Late-night infomercial. Boy George and Culture Club. Jennifer Beals-like dancers in ripped sweatshirts. Cue Martha Quinn with a K-Tel Records screen scroll:
Now!!!! On one compact disc!!! All your favorite hits of the ‘70S and ‘80s!!!
Rapid, Rick Dees-esque explanation:
Yes, that’s right, the decades that brought you Reaganomics and Billy Beer, “Saturday Night Fever” and Cabbage Patch dolls are back … on your home computer. Classic video games, once relegated to pizza parlors and surgeon general’s reports, are making millions again in rerelease. So flip a switch, grab a joystick and check out Defender, Centipede, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.
Solicited testimonial by Stephen Ryner Jr., 25, a graduate student in psychology at Indiana University:
“There is an element of nostalgia, of course, but I think there is more than that,” Ryner writes via e-mail about recent Nintendo and Activision compilations of 1975- to 1982-era titles.
“Classic games were labors of love. A lot of thought went into how the game would play, and they are still a lot of fun to play.”
You see, back in 1982, Ryner was a seventh-grader wasting time before junior high by playing Donkey Kong at the corner drugstore. Thirteen years later, Ryner maintains an Internet site dedicated to “classic” video games - an ironic homage to low-tech Space Invaders in high-tech cyberspace.
With Ryner, and the millions of “Brady Bunch” children like him, Pac-Man and Qbert are suddenly popular and profitable again. The 13- and 14-year-olds of 1981 are now married with a duplex, a kid and a discretionary income, says Eric Johnson, vice president for marketing at Activision in Los Angeles.
Activision developed cartridge games for the Atari 2600 before Mary Lou Retton was America’s sweetheart. Now, while Mary Lou is in the “where are they now?” issue of People, Activision is selling CD-ROM collections for home PCs as if Pac-Man Fever never died. The first Action Pack compilation - featuring wrist destroyers such as Pitfall and Kaboom - has sold 100,000 copies since its release in May.
Act Pack II, now in stores, should pass that mark soon, and Act Pack III and a disc of old Commodore 64 games should be out by Christmas. Each CD-ROM has about 12 games and is engineered to emulate the original game, down to the stick figures and corny “blips” and “bleeps.”
Video-game giant Nintendo has caught the scent, too, and has five new-old releases for its Game Boy portables on the market. Each cartridge holds two games, such as Centipede/Milipede, Asteroids/ Missile Command and Defender/ Joust, that were originally developed by the video-game company Namco for the Atari system.
Perrin Kaplan, corporate communications manager for the Redmond, Wash.-based company, says Nintendo’s main demographics are 6-14 and 25-45. The young ones crowd into the arcades, and the older ones like to relive their youth on computer. The ones in between “discover hormones,” she adds.
And it’s not only home games, says Rodney Boyer, a partner at Orange County Pinball in Anaheim, Calif.
Thirty percent of Boyer’s stock is classic arcade titles - hot-selling machines that nonetheless have not gone up in price. Whereas a new Killer Instinct machine may go for about $3,600, Ms. Pac-Man will cost you only $350 to $450.
“These classic games are the hottest thing going for people to buy for their own game room,” he says. “They’re selling out of here as fast as I can get them.”
Getting them is tough, however, says Chris Lindsey, managing director of the National Video Game and Coin-Op Museum in St. Louis (we are not making this up).
The museum, which has about 80 original titles, is on a mission to preserve old slot hogs.
“Because of industry pressure and economics, conversion kits became the rage,” Lindsey says. “With them, parts could get swapped out, new stickers could be put on old machines and the old boards (the chips that ran the old games) got thrown out.”
In its efforts to preserve the machines, the museum has everything from Dig Dug to Dragon’s Lair, Tempest to Tank. It even has Computer Space and Pong.