Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

[Screenshot bearing words "Now that you're gone"]

Have you read The Last Dream posted on 30 August 2011?

The series Where We Came From was, on the surface, a bunch of articles about videogames in the 80s. The origin of Boulder Dash, the creation of Lucasfilm Games, the paper manual and more. But The Last Dream then comes in and says, well actually this is a self-indulgent series about my childhood. And all this nostalgia for retro games is really about childhood, that yearning for the last dream in which we get to say goodbye.

From the comments:

  • BeamSplashX “I think gaming’s past is safe in some regards- geek chic brings in a lot of imitators but it’s also a backdoor into keeping older games cool for the masses”
  • Badger Commander: “Gah! Nice read, I disagree with quite a bit of what you are saying”
  • Ava Avane Dawn: “even the sadness I used to feel over that lost place is hard to find when I boot up the games”

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7 thoughts on “Countdown 2016, 3: Lost Love

  1. I’ve been a subscriber for a while, but clearly missed this originally – just wonderful – I too am a child of the Atari 8bit, a delightlfully creatively diverse platform – a wonderful software library so free from the overbearing me-too-ness apparent only a few years on other platforms, encapsulating the freedom of imagination the early industry was so full of!

    It started my love affair with computers and gaming too, lead to my career as a game designer. Bill and Dani were amongst my heroes too, many of which my working life has allowed me to meet, but sadly not those two.

    A wonderful tribute to childhood and gaming delights!


  2. Hi sTeVE! I’ve been meaning for ages to be more serious about promoting the old articles because I was sure plenty of newer visitors weren’t going to trawl through the history. So here we are and while the articles aren’t being flooded with visitors, there’s definitely signs that they’re reaching people they never did before. So thanks for checking it out and getting something out of it!

    And I think particularly for us, it’s not just being brought up with computer games but we’d been part of the genesis of the industry when stuff was being made for the first time. I don’t know if anyone can imagine that. While particular “types” of games were appearing, there were a lot of 2D space shooters I recall, there was an astonishing amount of design diversity because there were no templates, no maps.

    (And at “some point in the future”, I will write another appendix to Where We Came From on Alternate Reality. There is always room for infinite appendices…)

  3. Three syllables: Won. Der. Ful.
    I’ve watched this with weird grin and no, that’s just something in my eye.
    I am grown without Atari – in Soviet Union it was rather rare. But end of 80ies my parents purchased for me a discarded old PC from an institute, with heart of Robotron, MS DOS as OS, 2 MB space (!) and louder than your vaccum cleaner. So begun my personal journey into digital world. I programmed in basic, used a unique Russian word editor (way better than everything else for DOS, with features like font editor), and played games, a lot of games. Many Atari ported games like Alley Cat (so nice to see it in your video). Always these times I desired for huge digital open worlds, full of possibilities, places, tasks. I still had to wait for years.

    So your nostalghia review brings up my old fascination which hasn’t disappeared, but is intensifyed in years. Thank you!

  4. Thanks merzmensch! The whole Where We Came From series was my way of putting down my Atari childhood and then leaving the retro nostalgia behind. I mean, I could easily do a lot of Atari stuff and I do return to it occasionally. History is important and can teach us things. What is new is not necessarily new. Nonetheless, I try to forge ahead and look at what’s going on today more 🙂

    You may be interested in the appendix for Where We Came From. Did you have to wait for years…?

  5. Hi Joel,

    Thanks for the article and the great video! 🙂

    I’m not of the Atari generation – my first computer game experiences were with MS-DOS and the Sega Megadrive. It’s often hard to go back to an earlier generation of games and enjoy them. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy Atari games as much as you did at the time! But if you had time, perhaps you could suggest a way in? Some suggested games, emulators, or perhaps just a way of approaching these games?

    P.S. First time commenting; hello!

  6. Hi Martin and welcome to the comments! You’ve obviously earned enough lurk points to join us down here.

    You’re absolutely right that going back to an early generation can be difficult. I’m “fortunate”, if you can call being this old fortunate, I’m “fortunate” to have been there for the very first waves of videogames.

    Now my videogame exposure became patchy in the 90s so I do find it difficult to dip back into the time of, say, Ultima Underworld. Even though it’s a classic I find I don’t have the tolerance for its contols.

    The main thrust of The Last Dream is that it’s impossible for you to recapture someone else’s childhood. You weren’t there and you do not have the context. The best we can do is write or talk about it – maybe even show you. But letting newer generations loose on 40 year old games is not going to do much for those people.

    That said, I do play some of the older 8-bit games with my children and some of the ancient Atari 2600 / Atari VCS games are quite magic (oh the hours and HOURS of Space Invaders in co-op mode and Combat).

    And there are gaps. Mercenary is an exploration/adventure game hybrid that does not have a proper modern-day equivalent. You can play a PC clone of the game, see the bottom of my article on Mercenary.

    As for other games? Hmm, tricky. The problem is that anything of value has been reused; is there a point playing the original Boulder Dash when so many Boulder Dash clones have been created over the years? And add to that games were not very snappy; everything was slow and many games were notorious for making you watch lengthy death sequences or interstitial animations.

    I have love for the original Jumpman but it, too, has some irritating design issues which are difficult to ignore with our more enlightened. modern perspective (slow death sequence, occasional unavoidable deaths, levels designed to be learned through repetition except losing all lives means start game from beginning again).


  7. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will read your article on Mercenary.

    Some of the problems with earlier games – slow death sequences, very strong consequences for death even though not all deaths are “fair” – can be overcome with emulators with quick save/load features.

    But I take your more general point about it not being possible for me to really enjoy these games the way you did/do.

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