The thing that gets us to the thing
In case you couldn’t tell, the 1980s is having a bit of comeback. With so many games and films (Kung Fury is out today!) seeking to emulate the vibrant and lively era, there’s plenty of people out there feeling nostalgic for the ’80s. Though I was born at the tail end of the decade, and I technically qualify as a ’90s kid, I feel I’m an ’80s kid at heart. Which of course always makes me interested in fiction set in that time. One such show was last year’s overlooked Halt and Catch Fire, and it was among my favorites of 2014.
Set in the Silicon Prairie (the Texas tech industry) during the mid-1980s, Halt and Catch Fire tells the story of a group of computer engineers and a visionary who motivates them, either by pure charisma or manipulation, to create technology and software that will change the face of the computer industry. Though on the surface this may seem like Mad Men with synthesizers and Reagan-era sensibilities, I can assure this series goes in directions you’d least expect. And with the upcoming season covering the early days of online infrastructures and the challenges of creating a network gaming company, there’s definitely something to be said about the ingenuity of their aspirations.
Ahead of season two’s debut this Sunday, Destructoid got the opportunity to check out the first four episodes. It’s not often we get to write about television shows that cover our medium, so of course I jumped at the chance to get an early look at the new season. I was pleased to hear that Halt and Catch Fire would tackle the creation of a gaming company during the ’80s, and I was even more impressed with how it’s turned out thus far.
Twenty months after the end of season one in 1985, the lead characters have essentially moved on from work on PCs and plan on striking out into something new. After the launch of the Giant, the PC they spent all of the first season building, Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) seeks to rebuild his life after ultimately compromising on his vision for what the future of computers could be, and realizing that his methods of success have harmed others. His number two, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), struggles to find direction after departing Cardiff Electric, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clarke (Kerry Bishé) have been hard at work on their new start-up company Mutiny, an online gaming network running on the Commodore 64 platform. With users paying a monthly fee to play multiple titles online with a community of gamers, they seek to expand the company and plan to change the way people seek entertainment and communicate with others.
Much like the last season, Halt and Catch Fire‘s attention to detail and faithfulness to the era is as strong as ever. Focusing on the early stages of the consumer version of what we now know as the Internet, there’s a lot of ground to cover for a start-up that deals with the state of online gaming. Though there were other (real) online PC services that offered gaming and many other functions around 1985 — such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and Quantum Link (now known as AOL) — the fictional Mutiny of HACF is a service that exclusively streams games to users. With such titles as Tank Battle, Checkers, Chess, and Backgammon serving as the basics, much of their attention towards game creation is focused on a title known as Parallax, a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) RPG series that spans multiple chapters.
Looking back, the 1980s was a strange time for games. With the console video game market in a crisis, arcades serving as a hub for social interaction and competitive gaming, and the home PC audience gradually expanding, it’s certainly a far cry from what we experience now in the present. What I really like from these episodes so far is that we’re seeing a sense of uncertainty during the time. Given that this is set post-video game console crash, games on cartridges are often regarded by characters as inferior to the offerings and potential of PC gaming. During one of my favorite scenes, the coders at Mutiny are discussing what game to work on next, with one of the new hires suggesting that they focus on technical innovation rather than game creation, as the former usually gives rise to the later.
It’s interesting to see a television series focus not only on game development, but the building of an online community during 1980s. Let alone doing it in a way that actually depicts realism, and quite frankly, honesty for what the gaming audience is all about. I watch a lot of television. I’m quite used to seeing different programs spout out random catchphrases and obligatory references to popular games in order to connect with gamers. But the brilliant thing about Halt and Catch Fire is that it not only features characters who are hardcore gamers, but they use their passion as the fuel for their creative endeavors. And that is refreshing to see on a television series.
I was a big admirer of the first season, and though it felt a bit uneven and had some pacing issues, it definitely showed potential to become something great. And I can safely say that its potential is finally being realized in its second outing. I was impressed with the beginning of this season, and though I may be biased because it’s got a deep focus on gaming, I feel that the new change of scenery, and a new focus, has given the series a much needed rejuvenation. It sure feels much more energetic and hipper because of it.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, the first season is available now on Netflix, and its second season is set to debut May 31 on AMC. If you’re interested in the creation of technology, and hearing a bumping soundtrack to go along with it, then I highly recommend giving it a watch. Also, this series has by far the coolest TV intro ever. That alone is enough to deserve it your attention.