Tuesday, 17 January 2012

It's a trap...

A money trap that is.

In the early to mid 1980's the absolute nadir of entertainment was an amusement arcade. Flashing electronic cabinets that would swallow your hard earned pocket money as fast as you could funnel it in for all too brief gratification of beating the level or, at the very best, impressing a girl with your video game skills.

One of the few 'pusher' companies for this addictive drug were Atari who as well as keeping you entertained at home with their 'state of the art' 2600 home gaming machines were also providing games (or 'Cabinets') for a plethora of venues.

My own personal mecca of arcade goodness cam in the foyer of the 'Arena' skating rink in Bury, North West England. Never has there been such a 'hive of Scum and Villany'.

In Summer 1984 the wrappings were taken off a shiny new machine to replace an overused and half-destroyed 'Pac-Man' game.

Return of the Jedi had come to the arcades and I too could now play as my favourite characters against the evil forces of the Dark Side.

Despite being the third film in the trilogy it was actually the second arcade game with the 'Empire Strikes Back' game following on a year later.

Using the tried and tested scrolling shoot-em-up formula that had worked so well with games in the past, this time however instead of left to right it scrolled diagonally across the screen  from bottom left to top right. A multi faceted intricate game of all encompassing levels this was not but it was incredibly fun.

In fact, there was no actual levels. More like scenes that would endlessly repeat (at random and with slightly increased difficulty) until you ran out of lives or got bored, whichever came first. The scenes were :-

No. 1 - Speeder Bike chase on Endor as Princess Leia. The goal is to reach the Ewok village alive by dodging Biker Scouts and traps set by the Ewoks.

No. 2 -  Scout Walker chase on Endor as Chewbacca. The goal is to reach the shield generator again avoiding traps, Biker Scouts and rolling logs  

No. 3 - Millennium Falcon attack on Death Star as Lando. The goal is to reach and destroy the Death Star power reactor whilst being pursued through the innards by TIE fighters.

No. 4 - Pretty much reverse of No. 3 this time your goal in the Millennium Falcon is to escape from exploding Death Star.  

You can watch two of the scenes (1 and 3) here :- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8OD3azmUic

As you can see, we were not talking about the same level of detailing and graphic capabilities that we are now used to in everyday life (Thank you Uncle George) but at the time, I can assure you it was fairly impressive.

Adding to the excitement of this machine was the controls. This was no longer just a stick and buttons. This felt like you were at the controls of an X-Wing Fighter with a dual handed approach.

However cool this looked and handled. This was, unfortunately, one of the first things to break and frequently frustrated arcade owners would be seen rifling through the owners manual and either attempting to fix it themselves or to order a new part.

The owners manual itself is lovely piece featuring very detailed exploded diagrams and parts lists as well as the no doubt much used New Part Telephone Order Line.

One of nicest things about these cabinets (and why they make such great, not to mention expensive, collectibles) was the side art on the machines and Return of the Jedi was no exception.

Not to mention a lovely backlit Marquee sign for the front of the machine with the lovely logo calling you to come and spend your cash.

There are still a few of these machines still kicking around in various states of repair so if you've got a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand sitting in you pocket burning a hole and you'd like something a little bit different you could keep your eye on auction sites for one of these puppies.

Man...I wonder how much money I did actually shove into one of these...I dread to think...

Finally for the techies amongst you here's waht the machine was using to provide those glorious images and sounds :-

Main CPU : M6502 (@ 2.5 Mhz), M6502 (@ 1.512 Mhz)

Sound Chips : (4x) POKEY (@ 1.512 Mhz), TMS5220 (@ 672 Khz)

Technical Information taken from www.arcade-history.com

1 comment:

  1. this machine took a lot of my money, but i loved every second of it