How to Find the Video Games of Your Youth
Video games hit their 60th birthday in October, if you start counting (as many do) with “Tennis for Two,” a rudimentary Pong ancestor cobbled together by physicist William Higinbotham at Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Games have evolved a lot since then, of course, becoming far more complicated and visual, as well as multiplayer.Posted — Updated
Video games hit their 60th birthday in October, if you start counting (as many do) with “Tennis for Two,” a rudimentary Pong ancestor cobbled together by physicist William Higinbotham at Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Games have evolved a lot since then, of course, becoming far more complicated and visual, as well as multiplayer.
Yet sometimes you just want to play an old favorite. Why seek out an ancient game with rudimentary graphics and only basic actions? For some, it’s pure nostalgia, like reading a beloved picture book again. For others, old games are a way to share a link to their childhood with a child of their own.
Video game companies have caught on to the urge. Nintendo sells throwback consoles preloaded with its vintage games, as do Atari, Sony and others.
But if you don’t want to invest in new hardware, here are ways to relive your gaming past and see if you still have the moves.
Many developers have moved the original game code to app stores for tablets and smartphones. For example, you can play Sega’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” on an Android or iOS device, although you may have to shell out a few bucks to play ad-free or advance to higher levels.
In addition, some game companies with extensive archives have versions of old games that run on their latest hardware. “Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden” and “Omega Fighter,” for example, are on sale for less than $10 on the Nintendo Switch, the company’s hybrid handheld-console system.
Gamers used to more sophisticated play and richer graphics can also find favorite old role-playing games, first-person shooters and other fare on dedicated online gaming platforms like Steam and GOG Galaxy.
Steam has a larger library (and, for $20, access to the Atari Vault of 100 golden-age classics). But both platforms offer games that can be played on Windows and Mac computers. Not all games work on every desktop system and prices vary, but you can find 1990s favorites like “Baldur’s Gate” for $20, “Star Wars: X-Wing” for $10 or 2003’s “EVE” Online for free.
If you have a day to spare, point your computer’s browser to Archive.org, home of the Internet Archive. Click the Software icon for thousands of old games, many of which have been adapted to play right in the browser with a keyboard or a gamepad.
The responsiveness can be balky and some games lack sound, but the graphics are sure to reboot memories. Read the game page’s comments for tips (like hitting the tab key to remap the controls) or glance through online instructions posted by enthusiasts.
Highlights include The Internet Arcade (showcasing coin-operated classics like Defender and Q*bert) and the Console Living Room, with more than 6,300 games from several home systems — like the Atari 2600, Colecovision, the Sega Master System and the original Sony PlayStation. Libraries of Apple II and MS-DOS games have also been retrofitted for browser play.
If you’re the type who never throws old discs away, even if you don’t have a computer to play them on, you still might be able to play.
If you still have a Windows machine with a disc drive, installing and running the games in Compatibility Mode sometimes works. Using emulation software is an alternative.
There is a variety of emulation software, like the open-source DOSBox program for Windows, Mac and Linux, a popular option for getting old DOS games to run on modern hardware. DOSBox also works with many games downloaded from GOG.com.
But be careful. The web is full of “old games” sites offering downloads, and some are dodgy malware traps. The DOS Games Archives promises clean shareware, freeware and public-domain software. And tech-savvy Raspberry Pi owners can turn that $35 computer into a retro game console, limiting the reach of any PC malware. (The Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, has a detailed guide on turning the Pi into a game console.)
“Fortnite” and “Minecraft” may dominate the game world today, but for sheer persistence and a huge dose of 1980s nostalgia, you can still find the iconic arcade wonder Pac-Man on just about every hardware platform around.
The munching yellow head with the distinctive waka-waka-waka sound even got a fully playable Google Doodle in 2010 on its 30th anniversary. Amazon’s Alexa speaker now has a “choose your own adventure” audio version called Pac-Man Stories — proving, perhaps, that the classics find a new audience in every generation.
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