"Grandpa, why does your leg phase in and out of existence when you walk?"
"What? Oh, well, that's just my Blinky Leg."
Basketball, Atari VCS (1978)
The solution to the problem of animating a human figure has many approaches. (I'm not an animator so forgive me while I just talk off the top of my ass.) You could do it the Hard Way, which would be filming a person moving around and redrawing every frame exactly as it appears OR the Easy Way, which would be to just draw something that vaguely looks human and move it around. Then, of course, there's about a thousand Middle Ways between the Easy and Hard Ways.The person who programmed Basketball for the Atari VCS took the Middle Way that was about two pixels above the Easy Way. He used a still side silhouette of a person, which makes sense, given that most of us see Basketball players from the side as they move to either our right or left. The problem with a side silhouette of a person is that the person appears to only have one leg. To make up for this he put a second leg in a slightly kicked and bent position extending in front of the player. To add the "illusion of life" he had that leg blink in and out of existence whenever the player moved.
Is it effective? Not supremely, it looks really silly, but, this is a videogame and not "The White Shadow". Does it add to the point that this little figure is a basketball player and he's moving around? Well, yeah. Then I guess it is effective. Someone tell me if this is the first animated character with the simulation of moving parts in Home Video Game history or not. Anyone? Anyone?
Playing these hoops is a hoot. It is fast paced and unpredictable. My son and I have been enjoying this on and off for the last two weeks. He actually asks to play this first when I ask him to help me play an "old game". No lie.
Note: We don't use the term "crap game from hell" anymore. After abusing the term so much during the RCA Studio II exploration period, Satan let us know that even he felt bad for forcing people to play RCA Studio II games. I apologize for my presumptions.
My son has actually gotten pretty good at Atari VCS Basketball and can block my shots more often than not. He's also gotten good at shooting baskets. He's not yet as good at stealing the ball as I am. Needless to say, we play some very close games. If I pretend to be "the grown-up" and put my difficulty setting on "A" (which slows down my Player sprite) he kicks my ass. Screw that.
The beauty of this game is in its use of simple identifiable elements from the real life game of one-on-one basketball. You shoot the ball, you block a shot, you dribble the ball and you steal the ball. Also, the ball bounces with its own physics model after you have taken a shot. Except for there being no skill whatsoever involved in dribbling the ball, (it is automatic) all the elements are there. In fact, adding a conscious element to dribbling the ball would be detrimental to gameplay. Being able to focus on maneuvering your player and timing your shots makes this game playable for pretty much anyone who understands how to use a joystick and button.
This particular cart has the distinction of possessing the first simulated 3D playfield in home videogame history. The basketball court is drawn in perspective, so it looks like a trapezoid, which is what a basketball court really looks like when you look at it from the side. (Try it yourself!)
All these design elements would be great for a two player game, but Basketball goes one step further by adding a one-player game against a computer opponent! The computer opponent seems to adjust to the player's skill as well, getting agressive if the player is doing well or holding back a little if there are indicators that a beginner is at the stick.
Oh, and if any of you didn't already know: If you have a child that seems to have trouble "getting" the whole Atari joystick thing (for instance, never remembering to keep the button to the upper left) a Genesis controller is a great way to get around that little setback. The "B" button on the Genny controller serves the same function as the red button on an Atari joystick, by the way. (Try it yourself!)
Okay, next entry is a surprise! Only because I can't remember what game we played after Basketball . . .