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15 Things We Miss About Old-School Gaming

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With last year's release of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, the next generation of video game consoles is already underway. It’s a far cry from the 8-bit escapades that gamers of a certain age grew up on, so let's take a nostalgic glance back at what we miss most about the good old days.

1. Blowing on cartridges

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If something with your spanking-new eighth generation console goes wrong then you’ll probably need a team of NASA trained scientists to fix things for you. That wasn’t the case in the late '80s and early '90s, however, when millions of gamers worldwide grew up thinking that blowing enthusiastically onto the connectors of their cartridge was the cure for all console-based ills. And it worked! Well, kind of. (Lots more on that here.)

2. Cartridge art

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While we’re on the subject of cartridges, let's not forget the artwork that adorned their exteriors. Sure, modern Blu-rays are amazing, but once you’ve taken them out of their box, they’re just uninspired metallic discs. There were no such problems with cartridges, however, which came complete with gorgeously illustrated labels you could still see even when they were slotted into your console.

3. Hint hotlines

Amazingly, people actually got paid to man phone lines offering hints and tips on the latest games. It was a pretty aspirational job too, provided you were a teenage boy with little or no concept of what being a grown-up actually entailed.

4. Entering your initials on the scoreboard

Games Database

Few things in life can replicate the thrill of seeing your initials rise to the top of the scoreboard, even if it’s on your home console where the only person you’ve knocked off of the top perch is your older sibling.

5. Ludicrous accessories

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The entertainment arms race saw Sega and Nintendo release a bewildering array of accessories designed to swallow up the hard-earned allowances of their impressionable audiences. They ranged from the sublime (Sega’s Menacer scope), to the ridiculous (the Mario Paint mouse), to the utterly absurd (NES Power Glove).

6. In-built games

America didn’t take to Sega’s Master System, even when it was reissued with a game—the oddly hallucinogenic Alex Kidd in Miracle World—built directly into the console itself.

7. Zero load time

No menus, no loading bars, no annoying graphic advertising the brand you’ve already handed over hundreds of hard-earned dollars to every time you hit the on button. In fact, after flicking the hefty switch marked ‘power,’ there were no load times whatsoever on classic consoles, which was perfect for those of us who were always trying to squeeze in just one more game before bedtime.

8. Manuals the size of novels

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When it came to playing the games of yesteryear, there were no on-screen hints or in-built tutorials to guide you through the gameplay; some games came complete with manuals that had to be studied before you could even consider inserting the cartridge into your console. Crammed full of maps, diagrams and blank pages where you could scribble your in-game notes, these weighty tomes were a major part of the new game experience, an added layer of anticipation that gamers could peruse while feigning interest in everyone else’s gifts on Christmas morning.

9. Tangled controllers

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There was a certain art to untangling controller connectors, a propensity for which might earmark gamers as potential naval recruits from an early age. Sure, the tangled web of wires could be frustrating, but at least their batteries didn’t run out.

10. Not being able to save your progress

DerSchmu, YouTube

There were no save points and no second chances when it came to completing games of old. Instead, reaching the end credits required skill, commitment, and probably a smattering of Chaos Emeralds for good measure.

11. Gameplay over graphics

Lord Karnage, YouTube

Without the ability to create photorealistic worlds that make everyday life look positively mundane by comparison, developers had to prioritize gameplay over graphics. The result was a slew of side-scrolling masterpieces—eminently enjoyable games that are still being played more than 30 years later.

12. Cheats

From the Konami code to the blood cheat from Mortal Kombat, rapidly pressing buttons in a seemingly random combination was a dark art many early console gamers were keen to master.

13. Glitches

Before Internet connections enabled developers to fix things on the fly, games were inevitably shipped with all manner of weird and wonderful glitches. No one liked getting stuck in a wall in Zelda of course, but nevertheless these became an oddly beloved part of the gaming experience. They even began to become legitimate game features, as was the case in the Mortal Kombat franchise where a kaleidoscopic array of new characters became a part of subsequent installments after starting life as graphical glitches.

14. End of level bosses

Sure they were tough, but final bosses were a rite of passage for many gamers, particularly at a time when a propensity for besting the likes of Dr Robotnik and M.Bison could elevate your social status quicker than a hand-me-down biker jacket ever could.

15. The word "joystick"

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Aptly named, the joystick was the carpal tunnel-inducing controller through which many a gamer experienced adolescence. The world is a darker place without them.

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Zomething Different: The Rise, Fall, and Recent Comeback of Zima
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Two guys walk into a bar. They order beers. Bartender says they don’t have any beer. The men look confused. A stranger in a stylish hat suggests they try something different. They order a clear malt beverage. It’s on ice, clear, delicious. The men are happy.

The entire ad spot lasts 30 seconds, or roughly the same amount of time Zima could claim to be among the most popular adult beverages in the country.

In 1991, with beer sales on the decline across the industry, the Coors company of Golden, Colorado decided to blend two of the hottest trends in consumer marketing: “clear” products like Crystal Pepsi and the smooth, gently-intoxicating appeal of wine coolers. By using charcoal to filter the color and taste from their brews, they were able to deliver a vaguely citrus-tasting drink with 4.7 percent alcohol content. The company asked third-party marketing firm Lexicon Branding to give it a name; Jane Espenson, who would later become a staff writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Game of Thrones, dubbed it Zima, the Russian word for "winter."

Armed with a $180 million budget for the 1994 launch, Coors peppered television with commercials featuring a spokesman who exchanged his s's for z's. (“What’s your zign?”) They also pushed a slew of merchandising and even an early consumer-use product website.

The goal was to get Zima on the minds and into the hands of young males. Owing to the blanket advertising assault, that's exactly what they accomplished. Zima sold a staggering 1.3 million barrels’ worth of product in 1994, giving it a near-instant 1 percent market share in the booze industry. It was estimated that 70 percent of all drinkers tried the “malternative."

As Coors would soon learn, those numbers only work in your favor if people like the product. The company was disappointed to learn that many of them didn’t: Men found the taste off-putting. And those who enjoyed it were precisely the demographic they were looking to avoid.

Women who normally passed over beer embraced Zima, giving it an effete quality that marketing considered to be grim death for the valued male customer base. If a man couldn’t feel manly taking a pull of the clear stuff, he'd be likely to reach for something else.

On the public relations side, Coors was also having to defend itself against charges that teenagers were growing fond of Zima because its smell was harder to detect than regular beer (it had almost no odor) and was easier to consume out in the open. A rumor surfaced that Zima wouldn’t set off a breathalyzer, which Coors was forced to debunk in letters addressed to police chiefs and school officials.

Raelene Gutlerrez via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, being in the beer business and having to write letters to superintendents means that something has already gone very wrong. By 1995, Zima's sales dropped by half; in 1996, they dropped nearly in half again. David Letterman began mocking it on his talk show. Coors tried to entice the hip crowd, launching Zima Gold, which had a more liquor-like taste, but they weren’t fooled. Zima XXX and its higher-volume alcohol content (5.9 percent) followed, all to diminishing returns.

Nothing could recapture that early intrigue: Citing poor sales, Coors, which eventually merged with Miller to become MillerCoors, discontinued Zima in 2008—but that wasn't quite the end.

In 2014, The Japan Times reported that Zima was a popular order in Tokyo bars. The drink’s advertising campaign was focused on appearing cool to young Japanese men, who apparently order it without fear of coming off like a party lightweight. And in summer 2017, MillerCoors banked on nostalgia to fuel a Zima comeback: The brewer has resurrected the suds-free beverage for a limited time through Labor Day.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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