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Retro Gaming Hacks by Chris Kohler

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Find the Holy Grails

Collect the hardest of hard-to-find golden age retro games.

It all starts out so cheaply. You buy an old Atari 2600 and a stack of games at a yard sale for a few bucks, or maybe you just dig your old setup out of the attic. Bit by the collecting bug, but still keeping your financial priorities intact, you hunt down bargains and start to build up a relatively inexpensive collection.

But before long you can’t find any games that aren’t already checked off on your master list. You’re starting to pay some eBay prices you swore you’d never plunk down for some old pieces of plastic and silicon. You’re ever so close to completing your collection; you just need a few more games. You’re ready to start paying out the big bucks and find the last few super-rare items you need—the “Holy Grails,” as they say.

Or maybe you’ve just got a whole bunch of crap in the basement and want to know if any of it’s worth the big bucks so you can sell it on eBay to hapless collectors. In either case, you’ll find this hack beneficial. I’ll tell you about some of the rarest classic video game stuff, how it got so rare in the first place, and why collectors prize them.

I’ve heard dumb-luck stories of people getting some of the items in this hack for a quarter. That’s twenty-five American cents. Folks, this isn’t going to happen to you. If you want these goodies, you’ll have to be ready to pay up. The best way to do it is to keep an eye on online auction site http://www.eBay.com. Search the completed auctions for your game of choice to get an idea of how much they usually sell for [Hack #1] .

Also, all of these items had some form of public release; that is to say there are no prototypes listed here. If you were alive when these were produced, you had some chance of getting one.

Golden-Age Grails

When the U.S. video game market crashed in 1983, it crashed under the weight of too much product. There were far more video games, systems, and accessories on the market than consumers wanted, all produced because of what turned out to be an overly optimistic prognostication of the industry’s future.

That is to say that there were actually some excellent video games produced during this time, but when the companies went out of business, only the small quantities that they’d produced up until then ever trickled out to retail. Lots of inventory was destroyed. And some devices were only test-marketed in certain regions before a nationwide launch that never happened.

Chase the Chuckwagon.

And some, like Chase the Chuckwagon for the Atari 2600, weren’t produced in huge quantities to begin with. When Atari video games were all the rage, makers of other consumer products rode the wave with giveaways of special 2600-compatible games that shilled their products. If kids sent in box tops they could get a Kool-Aid Man game, a Tooth Protectors game from Johnson & Johnson, and this: Chase the Chuckwagon, from the then-popular brand of dog food.

Sending in proof-of-purchase labels from the bags would get you an Atari 2600 game, produced especially for the giveaway by publisher Spectravision, in which you, as the dog from the famous Chuck Wagon commercials, chased the titular horse-drawn vehicle. Since it was only given away as a promotional item, it is rare today. Loose cartridges can cost in the $100-$125 range.

Quadrun.

Chase the Chuckwagon was produced by a relatively obscure publisher as a promotional giveaway, while Quadrun was produced by Atari themselves. Which is by far the more valuable title? Contrary to what you might think, it’s Quadrun. Atari only produced 10,000 of them, and distributed them by mail order only to Atari Club members. Why? The web site AtariAge has an amusing story about it (http://www.atariage.com/software_page.html?SoftwareLabelID=381):

According to programmer Steve Woita, the game was play-tested by a group of young girls. Not surprisingly, they did not like the game and found it too difficult, so Atari decided not to heavily distribute the game.

Quadrun sells for upwards of $350 loose. Interestingly enough, another one of Steve Woita’s games—Waterworld for the Virtual Boy—is one of the rarer titles on that system, though not anywhere near $350…

Keyboard Component.

When they released their video game system Intellivision [Hack #35] in 1980, Mattel promised consumers that a keyboard attachment that would turn the Intellivision into a full-fledged home computer was coming soon. This turned out to not exactly be true. In fact, the Keyboard Component was delayed and delayed for years, though Mattel continued to promise that it would be out “soon.”

But, the Keyboard Component did actually make it out. Sort of. It was test-marketed in certain areas of the United States, so it did in fact feature a retail release. It is incredibly rare today, so much so that the Digital Press Collector’s Guide refuses to even put a price on it.

A different add-on was later released for the system, called the ECS Computer Module. This is not easy to find, but should not be mistaken for the Keyboard Component, which is truly a Holy Grail.

3D Imager.

The vector-graphics-based Vectrex video game system [Hack #10] was doomed before it was even released, going almost straight to bargain bins. No small wonder that the 3D Imager, a pair of motorized glasses that let players see games in pseudo-3D, is so difficult to find.

Even worse, a separate disk of colored acetate is required for each of the three games that worked with the accessory (3D Crazy Coaster, 3D Minestorm, and 3D Narrow Escape). Add all that up, and a 3D Imager in complete condition can go for around $500. Another rare Vectrex accessory is the Light Pen, which let users draw on the screen. But it sells for upwards of $100 these days.

Post-NES Grails

The U.S. video game market hasn’t crashed since Nintendo revitalized it in 1985, and Chase the Chuckwagon-style promotions haven’t been too popular (probably due to video game production costs going so high that releasing a game as a promo only would be folly). So how are Grails produced in the post-Nintendo era? Read on to find out…

Stadium Events.

In Japan, as Nintendo’s Famicom game system was taking off, a licensee company called Bandai created an innovative and fun new accessory for the system called the Family Trainer. It was a soft pad that players laid on the ground and jumped around on to make the onscreen characters run and jump. When Nintendo brought the Famicom to America as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Bandai released the pad as the Family Fun Fitness system, bundling it with a game they called Stadium Events.

Nintendo—always looking for ways to assure parents that their products were healthy and nothing like those old Atari games of yore—licensed the pad and game from Bandai, redesigning and releasing it as the Power Pad. Bandai’s versions were taken off the market; both the game and the pad fetch about $100 each today. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s version of Stadium Events, called World Class Track Meet, might be worth about one hundred cents.

Nintendo World Championships 1990.

This cartridge is the true Holy Grail of NES collectors, at least if you’re limiting yourself to officially licensed, Nintendo-produced merchandise. During the heyday of the NES, when Nintendo held “world championships” (which were limited to the United States and maybe Canada, just like the World Series), they produced a special cartridge for the contest.

It was a mix of Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris; players had to complete certain goals in the first two games then play Tetris until time expired. 90 finalists in the contest won their very own competition cartridge to take home. Another 26 of the carts were given away by the magazine Nintendo Power. These 26 were gold-painted (the original 90 were gray), making them the rarest of the rare.

Super Star Fox Weekend.

When the Super Nintendo was king, Nintendo decided to hold another competition. This time, it was on a much grander scale but more accessible to the average gamer who wanted to have a go. Rather than trekking down to the convention centers where the Nintendo World Championships were held, all you had to do was go to your local game store that weekend in 1993.

At participating stores, you could play one level of the new 3D shooter Star Fox. If you got past a certain high score, you’d get a Star Fox T-shirt. If not, you got a consolation prize—in my case, it was an awesome Star Fox “floater” pen that I still think is better than any old T-shirt! After the contest was over, Nintendo sold the cartridges through mail order to Nintendo Power subscribers. A similar cartridge was produced for a Donkey Kong Country competition, and then later sold in the same catalog. Only about 2000 of each exist today, and sell for hundreds of dollars each.

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