Tag Archives: arcade

Return of the 1975 RCA AU-097Y Portable TV! (Plus a Look at XENOPHOBE for the Atari 2600!)

Sometimes I have a problem where I’ve got more than enough stuff that I could write about, but, frankly, can’t really decide on any one subject. Such was my problem recently, as I looked at the boxes of VHS tapes, stacks of DVDs and mounds of old electronics around me, yet continued to be at a loss. I couldn’t get fired up over anything. Then, my eyes fell upon my beloved RCA AU-097Y portable TV from 1975, which I wrote about waaaay back in 2013 – in the early months of this very site! I have always loved the extreme 1970s-ness of this TV, but even so, that alone wasn’t enough to bring it back for a return-appearance on my stupid dumb blog. So what warranted a quick picture-taking session?

The latter years of the Atari 2600, that’s what! (This post is more for fun than anything. Plus, I haven’t written anything for November yet and constantly fear that y’all will abandon me.)

Now, I can play Atari 2600 (or if you want to get technical, Atari 7800) pretty much any time I please. I have one constantly at the ready in my “office” (ha!), and while I don’t play video games a whole lot, I do occasionally need to, as the ads used to say, reach reach reach for Atari. This doesn’t normally require usage of a 42 (!) year old TV, however. So, why did it now? Xenophobe, that’s why!

The picture to the right says it all: Midway’s 1987 split-screen arcade game was given the 2600 treatment, the title-screen of which you’re seeing right here. Xenophobe has long been one of my favorites on the console, which is funny, since I’m not big on the arcade version or most of the higher-end ports (the Lynx adaption wasn’t bad). I guess in the 2600’s case, “less is more,” though. While the more advanced versions retained much of the comical, cartoon-like atmosphere of the coin-op, the 2600’s weaker graphic and sonic capabilities meant only the ‘meat’ of Xenophobe was retained. It comes off quieter, more desolate, which for a game originally inspired by the Alien films, I think serves the 2600 port well. Plus, the fact a game this advanced even made it to the 2600 at all, in an extremely playable form no less, is purty derned impressive.

Here’s the deal: This 2600 port was indeed released in the U.S., at the insanely late date of 1990 (actually, this AtariAge thread says it didn’t ship until Spring 1991!!), which means there were/are NTSC copies out there, but for the longest time, they were pretty rare. I mean, by 1990/1991, the 16-bit era of video games had dawned; who would have thought they’d still be releasing games for a console introduced in 1977 in an age where the Sega Genesis had been unleashed?! It’s true – the Atari 2600 wasn’t officially discontinued until January 1, 1992. This wasn’t a one-off release, either; there were a slew of new 2600 games released in the wake of the infamous 1983 video game crash, after Nintendo totally revived the industry. Many of these newer 2600 titles were, and are, super-impressive, featuring NES-like formats and gameplay and graphics that many just wouldn’t think possible on the 2600.

Xenophobe is one such game, but by the time it saw release in the U.S., the market for the 2600 was all but dead. Overseas though, there was still some life left in the beast, the result being that you could find PAL copies of many of these hard-to-find US titles for a fraction of the cost. And that’s where my RCA TV comes in.

As you may imagine, games in the PAL format from that era aren’t generally known to run correctly in the U.S. Colors will be off, and more drastically, the screen can roll, rendering the game unplayable. However, by using an old school CRT TV with the capability to adjust the vertical hold, you can stabilize the screen to normal, and if you’re using a black & white set, as I did here, why, the mismatched colors don’t even matter! Cool winnins!

I own a (as I was assured by the seller) sealed NTSC copy of Xenophobe, which I had to pay real money for back in 2001 or 2002, but my loose copy is PAL. I’ve had a hankerin’ for some 2600 Xenophobe lately, so, well, you can deduce how we got where we are right now.

