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The forgotten pool game Pocket Billiards! (Magnavox)

DoctorSpuds

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Well this is awkward. I purposefully wrote my previous review to get all of those pool games out of the way so I’d never have to think about them again but believe it or not I missed a game. I suppose I could be forgiven for forgetting this particular game since the idea of it is so strange I almost can’t believe it exists. Pocket Billiards on the Magnavox Odyssey2, released in 1980, might just be the first Pool/Billiards game ever released on home console, unless the Channel F had one I didn’t know about. This game doesn’t stand a chance, if Imagic couldn’t do it on the more complex hardware of the 2600 how in the world would it be done on the functionally limited Odyssey2? Well the word that would probably be used is poorly. The graphics are good by O2 standards so I can’t complain there, the simple fact that the programmer managed to get something that looked vaguely like a pool table is astonishing. Sounds, again it’s an O2 game so I have no expectations of greatness, they’re acceptable. The gameplay though, this is a tragedy. You are given 16-directional aiming, and when you’re trying to line up a shot that just isn’t good enough. There are no physics either, you hit the ball and it will go in whatever direction it wants, even if you are aligned perfectly with a pocket it will simply go where it wants to. I sat down and played this game for 25 minutes and I sunk a single ball, it didn’t help that I had to keep alternating controllers since there is no option for single player. Today this is just a novelty, give it to your kids and tell them they can eat desert before dinner if they can sink all the balls, they’ll never do it but it’ll shut them up for a while. You can pick the game up for 7-15 dollars loose of CIB is you really want to but I’d really recommend against it.

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After a bit of research, you seem to be spot on about this being the first pool/billiards game on a home system. I couldn't find anything for the Channel F, Bally Professional Arcade/Astrocade, APF M(P)-1000, APVS 1292/Interton VC-4000 etc usual suspects. Even on the computer side, I fail to find anything for e.g. the Commodore PET. There is a Pool 1.5 for the Apple II in 1981 but no evidence of any previous version.

 

There is an "One Pocket Pool" for the TRS-80 (not CoCo, but the late 70's business computer) but it is more a math simulator than a pool game. There is another "Pool" by a Scott Watson for the same computer which I haven't evaluated.

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3 hours ago, carlsson said:

After a bit of research, you seem to be spot on about this being the first pool/billiards game on a home system.

 

It had to start somewhere, and sadly it hasn't aged well at all. Actually I wonder what people at the time thought about it.

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The French videogames magazine Tilt reviewed it in 1982. I'll let Google Translate give you their verdict:

 

Quote

This is the only simulation of billiard available in France at the moment and it is a success! The graphics are really perfect, because very adapted to the possibilities of Videopac, the only game console to have pre-drawn graphic characters that allow true curves. The balls of this billiard are round, round, and perfectly round! Their different colors are sharp and clear enough to stand out clearly on the green carpet: essential asset for the accuracy of your shots.

On this point, the simulation approaches real pool without being able to join it. Do not expect to find retro and amortized! (??) But the bounce angles of the balls between them or against the bands, are very accurate and leave room for calculations of interesting trajectories. Your billiard cue is represented by a small white line that you can rotate around the ball in 16 different directions. Once the ideal position is found, all you have to do is press your control button to propel the ball more or less quickly and more or less long. A very simple and very effective handling.

Two variants are offered, for two players: the gray balls (to be the first to push in the 6 side holes these two only balls) or the American billiard: 10 balls to place in the holes, one point per ball for the player who is playing. A little trick: at the beginning, rather than hitting the head of the triangle of balls directly, go instead to make a front band, just below the head ball: some balls will be much better, and will allow you to take a good start.

 

 

INTEREST: 4/6

GRAPHICS: 4/6

RELIABILITY: 4/6

DURATION: about 10 minutes

 

So it seems they were quite positive about it, much because they didn't know how much better pool games might become in a few years time.

 

Edited by carlsson
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2 hours ago, carlsson said:

So it seems they were quite positive about it, much because they didn't know how much better pool games might become in a few years time.

 

Well that review hasn't aged well, much like the game itself. I wonder if the writer ever played and reviewed any more pool games and looks back on this review.

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To put some context to the scoring:

 

Warlords (Atari 2600): Interest 4/6, Graphics 3/6, Reliability 4/6, Duration: 10 min

Monkeyshines! (Odyssey^2): Interest 3/6, Graphics 3/6, Reliability 3/6, Duration: 5 min at the beginning

Kaboom! (Atari 2600): Interest 3/6, Graphics 4/6, Reliability 4/6, Duration: more than 10 min for the supermen

Boxing (Intellivision): Interest 4/6, Graphics 5/6, Reliability 4/6, Duration: 10 min for beginners, 1/2 - 1 hour for the initiated

Freeway (Atari 2600): Interest 3/6, Graphics 4/6, Reliability 3/6, Duration: fixed at 2 min 15 seconds (?)

Haunted House (Atari 2600): Interest 3/6, Graphics 3/6, Reliability: 3/6, Duration: undetermined, about 10 min

Skiing (Intellivision): Interest 3/6, Graphics 4/6, Reliability: 3/6, Duration: According to your agility, about 3-4 min per run

 

Here is how the magazine explained the categories:

 

Quote

Interest: Not all game principles are so rich. Whether they are thinking or talking (action?), they can get bored quickly if they do not require extensive practice or tactics.

Graphics: A beautiful image adds a lot to the fun of the game.
Reliability: Some games may have flaws. It is actually a note of perfection, of set to use (enjoyment of play, convenience of orders, twists, etc.)

 As in figure skating, the scores are put on 6 (6 being the maximum). A way to invite the editors of cassettes to make pirouettes!

 

 

Possibly the first and only time a video games magazine equal their scoring system to figure skating (which by the way has revised its scoring system a couple of times since then).

 

 

 

 

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Besides I think if I'll ever start a blog about video game reviews, I will score those games according to vintage judo rules: koka, yuko, waza-ari and ippon. :-D

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2 hours ago, carlsson said:

Besides I think if I'll ever start a blog about video game reviews, I will score those games according to vintage judo rules: koka, yuko, waza-ari and ippon. :-D

That would be excellent. Now you've gotta do it!

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