You are exactly right. We were just amazed to get a home port of an arcade game!
I like that this topic inspired you to make your first post, strangemachine. Bluenote agrees with you too, and I'm sure others do as well.
The disappointment is not revisionist however. For evidence, see can look to the magazines of the time. Here is one of them:
Its a comparison between KC Munchkin (Odyssey 2) and Pac Man (Atari 2600) within a broader comparison of the two consoles.
"Anyone who buys Pac Man because they love the arcade game with the same name may wind up disappointed. Other than retaining the basic game concept, it bears few similarities to the "real" Pac-Man" (It then begins listing all the issues, including dashes instead of dots and the lack of the music, let's pick it up with our hero) "Pac-Man himself doesn't look well. He's a bit square and seems to be lacking in the motor skills one might expect of him. He just doesn't zip around those corners in the maze like you're used to. Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde are shadows of their former selves. They flicker and fade and its really hard to tell when they've changed colors, much less see them at all. At least once per game I lose a life because I think they're still blue. Oh well. There are 8 game variations, only two of which could even challenge novices. The exits on the top and bottom, at times, seem involuntary; on several occasions, as I passed by one, I was sucked in and spat out the other side. When the maze is completed, another one immediately, like in half a second, replaces it. Plus there's no show."
So, opinions aside on what we both think of the game, its demonstrable that some game magazines publicly wrote about their disappointment for the game at the time in 1982. Sondame of the criticism is about the game Atari made (getting sucked into the tunnels, the flicker, the hard to tell if the ghosts are blue, etc) and others about comparing it to the arcade game (Pac doesn't look well, doesn't zip, no show between mazes, not challenging enough, etc). So, lots of reasons to be disappointed, clearly spelled out, in 1982.
Honestly, do any of you older folks (like me) actually remember a time when you couldn't find new and interesting games at your local stores around 1983? I just feel like this whole crash thing has been conflated and exaggerated over the years, and in reality had little bearing on those of us actually playing video games at that time. Sure, lots of companies may have gone under but plenty of new ones popped up to take their place.
As a youth, my experience was very much like yours. I had a console at home, I played and programmed on an Apple IIe in school, and then moved to a C64 around the same time frame of 1983 (with a datasette at first). Since my gaming was transitioning, I did not feel the collapse of the console markets. I probably would not really have distinguished, as the C64 seemed to be as far above the Odyssey 2 as it was above the Pong machines. At the very time the US collapse was happening, I was reading Compute! magazine, and building up a collection of new more interesting games than I ever had before.
I did see the decline of the arcades during that time though. I was looking in a Sega magazine (when they had just retaken marketing ownership of the master system from Tonka) and there was a big ad for a 'family entertainment center'. All lit up, with skee ball front and center, and prominently stating they were not an arcade (it was some Sega owned chain I think). Something fundamental happened to the arcades. I can understand the issues that small capital firms had in a business like that, but it seemed to reach all the way to relatively deep pocketed Sega at the time.
As an adult with access to the internet, there is strong evidence that US gaming at least did retreat on several fronts at that time, but yeah, was it a 'crash' or just a 'lane change'.
Other than typing up your homework and making pie charts (every picture of a computer in the sears catalog seemed to show computers with one of them on the screen) I don't really know what people did with home computers other than play video games before the internet.
Gee Brain, what do you want to do with the computer tonight?
Same thing we do every night, Pinky, try to take over the world.
Yeah, the Commodore 64 for me was a game playing machine, but the *potential* for the family computers was vast. Not potential in what the C64 could really do, but the potential that an acorn has to grow into a mighty oak. Today, the Commodore 64, tomorrow the M-5, the HAL 9000, or Colossus.
I spent a lot of time programming in BASIC, learning about assembly or computers in general ('computer architecture' is too strong a word, we're talking consumer magazines like Compute!). The fun jobs of the future belonged to those that could master the computer. Okay, 1980s computers were the 1950s chemistry sets of their day.
I don't think it was the internet that made computers useful (although it did make them ubiquitous and social), it was actually having useful software. Not the promise of being useful, but actually being useful. In 1983 came VisiCalc, and Lotus 1 2 3 was not far behind. Spreadsheets really are useful, and it was in being useful instead of playing games or even learning programming that the IBM PC and their clones (the first clone wars?) really took off. Systems like the Amiga celebrated graphics and music, but it was the very unsexy boxy IBM PC that won the day with spreadsheets and other types of actually useful software. Sort of the Thomas the Tank Engine morality play of the really useful engine being valued more than anything more fun or flashy or fashionable.
Guess you missed the BBS scene. Most of my friends and I use our computers (an assortment of Apple, Atari, Commodore and TRS-80 machines) and modems to call other home computers so we could:
- send/receive email
- have discussions in forums
- play online games
- download files
Back in 83 was when bought my first modem - a VICModem. I used that with my VIC 20 and started called Compuserve, as the modem came with some free online time. That turned out to be very expensive though, the first bill took up one complete paycheck from my job at KFC. I was also calling local BBSes and decided to write my own to run on my VIC 20. I finished it by the end of the year, but wasn't able to put it online until the start of 84 as I was still using cassettes for storage. I got my first floppy drive for Christmas 83, finished revising the BBS software to work with the floppy, then had to wait for the phone company to install the second line. It's possible I'm off a year and I bought the modem/wrote the BBS in 82 and put it online at the start of 83.
Over time I ported the BBS software to the C= 64 then C= 128. The new BASIC features of the 128 lead me to create MusicTerm, which let you listen to music in real-time, play games with your joystick and other things, still at 300 baud. I wrote up a blog entry about it back in 2006. It includes a video of what a caller would experience.
I remember 83 as stores full of games and arcade cabs in every dept. store, pizza shop and laundry mat in town. But the marketing slowed down and no one seemed to play them at home much and apparently stopped buying them but not because of E.T. and PacMan but the huge plethora of crappy games that no one wanted to risk investing in because there was no way to try them out first. I don't remember any rental stores or demo's setup in stores so how would anyone know which is good? You can only get burned so many times. But I was 7 yrs old so from my perspective I wanted and wanted but mom wouldn't get me one until later when found at a garage sale.
Another confession, when SMS was released, I wanted that more than Nintendo. I thought it was so much cooler looking with cooler sounding titles and graphics. But most stores in my area didn't carry it and am glad I didn't get it for xmas that year.
A friend of mine in school named Chuck had somehow obtained an advanced copy of Pac-Man because his mom worked at a department store or something like that. When he was describing it, he was absolutely disgusted. I don't remember all the details but he was ripping it to shreds. He was especially annoyed by how the dots had been replaced with big dashes. I can still picture us in that classroom having that conversation.
Funny how my memory can be so bad at times, yet when it comes to video games it's crystal clear.
I was certainly disappointed. I actually couldn't believe how bad it was. Most of my friends were disappointed as well.
That doesn't mean we all realized it right away though. I can remember doing my very best to try to love it, to try to cast it as a great experience. I didn't want to admit that it was a bust for me, and I went into a long mode of trying to be positive about it. But my very real disappointment couldn't help but take the center stage eventually.
At some point we were attributing it to the weakness of the machine, but then Mrs. Pac-Man came out, and that kind of elementary school excuse was no longer believable.
In my experience I don't remember anyone being upset about E.T., despite hearing about how everyone seems to be now. Maybe that too came later, but I don't remember it happening. I was genuinely surprised when I realized sometime in the 90s that E.T. had gained a reputation as being not only one of the worst games in history, but the primary catalyst of the game market crash. I still don't really buy it. In any case, however we felt about E.T., I didn't know a single person who was ultimately happy with Pac-Man.