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SCRAM – How I Spent my Childhood in Fukashima February 18, 2012

Posted by sandyclaus in Uncategorized.

I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was 12 or so, I  spent a  lot of time listening to warning Klaxons after earthquakes damaged the light-water reactor in my basement.  When Fukushima failed so spectacularly last year, I had an eerie atomic sense of Deja-Vu. I had played this scenario out in the game SCRAM, noisily and painstakingly loaded onto my Atari 400 via cassette tape.

Apparently I’m not the only one. I just came across this great blog post over at Electron Dance that discusses the game. You can read a description of the game here at the New Gamer.

As a Kid I enjoyed that reactor simulation a lot. Growing up near Oak Ridge, I was very much of the opinion that Nuclear = GOOD and a childhood spent playing in the halls of the American Museum of Science and Energy had me convinced there were no downsides to nuclear power. I can even remember thinking the “earthquake-cripples-reactor” scenario was just a gameplay gimmick to give you something to do in what was otherwise a simple simulation.

The game was the brainchild of physicist and game developer Chris Crawford, and I devoured most of what he produced from the Atari graphics handbook, De Re Atari to the Mindscape Game, Balance of Power. (I played it on a Mac Plus) In between were Tanktics and Legionnaire and Eastern Front. To this day, I still think Eastern Front is one of the best applications of a classical counter-based wargame on the computer.

If you are a fan of the old-school of computing, if your first computer measured RAM in Kilobytes, you may get an intense nostalgic twinge from his “Dragon Speech” given in 1992:

I find it really sad that this kind of software toy or simulation like SCRAM has waned. You see pale echos of it on the subroutines and background behavior of critters and worlds in games today, but the interface to this sandbox appears to have been co-opted by the first person shooter. It has followed the general decline of strategy games and the entire genre of wargames in general.

Last year, as millions fled the coasts in terror and NHK flashed graphics of the Fukushima design on the screen, I realized that I may have learned more about the actual balancing act that is Nuclear power from my Atari than I ever did at the old Atomic Museum.


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