(By the way, the prices for NTSC Xenophobe, as well as other late-era releases, have fallen drastically in the years since I nabbed my sealed one; a ton of new old stock U.S. copies were uncovered in Venezuela some years back and made available to the masses, which means that what once were mega-rare titles are now surprisingly common, and affordable, via online sales. I’ve got several of these, another Xenophobe included, winging their way towards me as we speak.)

To make Atari happen on the RCA, I had to kick things way old school. Yep, via screws and an ancient RF switchbox – the kind you had to slide a switch to TV or game when you wanted to enjoy either. That’s what you’re seeing to your left here. Nothing unusual about it; this is how video game consoles were hooked up back in the day! On the RCA, there’s no other way.

Actually, it’s kind of a kick to hook a system up to a TV this way. You know, I grew up plugging things into the RF port, or via AVs, so it’s sorta neat to attach a console in such a wildly obsolete fashion. It feels very late-1970s/early-1980s appropriate, even if the Atari 7800 (which also plays 2600 games is thus my normative choice of Atari console) didn’t come out (nationally) until 1986, when this method had almost-certainly been widely-superseded by the RF/AV thing I just mentioned.

There are a bunch of contrasting eras at play here. You’ve got a black & white TV from 1975, displaying a game copyrighted 1990 and apparently released in 1991 and made for a console introduced in 1977, which in turn was being played on a console released in 1986 but included native backward-compatibility with that console introduced in 1977. Why, it’s enough to make your head swim!

So, back to Xenophobe. If for some reason you thought I had some kind of authority in the world of Atari (Hint: I don’t) and asked me to name my top 20 games for the 2600, Xenophobe would absolutely be on that list. Actually, it’d make my top 10. I love the game!

To your right is the opening scene of game play (I’d venture to guess that this is the only pic of the game being played on a black & white TV from 1975 on the internet – for the time being). Now, most people probably think of 2600 games as simple affairs, but Xenophobe is actually pretty expansive, comparable to many then-modern games. There are eight stations to visit throughout the game (though there’s no ending; it loops after the eighth), and stations that include different rooms, with some having multiple levels accessed via elevator. And as we saw above, it even features a legit title screen!

Graphically, the game really wows. Like any console, the longer it’s around, the more the programmers can get out of it.  Okay, sure, compared to the NES or 7800 (both of which had ports of Xenophobe), never mind the Sega Genesis (which didn’t), the graphics are extremely blocky, and gamers nowadays would probably laugh so hard at them that they’d spill whatever hyper-powered soft drink they had chosen for their all-night online gaming session. But given the system it’s on, Xenophobe is definitely impressive. Your character is rendered in multiple colors, the animation is (mostly) smooth, there are a variety of aliens to combat, and from outside appearances at least, the space stations are varied; I really liked all the gadgets and junk that adorned the walls of the areas you traversed, too. There’s even separate cut-scenes featuring your mother ship coming upon an infested station! Neato!

Musically, there’s some bits adapted from the arcade that don’t sound bad at all, and the sound effects are serviceable; there were certainly far worse to be found on the 2600.

The plot of the game involves several space stations that have been infested by alien beings (“Xenophobes,” as per the manual), and it’s up to you to clean ’em out! Yep, you beam on board each station, alone, and must systematically clear out a required number of aliens before you can be beamed back to your mother ship. (If you take too long, you’re beamed back aboard while the infested station self-destructs.) The aliens range from pods to tentacles to gigantic, dangerous beasts, and you’ve got several weapon choices scattered throughout the ships to help exterminate them.

Xenophobe‘s gimmick in the arcades was that the screen was split into three sections, allowing for three players going at the game simultaneously. For obvious reasons, the home editions generally cut that down to two, and as you can see, the 2600 followed suit; that bottom half is reserved for the second player – but not simultaneously! Yep, despite the split-screen, players must take turns, even though it’s still player one on the top, player two on the bottom. I get that having simultaneous game play like that might be too much for the ol’ 2600 to handle, but then why have the split-screen at all?

