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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Oh, the joysticks I ruined back then . . . 
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 01:46 pm [childhood, personal, sports]
The news that Michael Phelps has officially become the most prolific gold medalist in Olympic history got me reminiscing about my own glory days as a pole vaulter, platform diver, swimmer, gymnast, skeet shooter, high jumper, javelin thrower, fencer, and cyclist. What a time. It was a lot of work, sometimes I wondered if I really had what it takes, but when I was standing on that podium with a gold medal around my neck, hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing, I knew it had all been worth it.
Unless I was playing for Canada.
My Dad got me my first computer when I was nine years old — a Commodore 64. I’ve had many far superior machines since that one — which I named Sam, after the voice synthesizer program that came with it — but none that I have loved as much. Maybe it was how young and sentimental I was, maybe it was the fact that it was my first computer, but years later when we finally sold it, I was heartbroken, even though I had my spiffy new Windows 3.1-running IBM PS/1. Before they took Sam away, I typed “Goodbye” into the keyboard.
The games I had for the C64 back then are still some of my favorites. What’s better than Blue Max? Or the C64 version of Super Mario that was so very, very different from the Nintendo version? I even had an awesome game called Batman: The Caped Crusader, where you (as Batman, don’tcha know) matched wits against the Joker and the Penguin. I never beat the fucking thing, but it’s still the Batman game I remember the most fondly, by far.
Two of the best games were Summer Games and Summer Games II, created by Epyx Software as unlicensed tie-ins to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The International Olympics Committee didn’t sanction the games, so instead of referring to the Olympics, the competitions in Summer Games were said to be part of the Epyx Games. There was a total of 16 different events in the two games. I usually played by myself against the computer, or with my younger brother, but the game was able to support up to eight players, and a few events, like swimming, fencing, and sprinting, allowed two players to compete head-to-head. You could choose which country you wished to compete for. Being a patriot, I usually chose to play for the U.S.A., but I broadened my horizons by playing for Canada, or the Netherlands, or the mysterious nation of Epyx every now and then.
Oh, the fights it started between my brother and I. When you’re a sore loser and a sore winner (which we both were), it’s not a matter of if fists will fly and tears will fall, but when.
Playing Summer Games required a delicate touch with the joystick. It wasn’t all wagging and pushing the trigger. The triple jump, for instance, became the bane of my existence in the late 1980s and early ‘90s; you had to push the stick in just the right direction, at just the right time to make your best jump and avoid being disqualified.  I don’t think I ever got the hang of it. The times when I did well in the event were sheer luck, I am now convinced.
Another challenging one was skeet shooting, which required quick reflexes and good timing. The game was realistic enough that your slugs didn’t reach the pigeons instantaneously, meaning you had to lead your shots a bit. It took me awhile to catch on to this. Once I did, I still blew it more than half the time. Apparently I’m not cut out for athletics, be they in the real world or simulated by a Commodore 64.
These games were joystick-busters. I remember having to beg my mother for more than one trip to Babbages to replace a joystick after a particularly spirited swimming competition. And where, I ask, after all the gold, silver, and bronze I won for the glory of this country (and sometimes Canada and the U.S.S.R.), were my endorsements? What, that little rip Mary Lou Retton was good enough for the Wheaties box, but not me? What a gyp.
Rusty at Commodore 64 Boxed Sets has a page devoted to Summer Games on his website. You can view screencaps, scans of the box and user’s manual, and even play the game online. The opening ceremony isn’t quite as spectacular as in Beijing — just a little pixilated dude running up with a torch and lighting the flame — but it’s a hell of a fun game to play, and boy does it ever take me back . . .
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 07:51 pm (UTC) - Load "*",8,1
You just blew my mind twice. When I was a kid, my entire family would play the combined summer games I and II. That was myself, my two older sisters and my Dad and stepmother. I remember turning the joystick in a circular motion for cycling. Heck, my family even had "The Games: Winter Edition" and World Games which included Bull Riding, Cliff Diving, and even Log Rolling.

I know there are a lot of emulating programs, but as I get older I think more and more about getting myself a Commodore and start recollecting the old games I had as a child. (Rockford, The Magic Candle, Heart or Africa, M.U.L.E., and about a hundred of other titles I can't remember off the top of my head)

I am surprised that Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony hasn't bought up the rights to a lot of these old games to release on this generation of consoles. I'd pay hard cash to be able to play some of these games without emulation on my console or computer.
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 10:18 pm (UTC) - Re: Load "*",8,1
I've gone back and forth with emulators, too. Some of them I've had trouble getting to work, others just can't quite replicate the experience of playing on that old reliable C64.

There are so many games I had, it's hard to remember them all at once. I just had a memory pop into my head of a Mad Lib game I had, which I played once with my father and a friend of his. They supplied the requested nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., thinking of their despised supervisor at work. They were coming up with stuff like "fat," "incompetent," "talks out of both sides of his mouth." The resulting story was enjoyed by all.

My music teacher in high school was a guy in his 50s who, in addition to a talented musician, was also something of a computer collector. When I once told him that I used to own a Commodore 64, he told me that he owned one, and called it unequivocally the best gaming computer he'd ever had — not the most powerful, but by far the most fun.
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 08:25 pm (UTC)
I had that Batman game for my C64. I believe that was one of the few Batman games that was based on the comics and not the movies. It was far too complex for a kid like myself but at least it was better than that Spider-man game that was like Zork.

I didn't have Summer Games, but I did have the winter version. I have a sneaking suspicion that the swimming and speed skating were the exact same game, only with different graphics.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 10:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was based on the comics, that Batman game. That's one of the things that I thought was so cool about it. I got it after the movie came out, but I was just starting to get into the comics, too, at that point, and so it was just cool to have something where Batman was fighting the Penguin, and where his costume was the traditional blue and gray, not solid black.

I downloaded a version of it for an emulator last year. It looked exactly as I remembered it, but there was something wrong with the game and I could only play so far before it would crash. It was a nice hit of nostalgia while it lasted, though. Maybe I'll look some more and find a more stable version one of these days.
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