Nick at Nite: Preparing Us for Netflix

I know. You’re thinking how is this possible? Netflix is about streaming what you want when you want it. More recently, it’s about new programming. Nick at Nite is about airing old network shows in syndication, and making us feel old for showing The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Full House.

It’s because of one clever little marketing stunt (which Nick was always famous for): Block Party Summer.

Let’s go back —-

Summertime as a kid was the best time. Oh, sure, Christmas was great. But summer had that lasting impact.

Believe it or not, I spent a lot of time outdoors in the summer – swimming, biking, roller-blading, going on adventures with family and friends. But as much time as I spent outside, I spent just as much inside, watching TV. Movies, too. Mostly TV.

Each summer, my brother and I wordlessly developed a schedule of TV viewing. Mornings consisted of Nick Jr., The Price is Right, and Law & Order reruns, with an occasional movie thrown in. Afternoons after swimming would be Stick Stickley in the Afternoon, or another movie. Dinner, when not eating outside, would be Nick game shows or NBC sitcom reruns before the local news. And finally, after a full day of summer activities, we would settle in, hang the beach towels out to dry, and watch Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer.

In July and August, for several years running, Nick at Nite would designate a day of the week with a marathon, 3 hours-ish, of  a specific show. I’ve always loved Nick at Nite’s promos. They were pretty genius. Each summer usually had it’s own jingle, too. Promos would typically have summery themes, like camp or a BBQ. Here are just a few days I remember:

Munster Mondays

Lucy Tuesdays

Bewitched Be-Wednesdays

Jeannie Thursdays

They changed over the years, though Lucy was a near-constant. Fridays were always oddballs – Welcome Back, Kotter, The Wonder Years, etc.

James and I loved these.

And on an Inception-y level, Nick at Nite prepared us for the Netflix binges of today. That’s why it’s not weird to watch 6 episodes in a row of one series — we’ve been doing it our whole lives, thanks to these and other Nick at Nite/TV Land marathons. And check out this promo:

“It’s Nick at Nite’s modern programming miracle! Instead of one ‘Mary,’ you get six in a row — ”

They knew the whole time this would be the future. Thank you, Nick at Nite. Thank you.

Castle of Illusion – The Beginning and the End of My Video Game World

Due to undisclosed medical reasons, I was stuck in the apartment for about two weeks early in March. Luckily, this was an expected situation, so I had time to stock up on low-impact,  boredom-killing activities like puzzles, painting, and… video games. More accurately, video game.

One game to rule them all was available for download on the PS3. And it’s been a blast.

Castle Of Illusion

Castle of Illusions Starring Mickey Mouse for Sega Genesis was my very first video game. The funny thing was, it wasn’t even mine. Aunt Lisa, always up on the latest trends, got one for her kid, who was maybe 2. Realizing the insanity, and seeing how much fun James and I were having, she let us borrow the system, along with the few games she had, one of the being Castle of Illusion. (I think the others were Sonic 1 and Cool Spot – the game starring the red dot from the 7Up logo.)

I’m not sure what it was about that game, but it was wildly addictive. Aunt Lisa would cheer me on as I desperately tried to get Mickey to swing from rope to rope. James developed a habit early on of physically doing what the main character was doing, so he’d jump every time Mickey would jump. And when that giant apple would come rolling down…. wow.

And as the years went by, and we discovered and fell in love with more games (Aladdin. The Lion King. Sonic 3. Tiny Toons. — violence was clearly not our thing), Castle of Illusion never fell out of favor.

As gaming systems developed and advanced over the years, my taste and tolerance for them waned. Except for maybe Guitar Hero and Rockband, I haven’t played a game made in the last two decades. Until now.

At last year’s Comic-Con, James and I wandered into an arcade where they were demoing new games. We where drawn in by the ginormous Sonic installed in front, but when we entered? To our amazement, they were demoing an updated version of Castle of Illusion for the PS3. James and I may or may not have pushed a small child out of the way to be next in line to try this game.

When we got there, it was the level in the dungeon, never one of our favorites, but still. Shockingly, it was nearly identical. Oh, sure the graphics were improved by a billion and the game play added a little bit of complexity. But the music? Identical. The overall structure? Identical. The feeling we got when playing? I-freakin-dentical.

Since I’ve been playing the full version, it’s been amazing. Though I do miss some of the standard 8-bit graphics I grew up with, I appreciate the revamping that stayed true to the original.

Nostalgia for the win.



How Many Oxen Does One Really Need?

With the release of that gorgeous library of MS-DOS games brought to you by the Internet Archive, how could I not jump on writing about that greatest day in Computer Class –   Oregon Trail Day?

Unlike almost every other game in school, I loved computer games, not because I was necessarily good at them, but because they suited my introverted self. Unlike gym class, because gym class was about sports. I didn’t care about sports; I didn’t know any of the rules. My father wasn’t particularly athletic and my mom hated sports after growing up with four competitive brothers, so gym class was utter torture for me. Not because of physical activity required, despite popular belief, but because I had no fucking clue what these games where, even though everybody else seemed to be born with that knowledge. Usually I was so worried about not doing the right thing, I would panic and freeze. It was publicly humiliating. So as I got older, I developed the “Daria Defense:” I just acted like I didn’t care. It was easier to handle than admitting in front of 30 of my peers that I didn’t know how to hold a bat, or throw a football, or catch… anything.

Computer class was a glorious reprieve from classroom anxiety. If I didn’t understand something, I was free to fail and try again without anyone being the wiser. I could take my time studying the screen, experimenting with keys, maybe slyly observing my neighbors and learning from them. Playing Oregon Trail was amazing because I could play it on my own.

Elementary-level computer classes were interesting in the early 90s. When I was very young, the Catholic school I attended had several computers crammed into what looked like a custodial closet with a window. We were two or three to a computer, taking turns with the different typing programs.

When I started public school, the computer room was a bit more established. There was typically a computer for each student. While most classes were full of typing (which I loved and was very good at), occasionally we would play games.

Oregon Trail day was the best day in computer class. When the teacher gave us the go-ahead, the whole room would buzz with excitement. “Are you gonna be a banker?” “Duh. Bankers are rich!” “I’m naming one of my people after you!” “Why do we need so many ox?”

When the energy came down to a dull hum, everyone was deep into the trail. I always liked the rivers, for some reason. Holding my breath, waiting to see if my little wagon would make it across… oh, the drama. Though, I did get a little disheartened when I named my people after my family, and then they died.

I also remember a game similar to Oregon Trail, but more complex and it took place in the Australian Outback. You could look for food, and determine whether fruit was safe or poisonous… but I have no idea what it was called… Outback Trail…? I don’t know.

For me, the funny thing about The Oregon Trail being available now is that… it’s kind of boring. And that’s a rare reaction for me. I usually live in nostalgia. But I guess I just didn’t have that strong of a connection to this specific game. Now, Sega games like Sonic 2, Castle of Illusions, or Aladdin? Those I’ll play for days.

Still, it’s great to have access to The Oregon Trail now, even if I only have a mild emotional attachment. I mean, where else would I have learned about dysentery? Oh, wait! Mrs. Doubtfire! …. Huh.