07 March 2010
I spent a lot of time at pool halls when I was in high school. When I finally got my license there seemed to be no better place to spend a weekend evening. Playing pool and putting quarters in the jukebox was cheap and fun. Short of getting a fake ID and making a fool of myself in a bar this was as close as a teenager could get to doing "adult" stuff.
But we were definitely still kids.
My friend Geoff and I spent a lot of time at the Blue Jay pool hall in Catonsville, MD. Geoff is one of the finest human beings I know. He's a family man, a good friend and a kind soul. I've known him since high school and I don't believe the day will come when I don't call him one of my closest friends.
Even though he's living in London now I still feel close to him.
And back in the day when Missile Command was the coolest game at the pool hall, no one was better than Geoff.
I always looked at Missile Command as such an "adult" game. Not only was it crushingly difficult, but it was about planetary destruction - something that was on the tip of the tongue back in the days of Regan and the movie "War Games." Given its serious tone and steep difficulty I rarely played it, but I always admired it.
A few years ago I stumbled across an Atari 5200 in mint condition with a trackball controller that was still in its box. I got it home and started looking through the games. Aside from the fact that it looks cool and it's from Atari, there are few things to endear the 5200 to most gamers. It's widely considered a failure. However, playing Missile Command on the 5200 with the excellent trackball controller is fabulous. Memories of Geoff beating his own high scores and a young John Connor watching the end screen in the arcade scene in "Terminator 2" come rushing back to me each time I play. It's one of those games that makes a case for the system. If all you ever did with a 5200 and the trackball was play Missile Command, it would be worth it. It's not the finest version of the game available, and it doesn't even look that good.
But the trackball controller is absolutely perfect, and an old Atari needs all the love it can get these days.
By Victor Paul Alvarez