Friday, August 13, 2010

Adventure, an Atari 2600 experience

For my second look back on Atari 2600 games from my youth, I wanted to play a game I fondly remembered, and not something like E.T. that was just horrid even when it was new. I picked Adventure, easily my favorite 2600 game from my childhood. It had replayability issues, so it wasn't a constantly played game, but I never traded it.

I decided to have my kids play Adventure, to see how they'd react to the game fresh. When I first played it to prep for the blog, I realized that I hadn't 'lost' anything. I knew my way through all the mazes, and even how to find the magic dot and enter the secret room. I didn't think it would be a very interesting 'look back' to just go 'Look, I can still beat a game that I could beat 30 years ago'.

Last night while I was preparing dinner, I asked my 8-year old daughter if she wanted to play a game that I played when I was her age. She was interested, despite not being a serious video game player. Her primary experience with video games comes from her DS, where she tends to play Nintendogs, Petz, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, and Hello Kitty games. She's just started getting interested in D&D because of her brother, and is still more at the 'Cowboys and Indians' level of imagination play (although for her, it's actually 'Harry Potter' complete with robes sewn by her grandmother and a wooden wand her grandfather and I made).

Your adventure starts here, Sir Square of Gold Castle.

I set her up with Adventure, on Level 1. I told her 'This is a game where you try to get a glowing Chalice and bring it back to your Gold Castle. You move with this, and this button lets you drop things. You pick things up just by touching them' and let her go.
[She picks up the gold key.]
'This is cool. I want this game on my computer.'

[She moves down a screen, holding the key]
'Oooh! I got a new level. This one is green.'

[Moves up, presses key against the gold gate and watches it open, then goes in the gold castle.]
'It lets me go in! Can I pick up the arrow?'
(I say yes)
'Do I get a bow later?'
(I ask her what she thinks she'll do with the 'arrow' if she doesn't get a bow.)
'I don't know... I guess I'd throw it at a monster.'

[She moves away, having dropped the key to get the sword.]
'Can I only carry around one thing at a time?'
(I say yes again)
'Huh. Why can't I have a backpack or something?'

[She drops the key and moves to the sword.]
'Now I have the arrow! Now I'll go to the green place.'

[She moves down into the hall and goes toward the maze and the dragon guarding it.]
'Oopsies! He ate me (laughing) Bad Birdy!'

(I explain that the reset leaves everything like it was put restarts her at the gold castle, and reset)
'So I don't have my arrow? That's not fair.'

[She goes back to the yellow dragon, tries to get the sword, and dies again.]

[She dies again.]
'RUN AWAY! Doh. I don't like this bird.'

[She gets away but doesn't kill the yellow dragon, and then goes to the area where the green dragon is guarding the black key.]
'Oh! A Black Key! And another bird.'

[The green dragon eats her. She resets, and it eats her two more times.]
'I don't like this game any more. Can you play a while and gain me some levels so I can get past the bird?'

[I explain how to kill the dragon with the sword. She listens, and this time moves around the dragon, who impales itself on the sword in the floor.]
'Cool! I killed the green dragon! But there's still a yellow one.'
(This is the only time she calls it a dragon, by the way.)
'I want to go get the Black Key. Can you play this now?
(I say no, just keep playing, you're doing fine.)
I'm going to kill the yellow bird before I get the key.'

[She picks up the sword and tries to walk into the force wall]
'How can my arrow go through things but I can't? Does it puncture them?'
'You are writing down everything I say. Are you going to give this to Mommy?'

[Gives up trying to go through the force wall and goes up, looking for the dragon.]
'Cool! Is this some kind of maze? AWESOME.'

[She wanders the maze for a couple minutes. She gives up on killing the dragon, goes and gets the black key, and keeps wandering, trying to get through it.]
I don't like this maze. Can you play for me now?

[I get her through the maze with the black key, but the yellow dragon is still alive]
'Ooh. I thought it was black, but this is orange. I want that arch!'

[She drops the black key, watches it move towards the magnet.]
'OH! It's a magnet!'

[She moves up into the treasure room, and is eaten by the dragon... reset. She tells me to get her through the maze again. She grabs the chalice and starts running with it.]
'I think the Birdy is addicted to the color changing thing.'
(This makes me laugh out loud, and she turns to me indignantly)
'Well, he is! He won't stop chasing after it.'

[She dies several times to the dragon trying to get the chalice. I help her get past the dragon and out of the castle with the chalice.]
'I made it! Oh no, I lost my way.'

