FGC #091 M*A*S*H

Should that 1 be there?M*A*S*H is an Atari 2600 game that was released in 1983. This makes M*A*S*H literally as old as I am, and I’ve been playing video games almost as long as I’ve had thumbs. If I add this all up in my head, it equates to a simple hypothesis: I’ve beaten games that are practically light years ahead of this ancient cartridge, I should have no problem conquering this primitive game!

Oh, how naïve.

If you really think about it, there’s no reason being a 21st century man (or woman, geez, you’re ruining a great phrase) would grant you particular strengths over an older game of any medium. Chess seems to have originated sometime around the 7th century, and, just because I can “program” an iphone to make a drone do jumping jacks, it doesn’t mean I would be able to destroy the average 1400 year old original chess champion (assuming we’re playing by mutual rules we’re both completely aware of, of course. I don’t want to have to deal with “original rules” that dictate losing a pawn means you have to lick an elephant’s tail or something). Poker got going around 200 years ago, and modern skills and techniques might help a bit against the primitive people of New Orleans (1800’s New Orleans, I’m sure modern NO isn’t anywhere near the hellpit I’ve seen described on The Simpsons), but you’re still losing to a full house even with your fancy future knowledge. In a weird way, games are a great equalizer across cultures: once you know the rules, everybody’s in the same boat.

But video games are different, right? Technology is constantly advancing, and gameplay with it. I look at that primitive Atari 2600 controller, with its singular stick and lone button, and I can’t imagine something even as moderately sophisticated as Battletoads being a glimmer in the imagination of video game producers of the time. I have conquered the eldritch horrors of Bloodborne, and ascended to the godhood granted only to someone that has killed every last creature in that universe. M*A*S*H, an Atari game based on a sitcom based on eternally hanging out on the sidelines of a war, should be nothing to one that has slain a partially invisible terror from beyond imagination.

But sad truth? Video games, like computers, have only gotten easier with time.

Talk to any computer geekanerd over the age of thirty, and you’ll hear amazing tales of the good ol’ days, and how the kids these days don’t know a computer from a hole in the ground. Sure, they’re good with them new fangled ipads, but theys ain’t computers! Where’s the DOS prompt! Where’s the install/uninstall menu? Where’s the bloody options for manually configuring an IP address? That’s right, Little Timmy, you keep catapulting those birds, I’ll be over here with my real computer and my ability to actually change a bootup option. I, mighty child of the 80’s, have the capability of writing code, first honed in the trenches of Logo Writer, and I can make my own damn game of tic tac toe. Can you do that on your Weeeefancy shmancy ipad? Hell no. Just buy the app like a good little sheeple.

Of course, the joke of it is that this has always been the way in the computing world. Before his passing, I had the pleasure of working with a gentleman named Sam Harvey, a former VP of Singer (as in sewing, back when that meant something), and one of the first people in Western business to approach computing from a business perspective back in the days of Eniac and other prehistoric computers that took up entire buildings. Sam was brilliant, and his knowledge of the early days of computing was amazing… but he was also an absolute pain in the ass to work with, not only because he was a generally cantankerous 90 year old man, but also because he would remind me, on a daily basis, that I didn’t know jack about computers because I wouldn’t manually code a word processor by hand every time I wanted to write a letter. To him, I was just as ignorant as his grandkids (maybe great grandkids?) that “only” knew about computers from popping games into their “intendas”.

In a way (as old men tend to be) he was right, because I didn’t know what he knew, and I couldn’t whip up a JPEG viewing program in my spare time like he would. Without exaggeration, he was running a Windows 95 (in the age of XP) machine that was stocked with a host of programs that were all almost entirely of his design. Like, we’re talking he was running his own, completely custom, web browser. I can’t do that. I can’t even begin to think how I would do that, but more importantly, I can’t imagine why I would do that, either. Why reinvent the wheel? Why make your own word processor, image viewer, or web browser when there are already tons of options available, each designed by people who know exactly what they’re doing? This is why I want to say treesthe next generation doesn’t give a damn about coding, or “actually” building a website, or learning even what the control panel is; because, in the end, it’s already prepared for them, a series of defaults hardened through decades of use, and that’s that. You don’t need to spend six months customizing a freshly purchased car, so why would you waste your day making your cell phone some kind of personal project? You’re just going to trade it in in two years, anyway.

