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.

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