Mountain View Voice

News - November 25, 2011

Glory days of video games

Tournament celebrates 8-bit art of early games

by Nick Veronin

Explosions, gunshots and a confluence of overlapping eight- and 16-bit musical loops all combined into a digital din, as young men, eyes glued to one of the many screens around the room, tapped on control pads and wiggled joysticks, occasionally crying out in joy or dismay.

The game of the hour was Bomberman, which pits four players and their blocky avatars against one another in an explosive fight to the death. A leaderboard drawn on a large note pad denoted the winners and losers — all of whom were competing for a small prize, but mostly for fun, camaraderie and free pizza at the first ever Fall Classic Games Tournament.

Held at the Hacker Dojo — a shared work space for techies in Mountain View — the tournament was a fundraiser for the Digital Game Museum, which aims to preserve all computer-driven games — from the earliest text-based adventure games written in the Fortran programming language, all the way through the first-person shooters so popular today.

The museum has no physical address, though founder Judith Haemmerle has every intention of one day having a space to present her extensive collection of old computers, consoles and games, such as Zork — an early text-based game where players keyed in responses to questions and choices, a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. At the tournament, Haemmerle had the original Fortran code for Zork on display, along with an Atari 2600 console and a RedOctane guitar controller for the game Guitar Hero.

Haemmerle acknowledged that for some the RedOctane controller might seem more like a toy than an object of cultural significance. She pointed out that when film was in its infancy, many never thought of it as being very important, so many films have now been lost forever, due to neglect or a lack of maintenance altogether.

"A lot of early television shows have been taped over," Haemmerle said — a piece of human history, gone. Video games "have become a serious part of our culture. We want to do what we can to save as much of gaming history as possible," she said

Dustin Preuss agrees with Haemmerle. He paid the $5 admission to the tournament for two reasons: "I'm here for fun and to support the cause."

Preuss, a lifelong gamer, said he believes video games are more than just a serious part of our culture. To him, they are works of art. Unfortunately, he said, these games are often tossed into a dollar bin at someone's garage sale, or worse, thrown in the garbage.

"A lot of the older hardware — people don't realize how significant it is," Preuss said. He has kept all of his old gaming systems, including an original Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360.

Chris Zielewski and Laura Allan both said they were at the event because of their passion for classic video games. All three of the games being played in the tournament — Bomberman, Duke Nukem and Super Smash Bros. — were released before 2000.

"You can play classic games forever," Allan said, noting that she has played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for Super Nintendo at least six times. These games are an important part of people's lives, she reasoned. "If we don't preserve our old video games they'll disappear."

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