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Reliving the Past: Retro Gaming and Vintage Computing

English: Apple IIe computer (enhanced version)
English: Apple IIe computer (enhanced version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
May 1, 2011 Deadline
June 2011 Issue

Reliving the Past: Retro Gaming and Vintage Computing

The Commodore 64 is back. Known by its fans as the C64, this “keyboard is the computer” stands alongside the Atari 800 and Apple IIe as one of the most important computers of all time.

Technically, the new C64 is a licensed recreation, offered by a new company named Commodore USA. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, more than 30 million units of the original C64 were sold during the 1980s.

Commodore USA started accepting orders for the C64 in April. The first systems will arrive in June. According to several published interviews with Commodore USA founder Barry Altman, the C64 is going to be a genuine C64. When you turn on the new C64, you are asked if you want to run Microsoft Windows or Ubuntu Linux or the new Commodore OS. In “Commodore Mode” you can run software originally developed for the Commodore PET, Vic-20, C16, C64, C128 and Amiga systems.

Let’s be honest: the real reason many of us love the old computers is the games.

Like many who grew up during the start of the personal computer revolution, I learned to program on long list of early systems. At first, I copied programs featured in popular magazines, typing in line after line of BASIC code. Later, I created my own simple games.

I wonder if the complexity of today’s programming tools dissuades young people from discovering the excitement of coding? My old Commodore Vic-20 was ready for BASIC programming the moment you pushed the power button. The C64 recreates that instant satisfaction.

If the Commodore 64 is successful, maybe we’ll see a “new” Apple IIe or Atari 800. I can already imagine playing Loderunner and programming in Atari BASIC XL.

Remember that other instant pleasure, the cartridge-based video game system?

Fond memories of the Atari 2600 have led me to purchase various re-releases of the games. If you search Amazon’s video game section, you can locate a “joystick” that includes 25 Atari 2600 games. They also sell an Atari system that resembles the Atari 5200 console and includes 100 built-in games.

Forget high-definition, ultra-realistic graphics. These were the days of giant pixels. The typical classic game featured blobs, ghosts and strange alien invaders. Sports games starred stick-figure athletes, unrecognizable as human. The “soundtracks” were little more than monaural beeps.

Blood and gore? Nonexistent. You couldn’t even describe the action as cartoon violence — PacMan melted with a “pop” sound when touched by a ghost. Frogger turned into an “X” if you didn’t move quickly. The most violent game I owned was the Atari classic “Combat.” When struck by an opponent, your little tank would spin around dizzily. It didn’t even explode.

Activision, Atari and Mattel classics are available for every major console, but it isn’t quite the same. I own a PlayStation and it takes several minutes for the Atari Classics to load. It never took me minutes to swap Combat for Stampede with my Atari 2600.

Atari recently released an iPad version of Atari Classics. You can also purchase the “iCade” stand for your iPad. The iCade is designed to look like the original PacMan arcade unit.

Yes, modern consoles are impressive, but they are too realistic for me. Many of the games are too complex, demanding hours to play. I’m a casual game player. Give me PacMan or Space Invaders for a few minutes.

By the late 1980s, most of us were playing games on IBM-compatible computers. If you fondly recall the DOS classics, you can emulate DOS and relive those days.

The free application DOSBox runs on every major operating system. I recently used DOSBox to revive my collection of old DOS games from Apogee, ID and other publishers. I have the original CDs for many games, and so far every game has worked with DOSBox.

If you need more flexibility, the free VirtualBox (virtualbox.org) enables a mindboggling number of old operating systems on newer computers. I’ve used VirtualBox to install Windows 3.1 on a new computer so I could play my favorite pinball game.

This leads me back to the idea of vintage computer programming. I recently installed TurboPascal and QuickBASIC via both DOSBox and VirtualBox. To my surprise, these programming languages worked beautifully. Now, I can program using my favorite tools from the 1980s on my MacBook Pro.

Maybe I’ll develop a DOS game for fun.


Retro Hardware Websites:
Atari 2600 (http://www.atari2600.com/): Shop for every console imaginable, most gently used but a few unused systems are also available for collectors.
Commodore USA (http://www.commodoreusa.net/): Purchase customized C64, Vic-Slim and Amiga computer systems.
Think Geek, Retro Gaming (http://www.thinkgeek.com/electronics/retro-gaming/): Offers the iCade for iPad owners, along with other great hardware recreations.
Yobo FC Twin (http://www.fctwin.net/): Purchase new Yobo FC Twin consoles, compatible with various classic Nintendo and Sega gaming consoles.  

Retro Gaming Information:
Atari Age (http://www.atariage.com/): Discussion forums dedicated to Atari gaming consoles, from the Atari 2600 to the Lynx handheld device.
Byte Cellar, The Vintage Computing Weblog (http://www.bytecellar.com/): One of the oldest and most complete blogs dedicated to classic personal computers.
Retro Gamer Magazine (http://www.retrogamer.net/): Online edition of the leading magazine dedicated to classic gaming consoles.
Retro Gaming Times Monthly (http://www.retrogamingtimes.com/): Another great online magazine for retro gamers.
Retro Thing (http://www.retrothing.com/): A website dedicated to classic gaming hardware and some early personal computers.
Vintage Computing (http://www.vintage.org/): A website announcing regional gatherings for those interested in classic computers and gaming consoles.

New Editions of Classic Games:
3D Realms (http://www.3drealms.com/): Publisher of both the new and classic editions of titles like Duke Nukem and Raptor. 3D Realms also offers some classics for free.
Atari (http://www.atari.com/): The classics from the Atari 2600 and Atari arcade games are available for almost every game console. Atari recently released a collection of every Atari-branded 2600 game for Apple iOS devices, including the iPad and iPhone.
VH1 Video Game Classics (http://www.vh1.com/mobile/): The Mattel Intellivision lives on for the iOS courtesy a licensing agreement with MTV Networks. Visit the VH1 website for more information.

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