Last week I began the first of the ten case studies I’m using in my dissertation. It was not an auspicious beginning.

I decided to start with Tombs & Treasure, a quasi-adventure game released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game was a Japanese port, and the second entry in a franchise, but was heavily modified before it arrived in North America. It was never released in the UK or European markets. Having played through it now, I understand why it didn’t get wider release.

The trouble started when I actually went to purchase an NES. I went to a small, but well-managed local shop, and they tested the system to make sure it wasn’t region locked, as UK games were released on the PAL encoding system and US games were released on the NTSC encoding systems. Everything worked well in the shop. Happy and ready to start my work, I went home…and the system stopped working. It sort of, kind of, a little bit worked, and then it didn’t work at all. I spent hours blowing into cartridges, blowing into the console, jiggling the internal pins, and trying multiple sets of connector cords. It just didn’t work. I was frustrated and not handling it well, so my very kind partner took the system back to the shop, explained everything much more calmly than I would have done, and came home with a second NES.

Which also didn’t work.

In the end, there was a fix for the problem. To make the console work, it has to be turned on its back end and stood up before the cartridge can to be inserted into the slot, after which the cartridge has to be jiggled as it gets pushed in, and then shoved hard to the left once it’s full inside and seated on the connector pins. If all of those steps are followed, and the console is not left to play for more than an hour and a half a time, it works. Deviate a little, and the game is all lines and screaming noises. Play too long, and it overheats, risking melting the console’s 30 year old plastic housing and the game’s internal board.

In reality, I’m lucky this machine, or any of it’s production line siblings, is working at all. I received my first NES in December of 1986, for Christmas. These consoles were manufactured over 30 years ago, and were intended as (relatively) cheap entertainment products for children. They weren’t designed to still be kicking so many years on. In comparison, my original NES stopped working in the mid-90s, due to an upset younger sister and a severed power-supply cable. Obsolescence was planned, though maybe not in the way it happened in my house.

Having managed to get the console working, and the game inserted properly, and the tv inputs and outputs set up correctly, I moved on to actual gameplay. As part of my methodology, I’m playing through each case study game multiple times. This weekend was the ‘no-notes, just play it’ first pass.

Should there be any surprise that the play-through was a disaster?

Meghan with NES
This picture was taken before the combination of issues with 30-year-old technology and a massive sunburn made the weekend less cheery.