Animate 2600: Missile Command

Dec 24, 2012 by

In the midst of the ds106 GIFfest came a flurry of posts from Jim Groom in which he animated some classic Atari 2600 games. His 8-bit Noir was brilliant, comparing Night Driver to the classic black and white film, The Killers. What really got me jonesing pretty bad to create one of my own was his Haunted House GIF. I’m not going to try and pretend that I have the same sort of nostalgia for Atari 2600 games the same way Jim and those a few years older than me do; I was born in 1979, and while my house was filled with bleeps and bloops in the 80s, I played most of the classic Atari games a few years after many of the era experienced these classics during their “first runs”. Still, I’d like to think my memories of these 8-bit wonders aren’t any less significant.

missile-command

Missile Command is probably one of the fondest memories of gaming from my formative years. I’ve played it in most of its incarnations, from the Atari 2600 and Macintosh, to the re-imagined versions on the Nintendo Gameboy and even the iOS platform. What makes this game such a memorable piece of my gaming history is the opportunity it gave me to garner a class period free from work and lab write ups in Chemistry. Mr. L had an aging Mac in the corner of his room that had a few graphing applications and some video games, one of which was Missile Command. Having endeared myself to him earlier in the year by memorizing the theme song to the Road Runner Show, he gave me a turn at Missile Command while I waited for a paper to be graded. Not realizing how practiced I was at the game, he turned back towards his desk, leaving me to spend the next 15 minutes blasting nuclear missiles from the digital sky.

When he finally realized how much time I had wasted (his fault entirely of course), he tried to kick me off the computer. I invoked his unofficial “but I haven’t died yet” rule, which gave him pause. Would he risk losing his status of the coolest science teacher in school by kicking a kid off the computer despite having all my work mostly done, or let me continue to monopolize the machine? His solution was rather brilliant; he taped a piece of paper over the top half of the screen, and grinned at me. “Go ahead and see how well you do now, Rimes”, he challenged me. Thinking he had gotten the better of me, and that I would soon be dead, he called over a few other students to see how long it would take me before I choked. 5 minutes later I was still blasting away, and in a fit of annoyance, Mr. L lowered the paper so only the bottom third of the screen was visible, making it impossibly difficult to catch all of the missiles before they hit. I shifted strategies from the typical “high orbit intercept strikes” to defending just a few cities. I watched a couple go up in nuclear flames, the millions of virtual inhabitants turned into casualties of war, and feverishly watched for missiles coming towards the two cities closest to the central launch pad.

By this time a small gathering of the class was behind me, cheering me on, and eagerly watching both the computer screen and the clock; I had managed to derail any meaning productive work for at least 25 minutes now, and with another 10 minutes of “must defend” mode, I had successfully helped many in the class avoid their work for the better half of the class period. I wish I could say how the class period ended; whether I gave up or the pressure of having all of those eyeballs behind me getting the better of my missile-launching trigger finger. I don’t actually recall how the class period ended, but neither I nor anyone else in the classroom got to play any of the games on Mr. L’s old Mac again. I had destroyed his goodwill, and despite enjoying a day without worrying about whether my lab write up fit the proper grading template, I still had to do the work at home that evening.

I’d like to think that everyone has a story like this to tell about a teacher they’ve had; a time when you had a chance to “escape” the usual routine of the classroom and steal a moment or two to connect. I had a blast in Mr. L’s class, and despite spending a good half an hour goofing off that day, I did really well in in the Honors Chemistry course. That, and for a nerd like myself, it helped give me a little boost to my ego, something a heck of a lot of teenagers can appreciate.

2 Comments

  1. Jim

    I love how you start this post saying I am not going to go all nostalgic and then lay out a brilliant story about a cool science teacher and your own game love Playing Missile Command during school is heavenly, I never really had any computer experience at school at all. It was all about basic programming with Tandy computers that bored me stiff, I only wanted 8-bit came love, which ultimately led me from 2600 to C64. My one really early memory of computers at school was the Apple II in my elementary library, and it seemed so insane to me—just a far out concept as a kid that was far more overhead than my handheld Coleco football game. Now that was technology :)

    Also, brilliant GIF, Missile Command was one of the first 3 games I got on Atari 2600. And the idea of the middle munitions only was an interesting compromise that helped me realize the limits of the 2600 from the very beginning. It was no less intriguing.

    • Like I said, I wasn’t going to try and pretend that I don’t have the same nostalgia, but good enough for me to ramble on about a rather off-task classroom experience for a few paragraphs.

      We had Apple IIs all over our school district, and they rarely got much use, other than Oregon Trail (the pinnacle of educational software to this very day). You might be amused to know that you can purchase both a Commodore 64 and Amiga “all in one PCs” for about $400 (http://www.commodoreusa.net/CUSA_Home.aspx).

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