Go for the Retro Gold: 7 Olympic Gaming Classics

Go for the Retro Gold: 7 Olympic Gaming Classics

The Tokyo games are in full swing, but let’s celebrate classic Olympics-themed video games of the past.

Every four years, as soon as the summer Olympic games get rolling, I get an irrepressible gaming itch. With the COVID-constrained Olympic Games in Tokyo now on, it’s back. So it’s time, once again, to break out the Olympic retro gaming classics.

My personal Olympics tradition started as a kid (circa 1984) when I played Epyx’s Summer Games competitively with my older brother and his friends. Since then, every four years, I pull out my family’s old Atari 800 and boot up that classic, trying once and for all to finally master pole vaulting. Man, it’s tricky.

Over the years I have played many other classic Olympics-themed sports games, of course, with stop-offs on the IBM PC, Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis, among others. Below, I’ve highlighted seven classic Olympics retrogaming titles that will help you scratch your Olympics gaming itch in a nostalgic way—assuming, of course, you’re anything like me whenever the quadrennial event comes around.

Editors’ Note: This story first published on Aug. 10, 2016.

Microsoft Decathlon (Apple II, 1981)

Publisher: Microsoft
Unlike later Olympics-themed games, Microsoft’s early entry in the genre focused less on pure action and more on the simulation elements (e.g. angle, power, distance, and time) of the 10 track and field sporting events involved—although plenty of key mashing still took place during a typical play session. This title originated on the TRS-80 in 1980 and later received fairly popular ports to the Apple II (in 1981, seen here) and the IBM PC in 1982. I remember playing the IBM PC version in school and laughing as the animated jumper falls flat on his face if you make a misstep.

The Activision Decathlon (Atari 2600, 1983)

Publisher: Activision
As a kid, I regularly participated in epic Activision Decathlon sessions with my brother and his friends, which often left us with blisters in the palms of our hands from wiggling or rotating the joysticks of our Atari 2600 so rapidly and for such a long period of time. Never again until Mario Party would a game wear out so many joysticks. But this title, which included the classic 10 track and field events (100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter race, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin, and 1500-meter race) was brilliant fun.

Summer Games (Commodore 64, 1984)

Publisher: Epyx
There’s something about the quantifiable nature of Olympic results (e.g. 8.5, 7.0, 9.5, etc.) that makes you and your friends want to try and try again to best your previous high scores. Epyx’s classic Summer Games plays off that urge brilliantly as you compete in various events that refreshingly extend beyond track and field, including gymnastics, rowing, diving, and skeet shooting. The game was wildly successful and received many ports to other platforms, with the Commodore 64 version, seen above, the most popular of all. I played it on the Atari 800 and still play it regularly today.

Track & Field II (NES, 1988)

Publisher: Konami
As a sequel to Konami’s earlier game, Track & Field for the NES and arcade, Track & Field II improved upon its predecessor with better graphics and new sporting events, including many (like archery and hammer throw) that had rarely made appearances in games of this genre. Most events required furious, rapid button mashing, which often proved challenging and exhausting unless you came equipped with a turbo controller. This game is the reason why I bought a NES Advantage.

Stadium Events (NES, 1987)

Publisher: Bandai America
Many people in the US know Stadium Events better as "World Class Track Meet," which was the title it shipped under when published by Nintendo for inclusion with the Power Pad (Opens in a new window) exercise mat accessory. After Nintendo licensed the game (and the pad) from Bandai, the original version went out of production and became quite rare, which makes it a frequently coveted holy grail of the NES collecting world. Gaming wise, the title proved very entertaining—especially if you had a friend to stomp rapidly on the Power Pad with. (As we discovered when we were kids, you can cheat if a friend hits the sensors behind you with his fists as you run.

Track Meet (Game Boy, 1991)

Publisher: Interplay
In 1991, Olympic video gaming went portable on Nintendo’s Game Boy in the form of Track Meet, which, as its name suggests, included six traditional track and field events (like pole vault and long jump)—and also weight lifting. In every event, the game pitted players head-to-head verses a cartoon-like nemesis whom the player must beat to advance. Despite somewhat lackluster reviews upon its release, this title still stands as one of the better Olympics-themed portable classics.

Olympic Gold: Barcelona ’92 (Genesis, 1992)

Publisher: U.S. Gold
Perhaps the most popular Olympics game of the 16-bit era, this ’92 Games tie-in garnered positive reviews from critics and fans alike. The title featured seven sporting events (hammer throw, 100m dash, archery, 110m hurdles, pole vault, 200m freestyle swimming, and springboard diving), which presented an entertaining variety that dared to venture outside traditional track and field territory. Like many previous Olympic games, players had to mash buttons rapidly in most events to win—but that didn’t stop me and my neighbor, way back in 1992, from bragging about who had the strongest thumbs.

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The Golden Age of IBM PCs

(Photos Courtesy of IBM)

During a time when Apple actively taunted and brashed its way to the top of the personal computer marketplace, dominant mainframe computer manufacturer IBM decided to dip its big blue toes into the waters of the PC realm with the 1981 IBM Personal Computer.

IBM did not enter into the market lightly. Even the name of its debut machine, Personal Computer, was an aggressive move, as it turned a generic term of art into a trademarked brand name. With massive marketing clout and an ironclad reputation for reliability, IBM’s PC quickly became the de-facto standard to beat.

Over the next decade, the IBM PC platform rose to near-absolute dominance. All the while, IBM itself lost market share to clone makers like Compaq, Dell, and, well, dozens more. During that golden decade, however, Big Blue still managed to release several groundbreaking machines that often set the tone for the PC market to follow.

