Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother:

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Indiana Jones and the Broken Joystick

With the 4th and most likely final installment in the Indiana Jones series opening next week, I reminisced about just how popular this series was even before it was a series. Back in ’82, when the Atari 2600 was king of the console games, they released a Raiders of the Lost Ark video game for the system, but not for arcades. Otherwise I’d have been begging my mom to go to The Great Escape on Route 17, next to a Tex-Mex place imaginatively named The Mexican Place. Tacos and videogames are a dangerous mix… but they made me the man I am today.

Instead of whining to her about that, I probably asked for the Raiders game for Christmas or my birthday, I can’t remember which. I still remember when I solved it, after many days of frustration. Back in the ancient days before the internets, we would call each other up for hints. The phone cord would be tangled with our joystick cables on the shaggy rust-colored rug, as we cradled it against our shoulder and tried to talk and play at the same time. Bluetooth headsets? Wireless controllers? Those were as unknown as walkie-talkies in the E.T. movie, or Greedo shooting first. And we liked it.

Who needs a Wii when you can have this?

It was an adventure game, sort of like that even more infamous pixel puzzle Adventure, in which you killed dragons shaped like ampersands in search of a gold dot. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy at least looked like a little guy in a fedora somewhat. You began in the desert, avoiding snakes (why did it have to be snakes) and grabbing your whip. No interlude in the jungle here, it won’t fit on the cartridge.

Alright which is the snake and which is the whip?

Then there was the marketplace, where you could hide in the baskets from the snakes, as you patiently waited for the headpiece to the Staff of Ra to appear. It sort of looked like a God’s Eye you made in catechism or Catholic Youth Group.

The headpiece is the second item in the inventory.

Once you had that, there was a desert full of tse-tse flies that would paralyze you so the Thief could steal all your shit. Then you’d have to get it again. You had a gun and sometimes a grenade, but the Thief was immune, the fucker. You could blow up the snakes, though. The grenade was necessary, so have fun shooting and whipping the snakes instead.

Look at those sneaky thieves with their sneaky hats.

Then you had to go to the Map Room and re-enact the famous scene where the sun burns a spot in the replica of the city, represented by a blinking dot. As stupid as it sounds, I believe we whooped with joy the first time that lone pixel beamed our way.

The scintillating colors of the map room

My favorite part was jumping off the cliff, hopefully with the parachute. If you remembered to deploy it, and then swung over avoiding the branch, you could end up in the treasure room where the Ark resides. Actually it was a lump of dirt you had to dig with a shovel. Oh, God help you if you forgot the shovel. An archaeologist can’t possibly dig it up with his hands! And you only have one parachute. I don’t even think you could walk out and plummet to your shameful death. You had to turn the machine off and start over.

Okay, now click the parachute open and swing under that branch…

I still remember the first time I solved the game, and the surge of endorphins that rushed through me as the famous Indiana Jones theme played… and the opening screen repeated itself. What the FUCK, Atari? At least it gave you a time ranking, judged by how high Indy was on the ladder or whatever that was. But most of the time we just goofed around shooting snakes and trying to get the parachute hooked on the tree branch so he’d fall to his death. I recently learned that you could use both joysticks to make things easier. Motherfucker.

The glory of finishing the game.

Then we’d move on to the Indiana Jones action figures with his whip action. I wish I still had those. It’s rare you get a toy set with a whip, and a guy with a brand on his palm. Next week I’ll be re-watching the trilogy and defending Temple of Doom against naysayers. Watch something like Gunga Din and Lost Horizon, and you’ll enjoy it more.

How to solve the game in 10 minutes.