My maternal grandmother was a cool woman.
She bought me my first computer. She also played video games. She was a terror at “Night Stalker” and “Astrosmash” and “Frog Pond.” I’m not sure why I thought of her today, but I was remembering the games we’d play when I was a kid, possibly as part of that 80’s nostalgia thing, and given that James makes games, it’s never a topic too far from my mind.
Grandma had an Intellivision. (Yes, one of those.) And it’s a little known fact that Intellivision somehow acquired the license for an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game, which my grandmother and I played quite a lot, and which ultimately laid the groundwork for me to convince her that AD&D wasn’t Satanic, ‘cos c’mon! She’d played it! She knew it was fine! (Any minor differences in details between the Intellivision game and a marathon tabletop session were miraculously absent from my rhetoric. Funny, that.)
She kicked ass at that game.
This game was crude. No, crude doesn’t even cover it. This was to things like “Baldur’s Gate” as blue-green algae is to a blue whale. They don’t even belong in the same taxonomy. It made Rogue look like a miracle of graphics. It was like D&D Does Pong. There were eight colors total. You were this little black glop of pixels that shot two pixel arrows at other little glops of pixels, including black rats, red rattlesnakes, blue devils, red dragons, and the awe-inspiring purple winged dragon, which had fully twenty pixels and roared.
As gameplay goes, it was highly straightforward. You started on the left side of the screen and made your way across to the right side, through a series of mountains. Easy mountains were gray and had rats. You went in them to get ammo. Red and blue mountains were slightly harder. You went in those to get axes (to hack through the forest) boats (to hack through the river) and keys (to hack through the gate.) At the very end was a Giant Smoking Nasty Mountain, which held the two winged purple dragons, which guarded halves of a six-pixel crown, a treasure who’s appeal should be obvious to all.
The mountains were little randomly generated two-color dungeons that you worked your way through, listening for the sound effects of monsters in the next room, and shooting at them with arrows. (The rats made this horrible mechanical noise that simply cannot be duplicated in text without the addition of a few new vowels, but if you imagine one of those voice synthesizers belching repeatedly into a microphone, then played back at double speed, that’s sort’ve similiar.) The snakes hissed. The dragons snored. The blue devils didn’t make any noise at all, which made those mountains particularly nerve-wracking.
There was no other method of combat than archery, which of course meant that you had to husband your arrows very carefully if you were going to destroy the two giant snoring dragons. Perhaps assuming that anyone playing this game had the IQ of eel-snot and would not know what numerals represented–“Bob! What be funny marks? Is like straight line, and wiggly line? IS EVIL MAGIC!”–you instead kept track of your ammo by the Clever Hans method, holding down a button and counting ratcheting “Tok!” noises. There was nothing quite as nerve-wracking as pressing that button and getting dead silence.
I was pretty young–seven or eight, I imagine–and I could about get to the last mountain, but Grandma always had to come in and kill the dragons for me. Then we’d cheer and drink hot instant lemonade and talk about what killer dragonslayers we were. As bonding experiences go, it was pretty cool, and laid the foundation for my later love of video games. And since it was that Amiga 500 she bought me that got James interested in computer games himself, years later, (by which point it was positively archaic) in an odd sort of way, it was Grandma fighting tiny crude rats on the Intellivision that laid the foundation for the shape of our adult lives.
Funny how things work out.