My mom bought Jenny (my little sister) and I an Atari 2600 the second Christmas they were available. We lived in Holly Hill, FL – the closest thing to a suburb of Daytona Beach that existed then. At the time we thought of the gift as a tremendous extravagance, the most incredible present ever. I remember staying up to play Asteroids until 3 am the first night we had it. I got a blister on my thumb and rolled the score over to all 0s. Jenny sat there watching me the whole time. I don’t think we were able to afford River Raid until after Easter the next year. When we got that one, my mom and Jenny and I would sit and play for hours after school. Jenny and I would trade playing my mom while the other did homework. So much fun …
My buddy had a slew of games and he would bring them to our apartment and we’d play and play … I am amazed at how much joy I found in blasting those pixels into bits. I even loved Combat – the game you got for free with the console.
My parents are divorced and we would spend the summers with my dad in Bristol, RI. Two summers after my mom got us Atari, dad and his wife Karen bought an Intellivision. Great Caesar’s Ghost! This game’s graphics made Atari look like Tic-Tac-Toe! It was awe-inspiring. The controller was completely different from the Atari’s – a keypad with a disk on the bottom. I remember that the games all had overlays for the keypad so you could tell which button did what in which game. And there were buttons on the side of the controller too! Each controller – ha! these weren’t joysticks! – had like 12 or 15 buttons, plus the directional pad! It was like going from your car to a fighter cockpit! So many buttons! We were in heaven!
One day my dad and I were in a department store and we saw the IntelliVoice component. I barely had to ask; he was as excited to buy it as I was. With this little gizmo – as far as I know the first “plug-in” for a video game – we could actually hear human voices from the machine! I remember one game called “Bomb Squad” because it began with a deep, rumbling, techno-computerized robot announcing, “Bomb Squad!” You played the part of a special agent trying to defuse bombs hidden throughout a city. You were presented with a circuit board and you could choose different sets of tools – mostly wire-cutters – that you maneuvered on the screen to “clip” the circuits. Whenever you clicked the high-pitched voice of your terrified assistant would cry, “Left more!” or “Right more!” and guide you to the correct place. It was a blast! There was a game called “B-17 Bomber” (Again, I remember the name because there was a voice saying just that when you plugged the cartridge into its slot.) in which you had to destroy Nazi bases by dropping explosives from your plane. When you clicked the button to drop your payload your co-pilot or bombardier would always yell, “Bombs away!” in a southern drawl.
(I always considered the Intellivision games the more intellectual of the toys, probably because of its name.)
My dad’s wife loved the Intellivision, but there was no way we were going back to Florida without one. Dad bought us our own to take home. Jenny and I were like the Masters of the Gaming Universe when we returned from summer vacation with this new toy. Nobody in Florida had seen one yet, and for a while we just ruled.