Friday, October 2, 2009

Proper Hardcore Circa 1983

In the early days, all videogames were more-or-less aimed at a casual audience, and there were no dual thumbsticks or multiple fire buttons.  Still, the hardcore were clearly distinguishable from their less-devoted brethren, in part by the gear they used.  Questar (a division of Quest Industries) was selling just the thing in this 1983 magazine ad:

(Historical caveat: at the time, the term "hardcore" was used exclusively in contrast to "softcore," and had nothing whatsoever to do with videogames.  But we would recognize these serious players as our own.)

Questar's ad promotes a rapid-fire module -- supported only by games that could actually manage rapid fire, of course.  Atari 2600 games often only allowed one or two shots onscreen at a time, preventing the next shot or cancelling the oldest one, depending on the programming.  Marginally useful, and to the hardcore gamer, this just seems like a cheat.

Questar also offered heavy-duty arcade-style joystick and fire button units, compatible with any game that worked with the standard Atari controller.  Lots of people might buy such a device, or receive one as a gift from parents tired of replacing the standard-issue plastic equipment; ownership didn't necessarily qualify one for the ranks of the hardcore.

But take a look at that comely little box in the center.  Those are five real arcade-quality buttons right there.  The ad says "Use with any game instead of a joystick," but coin-op fans know exactly what this little minx is meant for.  She was born to play Asteroids.  Those five buttons are for turning left, turning right, firing, thrusting, and hitting hyperspace.  (They're also generically usable for moving left, moving right, shooting or jumping, moving up,  and moving down, of course, but that's just crazy talk.)

Dropping $34.95 plus $2.50 shipping -- more than the cost of the Atari 2600 Asteroids cartridge itself -- to buy a dedicated controller that was only good for playing that single game, just as it was played in the arcade?

That's Mary Poppins and Marilyn Chambers all rolled into one.

Proper hardcore.

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