Fishing Derby (Activision, Atari VCS, 1980)
There are actually Fish Derbies in the real world, which I don't expect to be shocking news to any of you. However I thought reading the rules to one would be interesting.
It's possible that I wasn't entirely correct about it being interesting. Sorry if you just spent 30 minutes of your life there that you will never get back.
Fishing Derby is by David Crane. David Crane apparently also programmed Outlaw (1978), Canyon Bomber (1979) and Slot Machine (1979) all for the Atari Video Computer System. Atari doesn't let anyone know who designs their games. Game designers are kept frozen in a vault under Atari Headquarters and only brought out of the vault when a new game is needed. One night, someone left the door to the vault open. Four designers escaped. Not being able to feed themselves due to not having any marketable skills, or even human language, they had to do the only thing they knew - game programming. All of this has been carefully documented elsewhere in case you think I'm making this up.
Fishing Derby consists of two fishermen sitting across from each other on docks. The goal of the game is to collect 99 pounds of fish before the other. On the playfield there are six rows of fish. Rows 1 and 2 weigh 2 pounds each, rows 3 and 4 weigh 4 pounds each, rows 5 and 6 weigh six pounds each. Each fisherman lowers their lines and tries to hook a fish by moving the hook in front of the fish. When the fish is hooked it will slowly swim to the surface. When a player presses the red button, they're able to reel the fish in faster. There is a hazard of a shark swimming above the topmost row that will eat your fish off your hook so one must always be wary of the shark. Also, there's an interesting mechanic that only one fish may be reeled in at a time by either player. So, if you've both got a fish on the hook, the person who hooked theirs first may reel it in while the other waits. I guess there are ways of using this to your advantage, to not just delay the other person's poundage accumulation, but also to wait for the shark to be more on their side. I did not explore this tactic, but it's a thought.
This game is fun. It has moments where you think you're going to get a fish up and, suddenly, you hit the shark losing your fish. There are many "so close!" moments. This is a game that is much more fun to play with a friend, but playing with the computer is good practice. I have yet to beat the computer playing with the computer on Beginner and myself on Advanced. The difference between the two settings is that to catch a fish on Beginner, you just need to get the end of your line near the fish's mouth. To catch a fish on Advanced, your line has to practically be right under the fish's nose.
(( Thankfully, a post on Atari Age forums has finally helped me to figure out which way the difficulty switches on the 7800 need to go to be (A)dvanced (to the right) or (B)egginner (to the left) I'm trying to remember to put the Spacetime Protective Barriers up (aka parenthesis) when talking about things "not yet of this time" ))
Oh, something different about this game from games that have gone before it: the surface of the water, in addition to providing a sort of "depth perception" to the body of water, actually "shimmers" like the surface of a pond or lake. Well, "like the surface of a pond or lake" in the sense that it is always changing - horizontal lines of blue and light-blue seemed to randomly wax and wane on the surface. It's a nice effect and I'm at a loss to think of another game on the Atari where something was animated in this way simply to provide eye-candy. The surface design has nothing to do with the game play and merely provides an animated aesthetic. Come to think of it, the fishermen also seem to provide a flavor that also doesn't contribute directly to the game play. I wonder if this is the first home videogame to do that? I just can't think of others at the moment.
Thank you for reading my ramblings! I might make a game play video of the one-player game to see if my paranoia about the shark is true or not... I swear that sucker gravitates to the left during the single player games. I immediately just played two or three more one-player games, me=hard vs. computer=easy. I lost every time. I don't think my losses are entirely shark-related but if I can blame a shark. I will. Yes, I believe in having irrational prejudice towards sharks.
Oh, I got through the entire article without including any fishing-related puns. My cognitive therapy exercises must be working or maybe I just wasn't feeling all that abusive today. Please feel free to put any fish-puns you care to make in the comments. Yes, I'm giving you license to make really awful fish-puns. Oh, the horror! The horror!
Next time... back to Atari with Pele's Soccer!