Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's On My Desk- Super High Score Edition

Sweaty palms, chocolate milk, lazy Saturdays, offers by mail and a Polaroid camera. Today's What's on My Desk again takes a fast train to geektown and presents some badges of honor so rare that most people are unaware of their existence- Activision Atari 2600 high score patches.

Gamers have always tried to achieve the near impossible. The high score on the Frogger arcade game at the pizza shop, beating Super Mario Brothers straight through without warping, or unlocking the full 1000 gamerpoints for Halo 3 on the Xbox have led to countless sleepless nights, numerous skipped classes, and a pile of undone homework that would reach sky high. There was nothing better as a kid than being able to boast of indeed beating Contra, and doing it without the infamous cheat code that all of your loser friends had to use to make it through. Your usual reward for the monumental, the herculean, the sheer impossible of gaming milestones? Usually just bragging rights. However, back in the day so to speak, Activision rewarded Atari players for their achievements with something much more tangible.

In a move which doubtlessly inspired Microsoft's current digital Xbox achievements, Activision offered a mail order reward program for its most hardcore, high scoring players. Each game had an established high score or objective and players meeting the qualifications could take a photo of their TV showing the score, mail it to Activision and receive a truly spectacular corresponding patch for the game (list of games and corresponding hi scores for patches here). Additionally, as below Starmaster patch illustrates, some games had multiple tiers of achievements, each being rewarded suitably.

As you can probably surmise these patches are rare. Most Gamers were unaware of the program and those in the know not only had to actually earn the patch (which for some games was incredibly difficult), but also go through the hassle of photographing and mailing a photo in the days before digital photography. Couple that with the fact that some of the games were fairly obscure even by 1980s standards (You may have heard of Pitfall and River Raiders but how about Dolphin or Plaque Attack?) and it becomes near impossible, and pricey to assemble a complete set.

I can't think of a more suitable or charming reward for a million points in Laser Blast or twenty thousand points in Pitfall. Each patch is a mini artwork standing in testament to a hard fought digital victory that will last through the ages. Or at least until the patch fades.

So with sore thumbs, red eyes, and a heavy dose of nostalgia I sign off from today's What's on My Desk. With a quick salute to Activision and all those high scorers of gaming's golden age I wish our readers as many track records, win streaks, 1ups, and flawless performances as they can muster.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's On My Desk: May the nerd be with you.

What's On My Desk today takes a turn into the wild, the wooly, the nerdy.

While recently going through some old boxes at my parent's house I made a startling and welcome discovery, the likes of which I would place on par to finding Jimmy Hoffa's body in the pantry next to the Oreos. In an innocent, and on first inspection quite mundane, cardboard tube I found the gathered paper ephemera which comprised my ....wait for it.....STAR WARS FANCLUB membership!

That's correct. Let me say it again: Star Wars Fanclub. The most holy brand of nerdom which states "I am not just a Star Wars fan. I feel so strongly about the trilogy that I must, dare I say need, to mail away a self addressed stamped envelope to profess my love."

So what benefits dare you ask does membership entail? An awesome ID card, exclusive offers to fanclub goddies like jackets, tees, etc, and most importantly the bimonthly "Bantha Tracks" newsletter. Additionally it would appear upon initial sign up you recieve a sweeet Empire Strikes Back pencil (which I still have somewhere), an amazing art decoish ESB Darth Vader decal, and a spectacular selection of posters and glossy mini posters.

The mini posters included the usual oft seen variety of "Millenium Falcon fleeing Star Destroyer" and "Yoda staring pensively into the sunset" ilk but additionally had some different, almost thrown together varieties seemingly culled from stills and unused promo shots which were, inevitably, my favorites.

This only scratches the surface of the find. There were numerous other pamphlets, mini posters, and forms all of which I will hopefully photograph and share with our loyal fans post haste. In the meantime enjoy the pics, use the force, and DON'T try to pass my membership ID number off as your own.