That bit of irritation aside, Xenophobe is pretty solid. The difficulty may be a little uneven; get the powerful “Poofer Gun” and you can basically cruise through what would otherwise be some pretty tough stages, stages that are a little insurmountable without it or a plentiful supply of grenades. Still, the mark of any good game is how often you (or at least I) keep coming back to it. Despite having not played the game in years, I indeed kept coming back for another round.

(By the way, it’s worth noting that the 2600 wasn’t the only “early” video game console to last as long as it did; the Intellivision, initially the 2600’s main rival, also enjoyed a revival and ultimate lifespan stretching into the late-1980s/early-1990s. However, the Inty never got Xenophobe, and thus Atari won yet again.)

So, aside from using an ancient CRT TV to get around the rolling screen issues, what did I learn playing Xenophobe this way? 1) I don’t mind playing in black & white. 2) There’s an odd sense of “coolness” playing the 2600/7800 in this fashion. It just looks neat. I hesitate to use the word “authenticity,” but there’s probably some of that in there, too. 3) TVs this old emit a smell that’s not particularly pleasant. I looked the phenomenon up, and while I forget the technical term now, it’s apparently normal. Doesn’t change the fact that I have a hypersensitive nose and that first night of play gave me, no joke, an ill-feeling. Subsequent plays were better; maybe the smell dissipated? Or maybe my nose just got used to it? I dunno.

Because this is just sort of a fun, dash-off post, I’m not sure how to end it. I played the Atari 2600 port of Xenophobe on an RCA TV from 1975, okay?

Actually, I do know how to end this post; I didn’t spend a long time playing it, because honestly I just wanted the picture seen here, but I did fire up another 2600 favorite, and this one was more period-appropriate: 1978’s Basketball!

When it comes to sports games, I’m not sure it gets more primitive than Basketball (that it’s right here, duh!), but man is it fun. It’s a one-on-one game, and you can play either the computer or another person. I didn’t this time around, but the two-player mode is where it’s at. Competitive in all the best ways. The graphics and sound are probably more in line with what people think when it comes to Atari, but the play is what counts, and Basketball has it to spare! Get it? “Spare!” Cause it’s…oh wait, I’m thinking of Bowling. That’s a favorite too, though.

So there you have it. I busted out the beloved 1975 RCA AU-097Y portable TV for a picture-taking session, and more importantly, several Xenophobe sessions. Nowadays, people like to mod their 2600’s for AV, HDMI, and so on and so forth. Play ’em on flatscreens and whatnot. Hey, nothing wrong with that. If I had the skills and the spare consoles, I’d take that plunge too. (Actually, I do have the spare consoles…but not the skills.) Still, sometimes you gotta kick it really old school, and I feel I have accomplished that arbitrary task exceedingly well.

Also, playing Xenophobe without the screen rolling like a madman is nice.

State Road Shopping Center Memories

The shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The (former) shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Alright, I’m going to diverge a bit from the sort of things I usually cover. As many of you know by now, I take a big interest in broadcasting from anywhere in the U.S., but at the heart of this blog is an appreciation for Northeast Ohio. For obvious reasons, this usually takes the form anything related to NE Ohio television. As you might guess, that’s the area I have the most fondness for, the M.O. of my whole hobby, you could say. However, that doesn’t mean I automatically dismiss anything that wasn’t shown on TV. Of course not. Like most people, I have nostalgic memories of my hometown, of places that are no longer there or no longer the same as they once were.

That almost-long-winded intro is my way of saying that lately I’ve been nostalgic for the now-demolished shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It’s only been gone a few years, but it feels like much longer. Probably because for the longest time, “hitting up the strip,” as I and probably I alone called it, was a weekly (and sometimes more) occurrence. It actually went beyond just the shopping center, as there were plenty of other places on State Road itself I liked to check out regularly. Most of those places are still standing, but the shopping center as seen in this post is looong gone.

A view from the car: a closer look at the deserted shopping center.

