It's..... The happiest blog on earth


Los Angeles geek Andy Baio drove 350 miles for "California Extreme" -- a giant exhibition of classic pinball machines and video games. Andy's a good friend of mine, and I wanted to see the games -- so Saturday I showed up for the show in San Jose...

I was impressed that they had Barrier -- a video game I last played in 1979. Other games I hadn't played in twenty years included Warlords, Tutenkahm, and Scramble. And I made a point of finally setting a high score on the 80s classic Berzerk. ("Chick-en! Come back and fight like a ro-bot!") I was disappointed they didn't have other games I remembered playing way-too-much of in the early 80s -- like Krazy Climber, Burger Time, and Bagman. But Andy swears he spotted a Popeye machine earlier in the afternoon...

Andy and I played another 70s classic called Tennis. (Basically, horizontal Pong with a net.) Searching for a better two-player game, we found the original Missile Command. And then Andy showed me a game I'd never played before called Marble Madness, as well as its unreleased sequel, Marble Madness II. (Roll the marbles off the edge, and they squeal "eYAHHHHHHH!") Even more laughable was The Irritating Maze. It's well-drawn with a large screen, but if you fall off the path, it flashes a seizure-inducing strobe of light while blasting a puff of air into your face!

Some of the games were even stranger. Another unreleased machine involved shooting color-coded marbles to explode an ever-encroaching spiral. And one involved an actual cue ball, which you shot into the darkness under the monitor to trigger an animation of your shot hitting other billiard balls.

But celebrity licensing made things even stranger. The Road-Runner game was entertaining, but the Beavis and Butthead game was just surreal. (When I looked up, they appeared to be attacking a square dancer.) Another video game involved the rock band Journey. And Andy was positively appalled that they'd made a video game with Gallagher. It's one consolation is that instead of shooting wacky things -- like cars or groceries -- you could also shoot Gallagher.

The best game was probably San Francisco Rush -- a racing simulator that shook as you hurtled through futuristic San Francisco streets. The coolest low-tech game was Cosmo Gang. Actual plastic aliens wobbled closer and closer to the energy crates in front of you. Your light gun blasted them back up their tracks - but at the end of the game, they wobbled cheerfully and shouted "Good-bye!"

The first game I played when I got there was the classic Galaga, and it was nice to see pinball machines I'd played in the early 80s, too. (Saturday I played Gorgar once for old time's sake, but skipped Black Knight, Kiss, and Captain Fantastic.) They even had some old pinball machines from the 1950s. ("No wagering. Minors not permitted to play this game.") You know you're looking at an old machine when it says it's five-cents a play -- and the instructions offer "1 replay for each score of 56,000."

But I noticed more people were playing the newer Addams Family pinball machine. (Which I also played quite a bit.) It's considered the most popular pinball machine of all time, with its sound samples from the 1991 movie's actors -- Christopher Lloyd, Raul Julia, and Angelica Houston. (Speaking of which, here's some cool trivia about the Addams Family movie and TV show.)

But a lot of cool pinball machines started using sound samples in the 1980s. I didn't get to Elvira Saturday, but I did play Jokerz. ("Quiet, Fool!" Drawbridge sound effect...) And I also took a few tries at the Gilligan's Island pinball machine. Ultimately I succeeded in summoning "Kona, god of the island," but couldn't make the ramp shot into the volcano....

One more pinball machine deserves a special mention -- Taxi. I played it alot in the 80s and -- well, let's just say I succeeded in picking up Gorbachev, Marilyn Monroe, Dracula, and Pinbot...but I just couldn't get Santa Claus! There was also a new-fangled machine called Revenge from Mars. It's part of the Pinball 2000 series, and it features an actual 3-D animation of giant martian monsters, which you whack by shooting your pinball at the screen on the back of the machine where they're being displayed.

Unfortunately, the Tron video game wasn't working, and there were some other 80s games that I wish had been there, like Phoenix and Time Pilot. But there was a good representation of the classics -- Centipede, Tempest, Robotron 2084, Donkey Kong (and Donkey Kong Jr.) -- plus more obscure 80s games like Bubbles and Food Fight. I can't articulate the larger signifance of the show, but at times it felt like I was back in touch with my teenaged self. And: It was fun.