevious!

Ninja Golf being both brilliant and incoherent.

The Atari 7800 really is a great little console. It’s sleek, has a well designed controller and for collectors the library of games is definitely one that is within the realm of completing. The games themselves are fun to play as well with Atari staples like Joust and Centipede rounding out some great third party efforts. In honour of this somewhat forgotten gem from gaming past I highly recommend you pick one up on eBay as the 7800 really deserves another play for its birthday. 

Any Atariphiles out there want to weigh in on the 7800? It’d be great to hear memories from when you were younger or just some nice thoughts about the console!

For more information on the history of the Atari 7800, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Nintendo Admits It Has A Small Wii

Recently we seem to be in the timeline of our current generation of video game consoles where companies, anxious to generate renewed interest in their hardware without actually producing something new that would cannibalize sales of their current offerings, simply produce refreshes of their current machines.  This involves reducing the size and amount of inner circuitry of their lines, in order to look more sleek and save on production costs and thusly lower retail prices. Atari and Mattel both attempted to stave off obsolescence by remodelling their flagship consoles in the early 80’s, producing the 2600 jr. and Intellivision II respectively.

The Wii Mini, a video game console by Nintendo

Big things, small packages

 

Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have undergone shrinkage with “slim” versions, and now Nintendo, with the release of its next generation Wii U console safely behind them, has announced what it calls the Wii Mini.  Priced at $99.99, the smaller form-factor comes with a red Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk controller, to match the console’s colour.  What it doesn’t include, however, is any online capability, nor Gamecube compatibility.  The console also seems to be a Canadian exclusive, at least over the 2012 Christmas season.  Nintendo is mum on any details about other countries getting a release, so currently only Canadians have tiny Wii’s.  Don’t worry though, we’re not embarrassed. Although I don’t think I’d be telling anyone I had a Wii Mini.  Especially in the clubs.  Be sure to ask your Future Shop salesman about his Wii Mini on Dec. 7.

Okay, I’ll stop now.  Although I still think they should have called it the “WeeWii”. Maybe in Scotland.

Wii U, a video game console by Nintendo

Nintendo Draws First Blood in Next Generation Gaming

Nintendo’s latest game console, their first shot across the bow in the next generation of video game machines, was released yesterday.  The hook is once again a re-imagining of the gaming controller, although here, instead of motion control, the Wii U taps into the gaming tablet rage by having a large screen embedded into the controller.

There seems to be a lot of potential here, including allowing one player to influence the play field on their screen while others struggle against his influence with regular Wii controllers, or even being able to move the game completely onto the controller while someone else watches the TV.  It comes off as a mish-mash to me, however.  Do we want motion control in our controllers, or do we want a big screen?  Also, I’d be very worried handing over a controller with a screen to my 4 and 6 year old sons.

At any rate, here’s hoping the Wii U boosts Nintendo’s sagging bottom line, and doesn’t become the company’s Atari 7800.

As always, for more information on the history of Nintendo, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Title for The King of Kong, a video game documentary about Donkey Kong

The Kong Off

If you’ve never seen the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, you owe it to yourself to go right now and watch it.  It’s even on Netflix, go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve seen the brilliant story of Steve Wiebe going after the high-score record on Donkey Kong, held by the legendary Billy Mitchell for nearly 25 years, you can appreciate The Kong Off, a Donkey Kong competition to be held on March 19th and 20th at Richie Knucklez’ Arcade Games in Flemington, NJ.  Knucklez’s showroom boasts over 75 various working game cabinets on display, lovingly restored and available for purchase if you think you can fit one in the old hatchback.

 

This competition is sure to attract the cream of the crop of competitive Donkey Kong players.  One dark horse is Dean Saglio, who actually boasts a score higher than the top three favoured participants.  The problem?  He holds his high score of 1,136,400 on the MAME arcade emulator, which emulates the original arcade game CPUs using ROM information pulled right off the original game chips.  While Donkey Kong on MAME is perfectly replicated using the program, there is a huge difference between sitting in a comfy chair in front of your computer, and standing in front of an actual Kong cabinet, joystick in your sweaty hands.It looks to shape up like a thrilling competition.  Gentlemen, roll your barrels.

For more information on the history of Nintendo and Donkey Kong, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Screenshot of Pong

My Gaming History

Here’s my path through gaming history. It most likely started with me and my sister in the lobby of a motel my family was staying at on vacation one year, probably in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. They had a sit-down PONG machine, and we spent a lot of time batting that little white dot back and forth. On another Florida vacation, I remember being at the heels of my mother, shopping at a grocery store that almost certainly Winn Dixie. I saw a tall machine with a big scope standing off to the side, with an apple box conveniently placed so little ones could reach. This was, of course, Sea Wolf. I drifted over to climb up and peer into the scope, and after hitting a few buttons on the console to my surprise the game started up; someone had left a credit in it. Sweeping left and right with the scope, I did my best to sink ships while avoiding the floating mines, trying to line up a shot on that pesky, speedy PT boat.

One day in the back seat of the car one fall, thumbing through the real Christmas bible, aka the Sears Wish Book, I saw the Atari VCS. And all those games! “Mom, can I have this for Christmas?”, I asked. The answer was unexpected. Instead of a “Heck no!”, I got a “maybe”. My parents had to drive a couple of hours to over the border, and pay 400 bucks for it, but I got an Atari under the tree that year.

A couple of years later I sold it at a huge loss for a ColecoVision, the epiphany of which I describe in this article on the site, here. Then I migrated to computer gaming, selling the Coleco at another big loss to buy a Commodore Vic-20. It would be over 20 years until I tried console gaming again. Next, of course, came the C-64. Then I got an Amiga 500. The Amiga was an amazing computer, which I will talk about in an article coming soon. Then an Amiga 600, and as Commodore and the Amiga regrettably went bust, I went dormant for awhile, until picking up a Pentium II somewhere along the line, then moved up the rank building ever-increasingly faster PCs.

The Wii Mini, a video game console by Nintendo

Big things, small packages

 

I finally broke my console exile with the Wii… I was fascinated by the control scheme. From there, I picked up a PS3 and fell in with a great group of gamers over at The Beautiful Peoples Club, an organization for gamers over 30. These days, if I do gaming on the computer it’s with the sorry selection available for my 27″ iMac, although with Steam now supporting the Mac things have gotten better on that front. But still, mostly Team Fortress 2.

So that’s my long, strange trip. Hopefully I’ll live long enough to take a run through a holodeck someday.