I was out this past long weekend with my kid, taking a little day trip to Greensboro, NC, home of the first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement, birthplace of an alleged embezzler who wrote about selling hair and watches, and this retro video game store that Otto and I like to visit. While we were in the neighborhood around there, my eye was tackled by the dazzling sight you see above: a terra-cotta-colored Mercedes-Benz S123 wagon, probably from, oh, 1983 or so. They made a few series of these cars from 1975 to 1986, and it’s pretty tricky to tell what year is what, so I’m just sort of guessing.
The whole scene I saw this car in was just so good, I had to pull over to take the picture. It was there, parked, on someone’s gravel driveway, surrounded by the lush, Dagobah-like greenery of this absurdly lush, alive state. It’d just been raining a lot, so everything was sort of sodden and dappled with the little lenses of raindroplets, and the diffuse light of the post-rain sun gave all the colors a sort of saturated feel, so what I was looking at was this biological riot of green, a chlorophyll explosion with this beautiful contrasting orange wonder at its center.
I didn’t exactly trespass onto the person’s property, but I probably came pretty close, and I regret nothing. Whoever owns this car clearly adores it, as it’s in immaculate condition and has been treated to a European front plate, even though this is clearly a US-spec model.
I think the W123 is at its best in wagon form, too – it’d be called S123 as a wagon. It was always a very upright, almost dowdy design, but so beautifully detailed and dignified I can’t help but love it. Even the US-spec sealed beam lights look great, with the smaller inset pair of driving/foglamps, and that big grille, flanked by the ribbed plastic that surrounds the lights. The car feels tailored, classy and understated, and in that color, man, it just works.
Plus, those hubcaps! I love the body-colored hubcaps. I miss those. There should be more of those.
Oh, and at the retro game store I did manage to find a pretty rare Atari 2600 cartridge: Tapper. You can see the 2600 version here, along with most of the other major computer and console conversions here:
This is a very rare cartridge, but what I respect about it is how hard it pushes the crude old 2600 well beyond its limits; take a look at a screen from the arcade version and the 2600 version:
Arcade is on the left, Atari 2600 on right. Now, sure, the 2600 seems crude, but when you think about what the system was designed to do – pong games and basic tank games – this is absolutely remarkable. Look how they managed to make those long wooden tables look dimensional, and cast a shadow! Your barkeep is pretty detailed and multi-colored, and the customers, while monochrome, at least are all there, as are the beer kegs and stands and glasses. Incredibly, this 8K cartridge manages to have all four different levels and the Mountain Dew-branded bonus levels. It’s incredible they crammed all this in there!
The 2600 could only draw the following on any given scanline: two eight bit sprites, a background made of four-pixel-wide “dots” that looked like hyphens and could only fill half the screen, with the other half being a mirror or duplicate, a background color, and a single-bit ball, and two single-bit “missiles.” That’s it! So, to do anything complex, programmers had to be wildly clever and use all sorts of tricks: changing colors from scanline to scanline, doubling or tripling sprites, flickering between sprites, and so much more.
Look at how the bonus stage had to be drawn, with visual coding shown via the Stella emulator:
So, to make the scene on the left here, all kinds of tricks had to be employed: the red and yellow are the two player sprites, changed and re-used from horizontal scanline to scanline (the 2600 has only one horizontal line of video memory, so it needs to be updated every scanline, a pain but allows for tricks like changing the look and color and purpose of the two sprites from line to line). Purple shows playfield hyphen-pixels, background colors are just grayed out, here, but you can see how they’re changed, and blue is the “ball” which is being stretched and changed in color to draw the hat and face of the can-shaking bandit.
It’s so much work!
I can’t find the names of the Sega programmers or artists who worked on this, but, holy crap, were they masters of their strange craft.