A closer look at the deserted shopping center. Also, notice the image in the rear-view mirror. I’m such a pro!

All of the pictures in this post were taken by me on March 24, 2009. In the grand scheme of things, the entire center would be demolished relatively soon after, but technically, everything was still standing until, I believe, August. You’ll notice a bluish tint to all of these shots; like a dope, I didn’t roll down the car window to take the pics. There are two possible explanations for this: 1) it was fairly cold that day, or 2) my brother and I were in his Firebird, an exceptionally cool car, except the passenger-side window liked to go down but not up. In retrospect, I probably could have put up with the cold, but spending half a day trying to get the window to roll up? “Nah brah!”

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

I don’t remember the exact order of every shop in the center, but I do know that these three were the first ones on the strip, provided you were going right-to-left, which I almost always did. The store on the furthest right was a restaurant I never went in, and the one next to it was a discount book shop I also never went in, though I now wish I would have visited both at some point. However, I did go into the VCR & TV Repair shop once. Not only did they do repairs, but they also had old electronics for sale. This was waaay before I had established this whole “buying old used blank videotapes” hobby, but even then, I wanted one of the Betamax recorders that was for sale there. Of course, this was long before I had any kind of regular income, so whatever amount of money I had, it probably wouldn’t have been enough for anything. I do know ths repair shop relocated, and since I now have two fairly-nice-but-not-currently-working Betamax VCRs, maybe it’s time to give them a call.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but this is Goodwill. Those Halloween pictures went up the last season they were there, and stayed up until the end. Or, at least they were up every time I went by. Of all the places in the shopping center, I probably wound up checking out Goodwill most. 30 cent vinyl records, $1.00 videotapes, and ancient clothes no one would be caught dead wearing? Now you’re speaking my language! Actually, while this Goodwill had a good selection, since they’ve relocated this store elsewhere on State Road, I’ve had even better finds.

Notice the forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it happily collect trash or be the surrogate fire hydrant of passing dogs.

Poor forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it collect trash. Never again will it play surrogate fire hydrant to passing dogs. Perhaps there’s a metaphor somewhere in this scene. Or maybe I’m just filling space.

I never went into Accent Ability. Aside from the declaration of furniture on the window, I have no idea what they sold. Google says antiques, and Google has rarely, if ever, lied to me. I’m sure it was a fine store. If they relocated, I’m sure that’s a fine store, too. it’s just that, frankly, there’s not much I can really say about Accent Ability. If they’ve relocated, please patronize them.

Best Cuts was/is kind of like Great Clips, in that both specialize in cutting you hair. However, there's a notable difference in the names of both places.

Best Cuts is not the same as Great Clips. I’m not sure why I have this self-imposed rule to have a caption for every picture, because I clearly don’t always have anything important to say.

Well now! I certainly do remember visiting this Best Cuts more than once! In my younger days, Mom would take my brother and I there for our regular haircuts! A lady that cut our hair in a way acceptable to Mom’s high hair standards worked there. Eventually she left to work at some other “hair place.” While I’m sure we continued to go to this location for a while afterwards, I seem to recall our visits to this particular Best Cuts dropped off substantially following her departure. Mom always took our hair seriously, which was why in grade school, while all the other boys had shaved heads, my hair looked positively Sam Malone-ish. In retrospect, I’m actually pretty grateful for that.

Watch out for pedestrians!

Watch out for pedestrians!

I’m not sure what this is a shot of. I think it’s the start of Save-A-Lot. There’s not much I can say about it, except it looks exceptionally desolate. But, since the whole place is gone now, I might as well use every pic I can. Actually, I kinda like this shot. Very evocative of…something. Maybe?

I take solace in the fact that it's highly doubtful anyone's reading these captions anymore.

I take solace in the fact that it’s highly doubtful anyone’s reading these captions anymore.