In the slides ahead, we’ll take a broad look at that classic era of IBM PCs, touching on the major desktop models (and one luggable model) of the time. Once you’re done reading, I’d love to hear about your first personal experiences with IBM machines in the comments.

Editors’ Note: This story was originally published on March 3, 2016.

IBM Personal Computer (1981)

CPU: 4.77MHz Intel 8088
RAM: 16K-256K (640K with expansion card)
Price: $1,565-$4,500 (about $4,700-$13,450 today)

IBM intended its PC to compete with everything from the upper-end of the home market (where the Apple II ruled) to the small business PC realm. To that end, it allowed maximum flexibility: its base model contained only 16K of RAM and no disk drives (users could run BASIC from ROM and save to a cassette tape drive). Maxed out, it could utilize a whopping 640K of RAM, two double-sided, double-density disk drives (360K storage each!), and color CGA graphics. That configuration would cost you as much as a new car at the time. Still, this flexible machine became the forefather of all x86 PCs today.

IBM Personal Computer XT (1983)

CPU: 4.77MHz Intel 8088
RAM: 128K-640K
Price: $7,545 for 10 MB HD, disk drive, CGA (about $22,551 today)

IBM aimed its pricey-but-capable PC follow-up, the PC XT (5160), mostly at small businesses. Unlike the original PC, it included a 10MB hard disk and a 5.25-inch double-density disk drive as standard features, which explains its high price. It also upped the five ISA expansion slots of the original PC to eight and eliminated the cassette drive port. Around this time, other firms began producing IBM PC clones in earnest, often copying the XT architecture.

IBM Portable Personal Computer (1984)

CPU: 4.77MHz Intel 8088
RAM: 256K – 640K
Price: $4,225 (about $11,155 today)

The Portable PC (5155) packed a desktop-sized IBM PC motherboard (albeit with eight instead of five ISA slots) into a large suitcase-sized package that also incorporated a full-sized keyboard, a 9-inch amber display, and two 5.25-inch floppy drives. The entire assembly, which could be carried with a built-in metal handle, weighed about 30 pounds. Despite being labeled "portable," the 5155 still needed a wall outlet for power. But it did pack a lot of capability into a small space for the time.

IBM PCjr (1984)

CPU: 4.77MHz Intel 8088
RAM: 64K – 512K
Price: $1,269 for 128K and floppy drive, no monitor (about $3,792 today)

In its quest to win over the lower-cost home PC market, IBM produced an awkward, hamstrung machine in the PCjr that suffered from an uncomfortable keyboard, a strange sidecar expansion method, limited IBM PC compatibility, nonstandard I/O ports, and other oddities (it’s the only IBM PC with a cartridge port). At the same time, the PCjr did include expanded graphical (color-wise) and sound capabilities over the original PC that lent themselves to better gaming experiences. Ultimately, the machine flopped, but not before inspiring a much more successful rival: The Tandy 1000.

IBM Personal Computer AT (1984)

CPU: 6 or 8MHz Intel 80286
RAM: 256K – 16MB
Price: $4,000 – $6,700 (about $11,955 to $20,000 today)

The IBM PC/AT (5170) represented the first architectural upgrade to the IBM PC platform, introducing Intel’s new 80286 CPU, allowing for vastly more RAM, a new keyboard standard, a 1.2MB high-density floppy drive, larger hard disks, a ROM BIOS, and more. Like the PC and XT before it, it inspired a large industry of copycats that kept much less expensive AT compatible machines on the market for many years—even after IBM had stopped selling them.

IBM Personal System/2 Series (1987)

CPU: At launch, Intel 8MHz 8086, 10MHz 80286, 16 or 20MHz 80386
RAM: 640K – 16 MB (depending on model)
Price: $2,295 – $10,995 (about $6,859 to $32,863 today)

After the success of the PC/AT, the clone market began to grow rapidly out of IBM’s control. To reassert its leadership, IBM released the PS/2 series of machines in 1987. It consisted originally of five models (30, 50, 60, and two 80s) that ranged from an 8086 machine (the Model 30) up to a whopping 20MHz workstation-class 80386 beast (the 80-111). Among other innovations, the PS/2 line introduced 3.5-inch floppy drives into the IBM pantheon, PS/2 keyboard and mice ports, VGA graphics, and the poorly received Micro Channel bus architecture. These drastic changes were out of step with the burgeoning clone market, and while a modest success, the PS/2 line further eroded IBM’s control of the platform it had created.

IBM PS/1 Series (1990)

CPU: 10MHz Intel 80286 (Model 2011)
RAM: 512K – 1MB (Model 2011)
Price: $999 – $1,999 (about $2,985 to $5,975 today)

At the time of its release, the IBM PS/1 was widely seen as a replacement for the poorly received IBM PCjr in the consumer PC marketplace. IBM aimed the series—especially the first model, the 2011—at first-time home computer users. Accordingly, that machine shipped with PC-DOS and a handy mouse-based GUI in ROM that started instantly at boot and was available in a wide array of relatively low-cost configurations. The PS/1 line also completely ditched the Micro Channel bus of the PS/2. Later configurations upped the specs and remained fairly successful.

For home users, IBM replaced the PS/1 series with the Aptiva line in 1994. Aptiva completely melted into the background of the PC clone industry (at a time when rivals like Dell and Compaq ruled), capping a decade of groundbreaking PC machines from IBM.

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