Video Games by Daniel Cohen

A few weeks ago I learned about Video Games by Daniel Cohen, and I just had to have it.

Video Games is a survey of the video game universe as it stood in the early 80s.  Written for young adults, it covers arcade games, home systems, computer games, and even portable electronic games.  It doesn’t give a world of information about any of these things, but it does give an okay overview.  It also contains some information that was incredibly interesting, such as these screenshots of of Intellivision games that were in the works at the time of writing.

It also says that Pac-Man was also known as Packy.  Really?

Now it would be easy to laugh at how simplistic as well as outdated this book is.  But I have to admit that it was still a ton of fun to read.  It didn’t tell me a lot, but it reminded me not only of the kind of books I used to read as a kid but also how I mined them for every bit of information I could.  Books like these were my lifelines to my interests in the pre-Internet world, and for that they have a special place in my heart.  I know an 8-year-old me would have loved this book, and a 38-year-old me liked it pretty well.

Preferred Playing Position

There are lots of positions to take at an arcade game.  Some guys grip the sides, other guys rest their hands on the control panel.  But this position, which I demonstrated while playing Ms. Pac-Man at the California Extreme Arcade and Pinball Show, is my favorite.

Doug playng MS Pac-Man

As you can see, I’m not only hanging my left hand off the top of the cabinet, but I’m also crossing my ankles.  Admittedly, there are only a few games you can play in this way: the Pac-Mans, Frogger, Q*Bert, and any other game that doesn’t require two hands.  Still, it is my preferred position, and I’ll jump at any chance to assume it.

12th Annual California Extreme Arcade and Pinball Show

I was super-excited for the California Extreme Arcade and Pinball Show in Santa Clara, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Here’s some of what I saw there:

A little later I ran into Walter Day.  He was looking for the games room and asked me where it was.  I asked him for a picture and got one.

In all, it was a great day.  I got to play some of the games I wrote about in Arcadian and some of the ones I missed.  Can’t wait to do it again next year.

Arcade Cabinets – Upright vs Cocktail

Arcade games came in two types of cabinets: the upright cabinet and the cocktail cabinet.

The cocktail cabinet was perhaps the first I ever played.  The Space Invaders knock-off game my dentist had in his office was a cocktail cabinet, and my experiences with it could very well have been my first arcade experience.  These cabinets looked like tables.  You sat down at them to play like you sat down at a table.  You could even use them as tables if you wanted to.  The screen was in the table top and you had to look down at it.

Cocktail Ms. Pac-Man cabinet

The upright cabinet was the more popular and familiar.  The screen was held horizontally, and you played it standing up.  For games that only took one hand, like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, you could put your free hand on the cabinet side, or, if you were really cool, hang in from the cabinet top.

Upright Ms. Pac-Man cabinet.

I certainly prefer the upright version.  There is just something about playing while standing that I prefer.  I wouldn’t completely dismiss the cocktail version, though.  Heck, I wouldn’t even completely dismiss the bar top versions that I never saw or played, even though they are much too small for my taste.  An arcade game is an arcade game, after all, no matter what kind of cabinet it comes in.

Coleco Mini Arcade

As soon as I saw my first arcade game, there was one thing I wanted to do: take it home.  I wanted to have my own arcade game so that I could play for free as much as I wanted without people looking over my shoulder.  Okay, I also wanted to have my own arcade game so I could be like Ricky Schroder in Silver Spoons.  There was no way I was going to get one.  I knew that.  But I could get one of the Coleco Mini Arcade games.

Coleco Mini Arcade games were tiny arcade cabinets featuring conversion of the best video games around: Pac-ManDonkey KongFroggerGalaga, and many more.  They weren’t perfect copies, of course.  They were LED conversions.  But to my grade-school eyes, they were close enough.

Donkey Kong

Today, these seem like poor alternatives to arcade games.  The graphics aren’t right and the joysticks are just too tiny.  But I thought they were a great home option back in the day, and maybe it is just the quasi-arcade cabinet design, but they still have a lot of charm.