Return of the midnight joystick jockey.

I’ve been spending some quality time with the ol’ 2600 again lately. Now, I still write it off as “work time” for the site, since just about anything I play these days is recorded to the camcorder’s direct input so I can do the Flash movie fandango with the resulting footage, but every once in a while I get caught up in playing. I only need about 3 minutes tops for each Flash movie, but then I find myself playing something like Shuttle Orbiter for 10 minutes. (Okay, granted, Shuttle Orbiter takes at least ten minutes to play, since it’s almost realistic enough that it takes the length of a real shuttle mission to play it. Bad example.)

Zaxxon - the ultimate in 3-D graphics!I found myself thinking tonight about the yardsticks by which this medium has been judged, and how much frankly amazing progress has been made in 34 years. That’s a pretty short haul from “can we put something on the screen that people can interact with?” to “the audience demands movie-quality photorealism.” And yet I still fondly remember when the real litmus test of game hardware was “can it play a game of Zaxxon that looks like the arcade game?” (And yet Zaxxon‘s shading and texturing are easily outstripped by that of the “search” button next to this entry.)

I try not to be condescending to younger gamers or computer users, but y’know, there’s just something neat about having grown up while the bar was being raised. I think that’s part of what fascinates me so much about the older stuff – I remember when Enduro, one of the games I played tonight, merited a big jaw-dropping “wow!” because it featured changing weather conditions, the sun would set and rise again, and the light and your ability to control your car change accordingly. (Well, I say it’s control…I seem to control my car right into all the other cars’ trunks with enough regularity and ferocity that my insurance premium is probably rising in real life out of sheer terror.) Just about all of this stuff has had a “wow” factor in my lifetime, even if it’s outstripped by most cell phone games these days.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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