Back in the days of the Atari, though, the wheel hadn’t been invented yet. I’m sure there’s some debate over this, but I still feel like what’s “allowed” in a video game only became codified in the age of the Nintendo Seal of Quality, and everything before that was a Wild West where E.T. was not only possible, but probable. There are a host of Atari games that are approximations of what fun might look like, but are still smeared with an opaque layer of insanity that prevents any sort of enjoyment. It’s one thing to look at Custer’s Revenge and wonder what the hell they were thinking, but have you ever seen Bobby Is Going Home? It’s like a platformer, but instead of Shigeru Miyamoto at the helm, it was created by escaped sadist scientists that spent their entire lives researching new and interesting ways to damage the human psyche. It’s not very good.

M*A*S*H, really, isn’t all that bad. You’ve got a simple premise: you’re a helicopter (pilot?), and you have to pick up injured soldiers. Fill your copter with five soldiers, and you have to deliver them back to the field hospital, and then repeat forever. While you’re flying about, there are bullets (missiles? What takes down a helicopter, again?) whizzing along, and if you’re hit, it’s not game over, just a delay Don't touch the sides!before you respawn and get back to rescuing. After about a minute of zooming around rescuing patients, you’re then moved into the operating room, and it’s your job to remove shrapnel from injured soldiers. This, rather amusingly, plays out like a game of Operation, complete with “don’t touch the sides” gameplay. The more dudes you heli-rescued, the more time you have on the operating table, and the more points you can score through shrapnel grabbing. Pretty straightforward all around, and, for something out of the early eighties, actually rather fun.

The only fly in the ointment is that M*A*S*H is a competitive, one-player game. There’s a second helicopter, and it’s not enough to just dodge bullets and rescue vets, no, you have to dodge and rescue better than the other pilot, because, if you don’t, the computer wins. And, sad fact, despite my advanced video game skills, the computer always wins.

I admit that, yes, with practice and effort, I could get good at M*A*S*H, and quash that computer once and for all… but that’s not happening. There are other, better games to be played now that the gaming public is no more suffering beneath the heel of a company that would allow Atari 2600 Karate to exist. So, even in the face of all my experience with dodge rolls, dragon punch motions, and proper JRPG inventory management, the M*A*S*H rival helicopter wins every time.

Welp, only one thing to do now. I have heard suicide is painless.

Note: Gogglebob.com and Goggle Bob do not support the idea of suicide due to losing to a 30 year old game. If you are having suicidal thoughts due to an Atari cartridge, please speak to your priest.

FGC #91 M*A*S*H

  • System: Atari 2600. I would not hold out for a rerelease of this one. Probably the license holding it back. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
  • Number of players: One, as far as I can tell, despite the fact that the game itself basically is two player, just the other player is AI. I suppose they couldn’t figure out how to swing the Operation bits for two humans.
  • M*A*S*H memories: I never watched the show much, but I’ve seen a few episodes since it’s been on a constant loop on some channel or another since the 80’s. My most significant memory of M*A*S*H doesn’t even have anything to do with the show itself, just that I had an old boss back when I was a teenager, who, Ferrets?when he was more lucid, would claim I “looked like a young Alan Alda”. Most of the time, though, it was just “that kid that looks like that guy from M*A*S*H.” Ah, memories.
  • Did you know? Aside from the title, the only… words in this game are “Ferret Face.” I’d like to see that take off as a gaming fad. Maybe that can be the entirety of spoken dialogue in Final Fantasy 7 HD.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Ultimately, like most Atari titles, the game is too limited. Hey, it’s a full week of games I’d never play again. Has that happened before? Is anyone keeping track of these things? I should make a chart…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rampart for the SNES. Batten down the hatches, we’re going to defend a kingdom with Tetris blocks. Please look forward to it!

4 Responses »

  1. Despite the whole “crashing the North American gaming industry” thing, Atari was pretty important if just ‘cuz they were one of the first big names in the console market.

    That said though, pretty much everything released for the system has aged like crap. The E.T. game may have taken most of the official blame for the crash, but really I think people just woke up and realized that all these Atari tapes and other console games at the time just weren’t that good.

    Not to say I haven’t enjoyed any 2600 games, but frankly you’d get a more robust gaming experience out of the odd 90s Flash game (R.I.P. Flash) than out of most of the Atari 2600’s library.

    • Completely accurate, and, really, there’s probably an entire post coming someday about how Atari didn’t just nearly kill the industry with its haphazard video games, but also put an entire generation (like my parents) off the medium because half those games were completely absurd/impenetrable. Super Mario is “weird”, but you can at least PLAY it, not so much with half the Atari library.

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