Arcade Days

Wayne Alan Brenner would walk two miles uphill both ways through a snowbank to get to play 'Reactor' again

You're talking old-school video games? Lemme tell you something, kid. Let me – hold on, I gotta change this colostomy bag. Ah. Never a dull moment with this thing, lemme tell ya, never a dull fuckin' – oh. Right, video games.

Listen, kid. You ever heard of Reactor? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Came out in 1982, from Gottlieb. The company made pinball machines in the old Depression days and the Fifties. Eighties came around, it expanded into video. Maybe you heard of its other big game, little bouncy guy called Q*Bert? That was really popular for a while. But I'm talking about Reactor here, right?

It was developed by this cat named Tim Skelly. You know how I know that? Because Reactor was the first arcade game to credit the developer on the title screen. And Skelly did a thing with this Reactor of his. He made it new. He made it different. It wasn't a shoot-'em-up. It wasn't any of that, whattayacallit, anthropomorphic bullshit where you're piloting a rocket or a tank or riding any fuckin' ostrich. None of that.

You're a particle, see, some little particle in the middle of a nuclear reactor. You're being attacked by enemy particles that keep enlarging and multiplying, and you're all surrounded by these walls. Everywhere you turn, there's a wall that will kill you. Kill walls, they call 'em. And these enemy particles keep trying to slam you into the walls. And you can dodge them, or you can do these energy bursts to slam them into the walls, and you have these decoys you can plant to confuse the particles. But you can't shoot them or any shit like that. It's just you and the particles and the kill walls. And the core.

The core's in the middle, and it's getting bigger all the time, growing in sync with the heavy-ass beat from the cabinet's front-mounted speakers, forcing you and the other particles closer and closer to the kill walls.

That's the first level. That's hard enough. Get to the second level? Same play, but the core turns into a vortex. Yeah, a vortex. Bitch will suck you right in, ba-blam – that's all she wrote, game over.

Speaking of it, Game Over, I hear they got the Atari version at that tournament of theirs. But it's not the same, kid. It's not like it used to be, back in the arcades, in a big dedicated orange cabinet and graphics to die for, back in the day.

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Reactor, Gottlieb, Tim Skelly

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