The Gonzo Journals
March 9th, 2023
It’s been a few weeks now since I’ve been tapped out to draft the story for an upcoming video game release. By the time I’m finished, the opening, in game cutscenes, and ending will be about the same length as a standard novella. I never went looking for any work like this, yet I find that odd in hindsight. I’ve been a gamer since day one.
Somewhere between my living room couch and my upstairs writing studio, there are a couple of iiRcade multicabs in my home. Each of them currently holds 200+ retro and modern arcade games and can easily hold about 800 more. This week, I decided to play what we kids referred to as “Die Hard before Die Hard was cool”. I’m speaking about the 1983 Taito hit Elevator Action.
According to Wikipedia: Elevator Action is an action platform arcade game. The player assumes the role of Agent 17, codename: “Otto”, a secret agent. Otto enters a 30-story building at roof level and must work his way down to the basement, collecting secret documents whose locations are marked by red doors. Along the way, he must use the building’s elevator and escalator systems to move from floor to floor and avoid or kill the enemy agents trying to stop him. After picking up all the documents, Otto can escape to the basement and drive away in a waiting car to end the level.
I remember walking into my local mall arcade known as Diamond & Gems in 1983. We’re talking about elementary school days for me. The place was dark except for the game screens and some black lights, loud due to all the games and hair metal playing through the speakers and filled with smoke. Yes, you could still smoke in public places in 1983 and everyone seemed to do so like it was a required activity. It’s no wonder me and all my friends smoked cigarettes like freight trains beginning at age 13. I finally stopped smoking cold turkey at age 47. Evil, evil shit. I kind of miss it sometimes, but that’s exactly what the big tobacco companies want.
I always thought Otto was a dumb name for a secret agent. I’d expect him to be more “Russian” or even the villain of the story with a name like that. See? This is what eighties Hollywood wanted us all to think. Also, Stan Lee didn’t help much either. Otto Octavious, anyone? Maybe Otto was the bad guy in Elevator Action, and we were just too young and dumb to know it. There’s a reason why he had to sneak into the building to begin with rather than walking right in the front door. Also, why are there so many people trying to stop him? Yep, totally the bad guy, but a broke ass bad guy.
At the end of each level, Otto jumps into what is clearly a red AMC Pacer. No, it doesn’t even appear to be a refurbished Pacer either. Probably smells like old Marlboro, dust, and cat pee from the neighborhood fluff ball who accidentally got shut in there overnight back in 1979. Wow, that’s specific, isn’t it? I can imagine an AM radio with a non-working cassette deck – probably still containing a Led Zepplin IV cassette which refuses to eject – and only one working speaker. Empty McDonald’s wrappers fill the floorboards beneath the empty seats and a spring sticks up right between the driver’s legs, giving him a nice wake up poke whenever he hits a bump. Holy crap! This is extremely specific!
The thing I remember most about Elevator Action is that you don’t have to shoot your enemies to kill them. No, Elevator Action was the very first game to allow tea bag deaths! That’s right! You can jump into the air, have a little ball to nose contact, and kill your foes without ever firing a shot. Think of all the money Otto saved by doing so! Perhaps he can buy a better car if he nut stabs enough baddies?
The absolute worst part of this game is the horrible, repetitive music. Most games had this same kind of music back in 1983 and that’s why arcades got us hooked on Glam Metal instead. No one was listening to the game music, only the Ibanez riffs. Then, we all got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas a few years later and realized exactly how bad the crap music was. Somehow, they managed to make it more annoying on the NES when compared to the arcade game and our parents made us play the bastard because they shilled out $50 for it. That’s right, junior. You better play that Otto bastard for all he’s worth, crap music, beater car, and stereotypical Rocky & Bullwinkle villains alike. For some reason, all the baddies looked like Boris.
All these years later, I’ve learned to overlook the faults in this game and enjoy it for nostalgia. I’ve managed to tune out the music from having three ex-wives and helping raise three daughters. You guessed it, the music is high pitched and whiney. My ears automatically don’t hear a damn thing!
It really helps my writing process when I go back and revisit some of these old arcade loves. Granted, I spent more in quarters in my youth than I’ll make in royalties for my upcoming release, but it’s never been about the money for me. I just want happiness and recognition for my contributions to pop culture. Who knows? Maybe in forty more years some guy will be writing about his nostalgia toward the game I’m helping to create. I could be so lucky.
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