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Space War, Atari VCS 1978

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aka Space Combat (Sears)

 

Okay, there's a Space War on the Atari VCS, a Space War on the RCA Studio II and a Space War on the Fairchild Channel F (yes, it's now called the Channel F. Fairchild decided to change it from VES for some reason, probably having to do with similarities to the Atari VCS.)

 

Lots of Space War. Did ALL of these programmers go to a university with a PDP-1 with the $100,000 monitor and played Spacewar! on it? OR Did they just happen to know that this was a title that Old School Geeks would recognize and go out and buy? If you recall, the RCA Studio II Space War doesn't really resemble the ship-to-ship combat that we associate with the title. Fairchild Channel F's Space War comes closer, in that there are two ships fighting each other. Atari's VCS Space War comes closest to the original idea. You and your opponent control two ships and try to make each other suck vacuum.

 

Unfortunately, it's merely Okay. I don't hate it, I don't love it. I like it, because my son and I had some fun with it, but in the long run, we don't come back to it to play.

 

This Space War consists of each player controlling a spinable triangle-shaped ship that can fire. Fuel and ammo is finite. The screen can have boundaries, off of which you bounce, or no boundaries, which will cause you to wrap-around the screen. (ie go off the top, come in through the bottom, same with left to right.) Game play is: shoot your opponent, gain a point. You've got about two minutes to score the most points.

 

What happens in these games (at least when my son and I play, and, come to think of it, whenever my friends and I played back in the early 80s) one of us decides to go as fast as they can so that they end up traveling at "faster than the eye can see" speeds. See, speed accumulates. If you keep thrusting in one direction you start traveling at tremendous speeds. It takes you as long to slow down as it did to speed up, just as it would in space. Of course, you may use up all your fuel before you can slow down again. While this can lead to a few laughs, the fun factor just doesn't last too long. An afternoon, maybe. Not much longer.

 

There are variations of the title game. One puts a star in the middle to provide some steller destructive power (it's a little square that will make your opponent gain a point if you hit it.) or make that square a resupply station instead, to re-stock your fuel and ammo. You can also have invisible ships that can only be seen when they fire or when they get hit. The diffictulty switches allow you to be vulnerable or not to your own shots. Even with all the variations, it's more of the same gameplay. Fun for a little while, but ultimately forgetable. Unlike, say, Combat, which never gets un-fun to me.

 

The other game-type on this cart is Space Shuttle. It's a docking sim of sorts. A dot is sent careening round the screen (with constant velocity) and your job is to match its velocity (ie speed and direction) and touch it (dock with it) with your ship. After touching it, it careens off in a different direction, with a different speed, and you have to try to touch it again. Touch it as often as you can in about two minutes.

 

EDIT: I just noticed I didn't say whether I liked "Space Shuttle" or not. I like it. I like zoning out while playing it, I just don't feel the impulse to hit "reset" again and again. That's all. Supercat suggested my son and I give this a shot with different difficulty settings and I think we will.

 

Around 1978 (some sources say 1977) Cinematronics released Space Wars in the arcade. It's a vector version of the same type of game (dueling shooter), only infinitely more playable, in my opinion. Of course, I'm only covering Home Videogames here, so move along, nothing more to see about Space Wars.

 

I will say that the Atari version of Space War is the best home version available at this time (1978). I'm just saying that while it may be the best, it still doesn't mean we play it a lot.

 

Next Entry: Slot Racers which is better than I remember.

 

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I admit it's been ages since I've played Spacewar against another person, but the thrustthrustthrust approach isn't from what I can tell a great strategy since the the player doing that can easily by a shot that's fired at a comparable angle. Perhaps the FB2 version of Spacewar is different from the one released in 1978 (there are multiple revs of some cartridges, and Spacewar might be one such). Any way you could check that out?

 

Also, the docking ones are a nice challenge. I would think that using the difficulty switches you should be able to have fun playing with your son (make it so he just has to hit the thing while you have to dock).

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I admit it's been ages since I've played Spacewar against another person, but the thrustthrustthrust approach isn't from what I can tell a great strategy since the the player doing that can easily by a shot that's fired at a comparable angle.  Perhaps the FB2 version of Spacewar is different from the one released in 1978 (there are multiple revs of some cartridges, and Spacewar might be one such).  Any way you could check that out?

 

Also, the docking ones are a nice challenge.  I would think that using the difficulty switches you should be able to have fun playing with your son (make it so he just has to hit the thing while you have to dock).

 

I know, the thrust^3 method isn't good strategy, but my son really likes the fact that he can get his ship to go really, really fast. :) My friends, in my youth, also always seemed to like doing that, too. I'm pretty certain some of my current retrogaming friends would play it as it was meant to be played, I just don't have any living near me. :)

 

Hmm, a different rev of Spacewar on FB2? If I had an FB2 I'd definitely check that out for you, but alas, I do not. Not yet, anyway.

 

Hmm, the docking one . . . I'll try what you suggest. I don't think I remember trying the difficulty switches on that variation, now that you mention it. I will say that it is rather nice to "zone out" while making minute course corrections and getting closer to the target each time. I do like the docking one (which I neglected to mention), it's just that by the end of the two minutes or so, I'm like, "okay, that was fun, what's next?". This is probably the problem with trying to play all the games (chronologically, in order), I feel a bit of a need to move along if we're both not having an absolute blast. My problem, really, not the game's.

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Space War was always one of my favorite 2-player VCS games.

 

Yeah, I had looked forward to getting it and playing it again, but I think I've been "spoiled" by having had unlimited access to the Cinematronics version via MAME.

 

I hear there's a hack of Space War with the ships in the shapes of the original Spacewar! I should load that up and give it a shot.

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Meh. I was hoping for a player vs AI mode. Playing alone is not that much fun. :-)

 

The docking game was interesting, though. More difficult than one initially expects. I guess that's why we're not all astronauts.

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Meh. I was hoping for a player vs AI mode. Playing alone is not that much fun. :-)

 

The docking game was interesting, though. More difficult than one initially expects. I guess that's why we're not all astronauts.

 

Yes! Oh, speaking of astronauts... Kerbal Space Program. Oh my god. I've been loving that game intensely lately.

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