[I talk her through the maze, back to the main hall.]
'What now? There's no where else to go.'

[I ask her 'Do you think you might have the chalice?']
'Oh! The color-changy thing is the treasure!'

[She runs to the gold castle.]
'I DID IT! (waits) Is that it? Why can't I move anymore?'

[I explain that she won the game and would need to start over to play again, and ask if she would like to try again.]

She walks off to go make a karate robe for one of her Littlest Pet Shop toys. I'm tickled by some of her gaming conceits... specifically the idea of a backpack to hold items, and 'leveling up' to get past something that is too hard. I also like that the colors of rooms and hallways are important to her.

After she was done, though, it was time to expose my 15-year old son to Adventure, for the second time in his life. The first time was about 6 years previously, where he played for about 45 seconds before declaring the game 'a stupid game about ducks' and went back to his PlayStation. We'll see his views on the game tomorrow.


  1. This is fantastic. My kids play this off and on too with about the same level of frustration.

    They come by it honestly. I was the only kid I know that loved both ET and the Indiana Jones game for the 2600.

  2. So brilliant, I'm at a loss for words. x'D

  3. Now that's too cute. My son Lucas is going to be three soon, and I can't wait to get him started on the classic games that helped shape the gamer I am today. He's gonna flip his lid when I plop King's Quest 6 in front of him...

  4. Awww, I loved Adventure. Then Kings Quest.

  5. Nice! Love the bird thing..

  6. astonished that she went all the way.

  7. Back in the day when I was working at a software test lab I got handed a project to test a bunch of old 2600 games on different PC configs that a company was converting to Windows.

    We're talking Windows 3.1. 486's were the shit. Like I said, back in the day.

    Anyway, I get people lined up at my door like I'm selling blow off hookers' backsides. Everybody wants to play these things.

    Those poor bastards. Inside of twenty minutes they regretted ever hearing of me, the Atari, or said game company. They couldn't believe how bad the graphics were, how lame the games were, that they'd ever had a hardon for these things in the first place.

    That project did more to destroy our childhoods than the Ewok luau and finding out Darth Vader looked like Uncle Fester.

  8. That's great! I remember beating raiders, pitfall 2, and et as a kid and having other kids think I was some kind of genius, lol.

  9. Thanks for sharing, this was fun to read and see what she thought about the game. I'll try to read the post about your son's reaction after I get back. Assuming I remember to look for it...

  10. Whoa the nostaligia! It's amazing how the 2600 carries so many memories. She gets my respect for continuing to play brother loved it but I remember it being the cause of Controller Fling Syndrome!
    I'd been toying with the idea of doing some 2600 nostalgia I just may have to be inspired and do the Pitfall entry I'd thought about. Great read!

  11. I must admit to suffering from a huge amount of nostalgia for the Atari 2600, so much so that I went back a few years ago and actually learned how to program them (implementing a version of the German Enigma machine that ran on the 2600 was probably the geekiest thing I did). You have to remember, Adventure shipped in a 4KB ROM, and ran on a 6507 processor at 1.19 Mhz with only 128 bytes of RAM and no screen buffer. That any compelling game could be written in such a tiny machine is a testament to human creativity.

  12. Oh, King's Quest, how I love thee.

  13. I wonder if I'll play Quake 3 with my kids ... :)

  14. Go to click on home and then check out the Atari 2600 theme. It's theme #14. (You can change home page themes by clicking the little numbers in the corner).

    You'll get a good laugh out of the 2600 theme especially when you hover over email.

  15. Thanks for the memories! Wish I could play it with my son...

  16. Very nice, this will soon be my girls I'm sure.

  17. This was one of my absolute most favorite Atari games when I was young! I remember somehow going through things in a certain order to get to a room with the creators initials in it.

  18. We realized just how much of a gamer our daughter was when at 10 years old she was playing an "innocent" game of the Penguins of Madagascar at the point where the penguins pick up the boat's crew with a crane and put them in a cage. The crew yell and fuss to be put down when picked up. Next thing I know this tiny blonde kid is sweetly saying (in about the same tone as you'd ask a pet if they want a treat).."Ok, I'll put you down, in the ocean, where the sharks can eat you." Sploosh goes the crewman. Her father and I hid in the next room so she wouldn't hear us alternating between gasping laughter and sheer horror.

  19. Atart 2600 FOR THE WIN!!! :D

  20. Your story inspired me to introduce my five year old twin daughters to Adventure. Turns out 5+5 does not equal ten. Here's the story: Thanks for posting yours! Hans