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Blog Entries posted by Mezrabad

  1. Mezrabad
    Schach (Channel F, 1979)

    I know, I said I was only going to do US releases, that's why this is a "mystery" game.

    This is a quote from a post I made back in May of 2005
    As far as I know, it's the only game program for the Channel F that didn't come out in the US. The cart, with that "glowing thinking light", was probably more expensive to manufacture and, based on past market performance of the Channel F, it was probably decided they wouldn't make enough money on Chess (which is the English word for Schach) in the US market. That's just my idle speculation, however, and I'd be curious to know if a reason has ever been given.
    I've no intentions of altering this cart into a multi-cart. For one, I don't have the mad skillz. For two, well, even though it isn't worth a ton of money as-is (at least, not in Germany), even though it isn't really, really rare, I think that it is rare enough that I'd rather keep this copy intact as just a Chess cart. A poor analogy might be: "if you had an original copy of "Citizen Kane" would you colorize it?" Yeah, that's actually a pretty useless analogy. I welcome someone else to give an analogy that would better express how I feel. Just read my mind and see what you can come up with.
    I played this cart only a few times after I got it. I just don't seem to have the time to have a game of Chess anymore. (I'd rather write rambling blogs about it) For the record, I wasn't able to beat it again. I think I won my first game because I was excited and focused, which usually makes me smarter and better looking.
    Here are pictures:

    Shh! It's trying to think! It only takes about 10 seconds, tops, for a move. I haven't won since I beat it my first lucky game. It's that damn, eerie, "thinking" light that rattles me.

