Star Battle (Bally Pro Arcade, 1979)
Two years ago, back in 1977, a little movie called Star Wars was released. People who made videogames noticed this and immediately began coming up with videogame scenarios from it. One of the first games inspired by Star Wars for a home videogame console is Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade.
I don't know if I'm just tired or if my second week of being caffiene-free is just lowering my IQ even further, but I'm at a loss to adequately describe this game. So, I've made a little quicktime movie of it . . .
The movie should give you the basic idea of the playfield's simulated 3-d effect, but, because I only have two hands and one of them was holding the camera, I'm afraid it doesn't show you any of the actual game play. You're essentially playing in a simplified representation of the Death Star's equatorial "trench" from the last action sequence of Star Wars. There's no exhaust port in this version, however, and the entire game is about the dogfight between you and the other fighter. Both fighters bear a distinct, non-coincidental resemblance to ships from the movie. One is obviously the silhouette of a Tie Fighter and the other is the simplified rear view of an X-wing.
The movement mechanic is a little confusing. The controller allows a player to steer their craft horizontally, and lets them accelerate/decelerate when the knob is pushed forwards or pulled backwards, respectively. By slowing down, a player positions their craft at the bottom of the screen and "closer" (bigger) to the viewpoint of the game's camera. By speeding up, the craft moves to the top of the screen and "farther away" (smaller) from player's perspective. The object of the game is for a player to move their craft to a position, either behind or ahead of the opponent so that they can shoot them down. The challenge is that when the opponent speeds up, it not only pushes his craft to the higher, "ahead" position, it also puts the other player's craft in the lower, "behind" position, whether they want it there or not. (assume "vice versa")
In other words, when you choose to slow down or speed up, you're doing so relative to your opponent's speed, as you both jockey for a good shot while continuously traveling down the trench all the time with the effective illusion of traveling at a high speed.
Now, when I say "effective illusion" I mean, "most effective to date". I can't think of anything that we've played so far that has been as successfull in acheiving the feeling of forward motion. Night Driver in the arcades did a pretty good job of it, and Datsun 280Zzzap, also on the Bally Pro Arcade, managed to acheive the effect somewhat, but Star Battle does it the best so far, in my opinion. The shots the players fire follow the orientation of the trench, giving the appearance of going into or coming out of a location further down the trench rather than merely traversing the screen straight up/down or left/right. When combined with the scaling of the craft as they move ahead or fall behind, it makes for a nice, quick-feeling, two-player, pseudo 3-d game.
There's also a single player version, so you can practice the pretend killing of your imperial/rebel scum friend when they're not there. The tactics aren't very deep, and mostly involve trying to quickly aim and fire while trying to feint your position intention. Despite their lack of depth, playing these tactics well can lead to some pretty satisfying kills, especially when your opponent does exactly what you expected them to do. There's only time for a quick "Ha!" before they reappear on the screen and start gunning for you again, but it can be a satisfying "Ha!"
Like many games on the Bally, the players get to customize what constitutes a winning score -- anything from 1 to 99. We usually played to 10. It's not a big deal, but being able to set the length of the game is a very nice touch that I don't think the 2600 or the Odyssey^2 offers.
As always, the Bally's sound doesn't dissapoint. Each player has a distinct sound for their shots, the explosion of a ship is a good rumble (at least on my TV) and there's a special deflection sound on the rare instance of shots colliding and canceling each other out.
Overall, I give the game a . There's not much to it, but the presentation is well done and Star Battle is the only game to date that offers you the chance to pilot an X-wing or a Tie-fighter.
Oh, and by the way, during our play session for this entry, we went back and played the built-in game, Checkmate, a few times. It just never gets old for us!
Only two games left in the 197xs! Next we'll do Black Jack / Acey Deucy / Poker. 11,810