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May 2014 Retro Gaming Article


May 23, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Despite huge films & games, the Terminator franchise's glory is the Portfolio & Summer Glau

The first Terminator film enthralled me. From Arnie stalking every instance of Sarah Connor to the foreshadowing of what Skynet would bring - I was hooked. I wasn't alone. From that film a wealth of tie-in merchandise came out further luring me into it's mythology of time travel and exotic weaponry.

Arcades, dirt bikes, the Atari Portfolio and Summer Glau When T2 arrived in theaters I realized how awesome it would have been to show up at the arcade on a dirt bike! When young John Connor hacked the ATM with an Atari Portfolio, I knew that was a more realistic possibility for me. My parents knew better than to get me a dirt bike, but I did eventually get a Portfolio!

Atari Portfolio Released in 1989, the Atari Portfolio was the first palm-top computer on the market. It was PC compatible (relative to it's era) with some MS-DOS 2 compatibility as well. Running on three AA batteries (or AC adapter), It had 128 kB of RAM and 256 kB of ROM - containing it's OS and built-in applications. The LCD screen is monochrome (no backlight) and has a 240 x 64 pixels display area.

An expansion port provided options for adding parallel, serial, modem or MIDI expansion modules. There is also an expansion port for removable BeeCard memory. Obviously this predates any of today's removable card storage mediums, but it also predated the PC card format that was popular shortly after the Portfolio's release.
Summr Glau bot - Sarah Connor Chronicles
I'm aware that Summer Glau was a mere toddler when Arnie first hunted Linda Hamilton in '84, but she was such an awesome terminator in the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series! I've wondered if Kristanna Loken's killer-robot role in T3 prompted the Fox exes to seek a slim 'n sexy bot for the TV series.

The beauty of the Terminator franchise is it's pace. Not only it's on-screen action, but on the other end of the excitement-scale is the slow pace at which the films were released. Today's sequels are cast before the original even opens in theaters. This gives movie patrons the feeling that concepts are rushed to market while they're "hot" in the public's view. Not so with Terminator. There were nearly decade-long stretches between films. I can binge-watch the 3 films and it all flows to where I forget they didn't all hit the big screen in the 80s - only the original did that!

Terminator film release dates The Sarrah Connor Chronicles broadcast dates I'm sure there were some anomalies and legal issues spanning the time between Terminator releases, but there are so few successul franchises, in film, where we see such large voids between release. The same is true with video game franchises. Each sequel comes out quite quickly. There are some on going franchises where we expect a yearly release at the very least.

These two - movies and video games - came together with the Terminator franchise. Where we see years and years between film releases. The franchise was aided by other media filling the void and keeping the concept fresh in fans' minds. Video games were a big part of keeping the Terminator, Cyberdyne systems and Skynet alive and kicking. Comics played another role. When we look at Terminator across multiple media outlets, we see a more steady stream of fulfilling content - not just sparse film releases.

T2 arcade game and Summer Glau T2 arcade game and Summer Glau
Terminator Salvation arcade game and Summer Glau Terminator Salvation arcade game and Summer Glau

Midway's T2 Judgement Day arcade game

Released October 31, 1991.
Arnie was a no-nonsense kind of guy with low tolerances - the T2 arcade cabinet is much the same. It's coin door has a vibration sensitive tilt switch that will shut you down if you get physical with the coin mech area. Operators had full reign over the options from custom pricing (even free-play) to difficulty levels, energy levels, and number of bombs. The attract mode and the ability continue after loosing all lives was configurable.

The multi-player arcade game was developed in tandem with the movie and uses actual film footage and audio to bind the game experience to the experience delivered by the film. This allowed Midway to mix realistic character images/FMV with the shooter-element where the fixed or removable weapons can interact with on-screen enemies.

Terminator Video Games

Namco's Terminator Salvation arcade game

Released April 2010.
Up until a few months ago, my local movie theater had a 42" (fixed gun) Terminator Salvation arcade game in their game room. On a side note: they've also repaired their Cosmodog Bowling game. They usually have just enough functional games to kill 15 minutes of waiting for your movie to begin. It's not worth the trip unless you're seeing a movie, but it's nice to find a few games on-site.

The Terminator Salvation arcade game was available in four formats: a 42" deluxe cabinet, 32" fixed gun cabinet, 42" fixed gun cabinet, and Super Deluxe 100" projected screen cabinet. With any game using IR sensors, in this case to track the guns, they are often susceptible to nearby neon lighting which can make the guns trac poorly or erratically.

Operators had an options menu to hone in on the right mix of challenge and fun to keep the tokens dropping. From skill level and minimum game length, operators could also control training modes and the amount of violence shown in-game. Free-play as well as coin values & start cost could be programmed to maximize returns.

As much as I love playing arcade games, I'm equally fascinated by what goes on behind all the elaborate facades in the inner workings of their PCBs and CPUs. As technology marches forward, it's amazing to see the changes that appear. Realistic sound was once delivered via an 8-track tape player triggered by the PCB. These days audio and full motion video is achieved digitally, sometimes delivered via hard drives. A lot goes on inside those cabinets once you drop a token... or bill. Cameron Phillips

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