The year was 1981. I was in eighth grade. I had some change in my pocket because I did not get a full lunch in the cafeteria. Instead, I had figured out how to eat the bare minimum of a young teen’s daily food requirement – a frosting covered sticky bun. Sure, I would be starving, and I wasn’t following the suggested food pyramid. But, my greater goal in those days was not to eat. It was to have a little money for the arcade.
Time Out Arcade was a short detour during my walk home. I crossed the street and headed toward a side entrance at the Cary Mall. There, to the immediate left was a darkened room filled with blinking lights and futuristic sounds. Often after school, there would be a small crowd of people watching someone play the latest game. The newer games were always strategically placed near the entrance.
Here are some of the games I remember and the impressions they left on me:
Pac-Man – Up to this point, most games were based on outer space. (mainly due to hardware limitations) But the day I saw a crowd of people around Pac-Man and I finally had a chance to view the screen – it was truly remarkable. A friendly yellow circle being chased around a maze by four ghosts. It was the same maze every time, but it didn’t matter. Something about that game sucked me in. I remember buying a book about mastering Pac-Man. The book had two patterns that you could memorize and play for a long time. The first pattern worked pretty well. But the second one would end my game. It was still a blast.
Dragon’s Lair – This game was a true innovation in the world of video games. Rather than traditional programming, it actually used a laser disc with cartoon animations (created by Don Bluth). At certain points in the video, you had to quickly interact for your character to go up, down, left, or right. The game was challenging and largely based on memorization as well as fast reflexes. I saw a lot of that animation where Dirk the Daring (I think that was his name) would cross his arms, look at me with exasperation, and then turn into a skeleton. I did not play this game very much but it was amazing to watch someone play who was good at it.
Gorf – There are two things about the game Gorf that affected me. First, the game talked to me. It would say, “Insert Coin” with this robotic futuristic voice. Second, this game had levels, real levels that were different from the one before. The first level was like Space Invaders, the second was like Galaxian, the third was like going through hyperspace warp, and the final level was against the mother ship. I just couldn’t believe that they somehow made a game that could do that! Four games in one! Plus I thought the joystick was pretty cool. It kind of felt like a fighter jet grip. One thing I didn’t like about the game was that you couldn’t shoot more than one missile at a time. As soon as you hit the fire button again, the previous missile would disappear. I wanted to just spam that fire button!
Star Wars – This arcade game featured a cabinet that I could sit inside. I felt as though I was piloting an X-Wing Fighter in the battle against (the first) death star. The game featured color vector graphics and looked amazing. When I played the game, I could imagine what it must have felt like to fly in space like Luke Skywalker. The game had a space level against Tie Fighters, then moved onto the surface of the Death Star to blow up some towers, and last put you inside that famous trench where you ultimately sent a torpedo into an small exhaust port. Then you had a front row seat as you watched the Death Star explode. After that, you did it all over again, except it was more difficult.
I have many more memories but I try to limit myself to 500 words per blog and I’m already over by more than 100. Let me know if you would like to hear more.