This I know was the former location of Save-A-Lot, however. As far as our area goes, I think this was one of their earlier locations. While this store obviously closed, the other two listed on that sign seen in the pic are still around. I was never much of a grocery shopper, but believe it or not, I did go in there from time to time. Y’see, back then, they sold $1 VHS tapes, and while there was a lot of crap that no one in their right mind would buy, they also seemed to get, I don’t know, close-out lots, I guess? What I’m trying to say is that there were occasionally some really good tapes, sealed and new, for the low, low price of a buck! Several episodes of Magnum, P.I. were once released as standalone VHS tapes, and a couple found there way to this Save-A-Lot. You can bet I snapped those up right quick. Other neat finds included an episode of the Back To The Future cartoon series, an episode of Kid ‘N Play’s cartoon, and even some ancient PC games that probably wouldn’t run on any reasonably current computer then and would actually be laughed at by our super-smart PCs now. In other words, really old games (naturally, I bought one).

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin'?

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin’?

Falls Bootlegger was on “the strip” for years, but they’ve since moved practically around the corner and down the street from the former shopping center.

I don’t have a picture of the former-location, but Fishland Pets was also a regular stop for me. I loved the place; very reasonable prices and a really great selection of animals. A big, huge, long-lived cane toad (appropriately named “Beef”) came from there, as did a did a little bullfrog and a firebelly toad. The shop also had a big pool right up front under the window where a turtle named “Big Mama” lived, and once in awhile there would be kittens for sale (practically free, actually: you could get a kitten of your choice with the purchase of any cat-specific item).

America's driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

America’s driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

This now-former Firestone store closed out the first-half of the shopping center. If you think I had little to say about Accent Ability, I have even less to say about Firestone. I mean, it’s Firestone, there are a bunch of them. Really, without any other experience with the place, what can I say? I like cars, but I’m not exactly a “car guy.” However, I’m glad I grabbed this pic, because it makes a nice seque into the 2nd half of the center, where some of my fondest memories lie.

Can't go this way uh-uh no way!

Can’t go this way uh-uh no way!

Unfortunately, the 2nd half was roped off, barring me from any kind of halfway decent picture, unless we wanted to run through the barricade (hint: we didn’t). We’ll have to make do with pics I took from the road…

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Streets Blues? No? I'm the only one? Okay.

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Street Blues? No? I’m the only one? Okay.

As this was taken from the road, I’m reasonably sure this shot is from the roped-off half of the center. Why take it from the road otherwise? If it’s not, pretend it is, okay? Either way, it was in the second half that the old North Gate Bowling Lanes was located. I remember long ago, when I was only a few years old, my Dad taking me there. You had to walk down a flight or two of steps to get to the actual alley, and I recall that at the time there were pink elephants painted on the walls, which I, as a young fella, loved.

Many years later (it had to have been about 2005), my brother and I did our usual run of the center, and decided to check out North Gate. The elephants were gone, but the alley was still there. We didn’t bowl, but we did ask about prices, stopped and played a quick game of Ms. Pac-Man (NEO Video Hunter hot tip: Ms. Pac-Man is always best in bowling alleys. Trust me), and decided to come back when we had more money and time. Well, a little while later, we did just that, except North Gate wasn’t open. There was a paper schedule taped to the door, listing new times that weren’t all that accessible to us. The next time we went by, the place was closed entirely. Of all the places in the shopping center, North Gate is the one I wish I would have spent more time at. I love bowling (even if in reality I’m pretty awful at it) and North Gate seemed like exactly the kind of non-showy hometown place I would have wanted to hang out at. I’ll always regret not being able to bowl at least one game there or taking some pictures of the place before it closed. At least we stopped in there that one time for one last look, even if we didn’t realize it was a last look.

Also, I wonder what happened to that Ms. Pac-Man machine?

This is the end, my State Road friend...

Despite the assurances of the sign, I highly doubt the key stand was, at that moment, “open.”

