51 Shades of Geek

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In the rotund plumber Mario’s first adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Donkey Kong. (Coleco, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Once upon a time, Nintendo didn’t manufacture its own home video game system. Perhaps games like this convinced it to pick up the habit. Coleco did a very good job of translating Nintendo’s first arcade hit into its first game for the higher-priced ColecoVision console, but truthfully, more people had an Atari 2600 at the time, and this is the version of Donkey Kong they got. Continue reading

Space Jockey

Space JockeyThe Game: Space is a dangerous place, full of enemy fighters, hostile vehicles…and even enemy biplanes and enemy hot air balloons. Your job? Blow ’em all away. Your space fighter can hug the ground or zip into the stratosphere in See the videoa second, which is good because there are oncoming enemies at every altitude. If they take out all of your fighters, you might as well kiss the planet goodbye…which is kind of embarrassing if this means you’ve left the world open to invasion by balloon. (Vidtec [U.S. Games], 1982)

Memories: This is the first Atari game programmed by Garry Kitchen, who, after coding a VCS version of Donkey Kong for Coleco as a freelancer, would later join Activision. Space Jockey may not exactly be up to Activision’s specs, but it’s still an eminently playable variation on what was already a well-worn theme by its 1982 release. Continue reading

Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerBuy this gameThe Game: The orders are flying fast and furious. The customers are waiting. The clock is ticking. And you’re the only short-order cook in the kitchen. Your job is simple: arrange a series of hamburgers with ingredients indicated by the symbols at the bottom of the screen. Don’t waste any condiments if you can help it, and whatever you do, don’t make a burger with toppings and condiments and then drop it into the wrong delivery chute. If you fill all the orders correctly in the time allotted, you might just get promoted to manager…but chances are, you’ll have to do it all again, only faster this time. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This jewel of a game was the second Activision release for Garry Kitchen, who would later bring himself – and Activision – acclaim for a computer program called Game Maker. But for now, Kitchen had recently signed up, along with his brother, as the east coast branch of a company who – along with any other video game company that expected to stay in business – was decidedly located on the west coast. He already had a solid pedigree in the form of a slightly obscure shoot-’em-up, Space Jockey, published by Vidtec (later known as U.S. Games), and a little best-seller called Donkey Kong. He had also been one of the engineers responsible for the very popular miniature electronic pinball game, Wildfire. Continue reading

Garry Kitchen’s Game Maker

The Game: You decide what the game’s going to be. From creating your own characters, animating them, building their world (and the physical rules that govern it) and setting up the conflicts and limits, you have a powerful game-making tool at your disposal. Use it wisely, make something fun, and learn a little bit about how video games are conceived and programmed. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: Almost a transcendental work of genius, Game Maker is one of those programs that, if you were around (and of a certain age) when it was released, you remember it vividly. This is one of those things that probably changed a few lives. Continue reading

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