Letters from Somnolescent

 

Tag: 70s

The 1970s. Caby’s favorite decade.


February 23, 2022

2600 Pac-Man: Was it That Bad?

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VCS Pac-Man's attract screen

I’ve recently been really enjoying RetroAchievements. It’s a site where you can unlock Xbox Live-like achievements for older games, provided you’re using a hacked emulator logged into the site. It’s a novel concept, and it’s a nice excuse to dig back into some of my favorite Atari games and try “mastering” (getting all the achievements in) them.

When I covered Racing the Beam on this blog back in 2020, I mentioned one of the games covered in that book being Atari’s Pac-Man. It’s a great tale of disappointment, one of Atari’s programmers given a mere 4K of ROM to produce the flagship game of the 1981 Christmas season. The results were not pretty, and along with E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, became the poster children of the glut of low-quality games being produced at the time and later symbolized the “game burial” in the Sunnyvale desert where Atari famously dumped their excess stock.

Game reviews of VCS Pac-Man often don’t dissect it any further than “it’s ugly and plays like crap and you already knew that”. But how does it play like crap? What are the little details that make it such a below-average port? Is it playable on its own merits, despite how alien it is to the arcade version? That’s what I’m here to discuss. You might want to wear ear protection.


June 24, 2021

The Absurd Netherworld of Internet Archive Tape Transfers

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A sampling of the Internet Archive's batch of cassette transfers

For a period of time after Sound of Dentage’s release, I was pretty keen on digging through archive.org’s Cassette Audio section to see what strange, forgotten things I can find. It’s ostensibly only non-copyrighted audio, but that’s a crock of shit. The flood of content makes policing it with anything other than automated bots a non-starter. And even then, I think the Internet Archive is too busy with me wgetting Somnolescent’s old sites to run them.

In any event, I found something rather fascinating, and the kind of collection that no one but me would be interested in: over 1,300 amateur-recorded cassette tapes, transferred and stored in lossless. We’re not simply talking releases (though there’s tons in there). We’re not just talking demos (though they’re in there too–everyone from Dave Grohl to Coheed and Cambria to Juicy J). In a lot of cases, we’re talking mixtapes. Often recorded off the radio mixtapes! (And nature sounds. That’s what 90s kids did for their ASMR.)

Now, invariably, a lot of this is probably just noise and ambient stuff, same sorta thing that has always flooded the avant-garde experimental underground scene, same stuff the netlabels put out now, and the same stuff I’m not really interested in. However, the hand-dubbed tapes? Are where, well, strangeness lies. I’ve picked out three amateur ones for us to go through, recorded from various sources by regular people on cheap equipment. Download links are provided for each.

Tags: 70s, music, technology,

August 17, 2020

Vaders and Venetian Blinds: A Review of “Racing the Beam”

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Racing the Beam cover art

I’ve said before that I don’t read a whole lot of books. Not to say I don’t have a few on my radar, it just takes me a while. Same goes for video games; I have plenty to play, but I’m usually too busy off in my own world to try them out. Given that it looks like the US will open back up some time after the heat death of the universe (read: plenty of time to myself), I’ve been trying to rectify that.

Today’s topic is one that combines both these worlds in a really curious way: meet Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost’s Racing the Beam.

Tags: 70s, technology,