Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Growing Up Commodore 64

With the release of the new rendition of Alice in Wonderland (and the 1930s version on DVD), my mind has been drifting back to the Commodore 64 game patterned after the book.

The graphics are pretty good and the world is enormous. The story follows the plot of the book, but embellishes by adding new characters and a portion of "Through the Looking Glass." It has the white rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but it also has the Jabberwockey and a unicorn.

People wonder how I remember minute details from these games. People who have never played them don't know how wonderful they were, because they chalk them up as being primitive and juvenile. But the games were incredibly inventive and memorable. I mean, how could you forget a dancing lobster in Alice in Wonderland who says nothing but "Join the line and be refined?"

When I was a kid, huge chunks of time were devoted to the Commodore 64. While most kids my age were playing on the various versions of Nintendo, I patiently waited for my favorite games to load, a painful process sometimes, sure, but worth the wait.

The great thing about the Commodore was that it was a family affair. The computer was a bonding tool for my dad, my sister and I. We would play 2 Player games (Wizard, California Games, Dig Dug) until we were forced to go to bed by my mom, and if the game didn't have the option, we'd sit and watch my dad play games that were too hard for us, like Ultima and Pirates.

The reason I know Hungarian Dance no. 5 is because it was the opening song for The Castles of Dr. Creep, which we played for hours and hours. The Tannenbaum level was my sister's and my favorite because it was the easiest. Some of the levels were so hard, we had to write cheat sheets for ourselves, like the level with the black room (You can't see a thing, but you have to solve puzzles and try not to die). And it was funny every now and then to take control of a gun and kill your friend when you weren't busy shooting mummies.

Games like Alter Ego made a big impact on my life, too. I started playing it in my tween years, and the scenarios really got me thinking about who I was, why I was and what I would become. It was always depressing when there were no cards left, and it was time to click on that sunrise icon at the end of the game and you had to die.

(But tell me why you could never get pregnant if you played the female-- you always had to adopt?)
I remember the moment of triumph when my dad and I finally beat Amazon, largely a word game with intermittent graphics. You had to go to the rain forest to figure out why scientists kept dying there. It was painful if you took a misstep because you couldn't save the game. But it was a lot of fun. Your guide was Paco, a green parrot with an attitude problem, and he made me laugh. I would love to be able to play this game again, because I don't remember the ending.

When I was a kid, there was a local store that still sold these games, and I remember itching to go play with the demos that were set up, but I never did. One game I recall seeing had a big old house and characters that you controlled. I could almost bet it was Maniac Mansion.

I get nostalgic thinking about the old games, and I wish we could hook it all back up and play. It's a resilient system; we currently use the monitor for our TV in the kitchen. I wonder if my kids will ever get to play these games and love them like I do. Or maybe it will simply remain a bond between my sister, dad and I.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Smothers Brothers-- I'm Your Fan

People often think it is strange that I am such a fan of the Smothers Brothers considering my aversion for politics and my dislike of the 1960s.

Indeed, their legacy hinges on both of these topics, but their comedy is more than just a time capsule. Now 50 years later, Tom and Dick are as funny as ever, and their best jokes aren't always topical.
Tom and Dick form a perfect partnership of baffoon and straight man. Even better than comedy legends Abbott and Costello, these brothers seemlessly work together with scripted dialogue and improv. Their mischieviousness blends effortlessly with social commentary, sometimes to the degree that the message slips in without the audience realizing it. That's craft.

The first time I consciously watched the Smothers Brothers was in an episode of The Dick Cavett Show.

I say consciously because as a kid, I used to watch Tommy in The Yo-Yo Man, something my mom randomly picked up for my dad, which he promptly shelved. (This was a common occurance.)

On The Dick Cavett Show, which was recorded in 1971 after the brothers were fired by CBS, they work more as individuals than as a team. Tom tries for laughs, and Dick tries to have a more serious conversation, especially with nutrition expert Adele Davis.

Tom plays the stooge incredibly well. He feigns ignorance at having appeared on the show before, and Cavett says, "You know, people are going to wonder if you're really as dense as you seem... People think you're this clod that you play."

This piqued my interest, so I did what I always do when I want to see more of a star I like. I went to the library website and searched for the Smothers Brothers.

Unfortunately, at that time The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was not available on DVD, so the only thing the library had available was a documentary about their censorship battles.

But I was lucky, and about a year later, Time Life began releasing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in backwards order. Granted, these are not full seasons, but selected "best of" episodes personally chosen by Tom and Dick. But what is available is much better than nothing.

If you get a chance to see these guys perform live, do it. They are still touring, mostly in the southern United States where the climate is nice. If you can't, buy their DVDs. The humor is still funny even after all these years, and unlike most modern comedy, it is tame enough for children to watch.

Horray for the Smothers Brothers!

recommendations: "Boil That Cabbage Down," "I Fell in a Vat of Chocolate," "Song of the Volga Boatmen," "I Talk to the Trees"