We’re just about done with our run-through of the State Road shopping center. Even more memories of the final few stores. Near the end of the strip, there was a D&K discount store. My Mom used to take my brother and I there, and I remember in the summer of either 1997 or 1998 (maybe even both) us going in there. D&K had a bunch of closeout items at bargain basement prices. Lots of cheaply made toys and VHS tapes of public domain cartoons that were manufactured in who-knows-where were the things that interested me most then. I remember getting little pocket books of classic novels, very abridged (well, I guess, actually rewritten) and with lots of pictures. I’m not exactly sure why I wanted these books, but I believe I had War Of The Worlds and Moby Dick. I have no idea if they still reside somewhere in my basement or were long ago thrown out.

Also in that second half of the shopping center were two of the longest-lasted stores in the entire place: KB Toys and Dollar General. We’d stop into Dollar General every once in awhile (they have since relocated further down on State Road), but KB Toys was where we spent more time. In the late-90’s, my brother was a Pokemon addict, and that’s where they held these Pokemon “Clubs,” which was basically where people could trade cards, play each other, and if I recall correctly, some official ‘trainer’ would give out badges and whatnot for some achievement of dubious importance. I never really go into all that, at least not for an extended amount of time, but I did like going with my brother to these meetings, since I could play the latest video games that were on display. This was where I was introduced to Sega Dreamcast, and at the time, Crazy Taxi was just about the funnest thing ever. Later, I wound up buying lots of PS1 games there (though by that point they were becoming increasingly downsized), and when I finally got a PS2, I remember this location was where I got Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, on sale, no less.

Also, lots of neat ‘bargain’ toys would sit in bins outside of the store, and some of them were of relatively impressive vintage (think early-90’s figures and whatnot). I never made much use of this bargain bin, though now I wish I would have bought a toy or two out of it.

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

That pretty much ends our look at the now-gone State Road shopping center, but it doesn’t feel right concluding without a shot or two of Montgomery Ward. This place was closed for years, long before the shopping center was torn down. I do remember Mom taking me into it when I was really little. I seem to recall some downstairs lounge that didn’t really have anything for me to eat, but my memory’s hazy on that.

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all...

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all…

There’s Montgomery Ward, in a shot clearly taken from waaay off in the non-roped part of the shopping center. For those wondering, the cars parked in the bacground are for a bank that’s still there today. There are a few places, such as that bank, Burger King and Arby’s, that are up front towards the street and thus were spared the demolition of the rest of the shopping center.

Before ending this post, I have to mention two places that were looong gone before (probably) any thought of tearing the center down ever arose:

First off, Funsville USA, the arcade that was located in the shopping center. it ended up closing in the early-1990’s, but my Dad took me there a few times. Despite only being 5 or 6 years old, I loved the place. I still distinctly recall playing the arcade version of Super Mario Bros. there. Here’s the thing with Funsville: I can’t remember exactly where it was in the shopping center. I have two ideas: one is the bank I was just talking about. I seem to remember “Funsville USA” being written on the building. But, I also remember a Donkey Kong Jr. ad/marquee/whatever in the window of one of the shops in the actual strip. I’m thinking Funsville was where the bank now is, but I could very well be wrong. If I’m not, then what shop had that DK Jr. ad in the window?

Second, The Galleria. I think that was the name of the place, at least. Also, I’m not positive it was in the shopping center, I could be confusing it with a location in the plaza at Chapel Hill. Either way, it was a big antique/second hand shop, and while I only visited a couple of times, I found some really cool things, including an old print ad for The Marx Bros.’ film The Cocoanuts and a vintage 1950’s TV Guide, both of which I still have.

So, that about wraps this whole thing up. Even though a new shopping center of some sort is scheduled to be built where the old one was, as of right now, it’s just a big empty space. Whether the new place inspires the same kind of fond memories I have of the old one remains to be seen. I’m sure it’ll be fine, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever be as nostalgic for it as I am of the dearly-departed shopping center I just spent 400 paragraphs talking about.

One long last look.

One long last look.

Farewell, State Road shopping center. You are missed.