    This is how the chessboard looks. When a move is made the coordinates of the move show up on the side. Which, uh, I should've gotten a picture of I guess.
    Next entry should be the other "mystery" game for the Channel F.
  2. Mezrabad
    There's already a list of all the games that came out in 1978 in this entry here. Rather than rehash that list with the only change in it being the addition of smilies or frownies, I think the electrons would be better spent on picking out a few of the standout titles from 1978, by system, while giving each system a general rating.
    APF MP1000 -- Not Nearly As Fun-Free as I Thought It Would Be
    This system really seemed to have some potential, but it was wasted on unimaginative games. Still it should be said for the record that it boasts the best looking Blackjack and Hangman to date, and the second best looking Baseball game (Bally beat it, graphics-wise).
    EDIT: I almost forgot, APF MP1000 beat all the others to the punch on one thing: AI opponent in a videogame version of a boardgame. Catena, the first videogame version of Othello, had an AI opponent. I imagine the APF Backgammon had an AI opponent too, but I'm just speculating.
    The APF doesn't come close to threatening the RCA Studio II's title of Worst Game Library Ever and it was a unique and pleasant experience (despite my whining) to get a look at the games I was able to find. However, I'm really disappointed that not a single person has volunteered even a description of any of the games for this system that I wasn't able to find. Either it's a lot less collected than I think it is, or people are just really unwilling to share their experiences, as rare as those experiences may be. Specifically, I'm really, really curious about Dungeon Hunt so if anyone can tell me anything about it, with screenshots, I'd still be much obliged.
    BTW, if anyone can lend me the games that I still need to play for the APF MP100, I'll purchase an additional $50 worth of stuff for Child's Play during this year's drive.
    Odyssey^2 by Magnavox -- Much, Much More Fun Than I Thought It Would Be
    Let's just say I had really low expectations for this system, my experience with it having been limited to emulation. That's no insult to the emulator, it's more of a comment on how much better a game library can be when you use the actual console and controllers for which it was designed. I'm not saying I had a spectacular time, it just was much better than I imagined it would be. While not spectacular, I should admit that I spent a whole lot more time playing Baseball, Cosmic Conflict, Computer Golf and for some reason, even Las Vegas Blackjack than playing games for any other system to date. For example, I probably spent two hours playing Computer Golf. That's got to be a record. I don't even like playing golf.
    Atari Video Computer System -- Almost, But Not Quite As Much Fun As I Remember It Being
    Okay, my expectations for this were a little higher than what was met, but not by much. I was expecting to be "Very Happy" and was only "Happy", which is acceptable. This system has the longest list of games we enjoyed: Basketball, Braingames, Breakout, Codebreaker, Outlaw, Slot Racers and Space War. It also has the longest list of games released for it in 1978.
    Bally Professional Arcade -- Less Fun Than I Expected
    My experience with this system was darkened because my controllers weren't and aren't working up to spec. In a poetic, forgiving mood, I can say the difficulties with the broken controllers probably serves as a temporal echo of the technical problems that hassled this system during its first year of release, most notably the faulty systems shipped during its launch and the overheating problems that plague most of these consoles to this very day (I'm referring to 2006). In a less poetic and less forgiving mood, I just curse, though I try to make it rhyme. I think I'll start hunting for a broken system to salvage its controllers, otherwise, future games, no matter how good, just won't be enjoyable. 1978 games that I did like for this system, despite my wonky controllers, were Gunfight, Football, Tornado Baseball, 280Zzzap and Clowns. I would consider this system's launch year library and its initial purchase price as the least bang for the many bucks needed to get this console.
    Fairchild Channel F -- More Fun Than It Should Have Been
    This system just doesn't get the love I think it deserves, but I can understand that, as I can be exceptionally forgiving of underdogs. Dodge-it and Video Whizball were neat concepts and we had more than a little fun playing them. Still, the number of titles released for it in 1978 was small and it doesn't come as a huge shock that this was the last year that Fairchild released new games for this system in the U.S.
    As per usual, I'll have pictures up of all of the "new" stuff used for this year's crop of games, but probably not until tomorrow. Next entry will be looking forward to 1979.
  3. Mezrabad
    Skiing (Atari VCS, Dec 1980, Activision)
    To me, Skiing by Activision will always be that cheesy commercial with the guy doing the bad French accent and playing the game poorly. I didn't really understand at the time what was going on with these "new Atari games" that had a different box style and didn't seem to be by Sears or Atari. The commercial for Skiing (which my friends and I thought was hilarious) really stands out in my mind, even though it doesn't strike me as funny today. Yes, it's on YouTube.
    I do remember spending a very focused Saturday afternoon trying to qualify for the Activision Skiing Team. Apparently this has become known as Game 3b (because one plays the third game on the cart with the difficulty settings on "b"). To qualify, your time had to be under 28.2 seconds. I distinctly remember beating qualifying, but I don't remember if I got 28.17 or 28.19. I think I took the actual picture. I never sent it in for the patch, though. This is among my few remaining childhood regrets. Fortunately, um, most of my childhood regrets have been vastly overshadowed by my many adulthood regrets. Such is life.
    There are two types of Skiing games: Slalom (Games 1 - 5) and Downhill (Games 6 - 10). The games increase in challenge, but it is possible to get to know each course well. Tonight, I popped the cartridge into my Atari Video Computer System, reviewed the manual, selected Game 3b and after about four tries had my time down to 28.46. A few more tries it was at 28.21 (grrrr) and then finally I hit 28.14. I'm still a spiritual member of the Activision Skiing Team. Go me. Yes, I took a picture.
    I had forgotten that the left difficulty switch when set to "a" would let your skier ski off the trail and through the woods, even making it possible to ski around the mountain. I remember finding that concept very interesting as a teen. I loved the idea of parts of the "world" persisting off-screen. All in all, Skiing is one of my better remembered games from back in the day and I honestly feel that Activision can thank their marketing department for selling it to me with that cheesy commercial.
    Addendum: I think one of my fondest memories of the Atari was being stuck on the couch for a couple weeks with a broken ankle playing Adventure. I'd broken it while skiing. Maybe that's why I had to get the cartridge.
    Addendum duex: Anyone else remember the Flintstones episode where there were spies and one of the code words was "slalom"? Was this the cold war creeping in on our childhoods?
    Okay, we're done with 1980 for the Atari VCS and it only took me from August of 2009 until April of 2021. Ha. I'll start working on the games for the Odyssey^2 next. It's been a very long time since I hooked up my Odyssey^2. Looking forward to seeing how it goes.
  4. Mezrabad
    Welcome back to what I'm now calling Chronogamer LE. The LE stands for Low Effort. If I have to really work up any enthusiasm to play something then that's too much effort, so I will learn what I can about it, read the manual, maybe do some research and play it for as long as I can stand it. If I try to get more involved in it, I'll end up going down a sort of procrastination rabbit-hole where I put it off for, like, half a decade or more and it blocks me from moving forward. I've recently learned I can blame ADHD for this, so, yay for me.
    Oh, by the way, I found Random Terrain's page that presents some optimal guessing regarding the release dates of games released to be played on the Atari VCS. Nice Job, RT! Your have made it a lot easier for me to get back into this.
    Bridge (Atari VCS, 1980, Activision)
    The manual for Activision's Bridge will not teach you to play Bridge. You have to have that knowledge ahead of time. You can get that knowledge from YouTube. You'll learn that it normally takes four people to play this game. You can learn everything you need to get started in about 10 minutes or even less. If you have three other people that you want to hang out with and try a new card game, then this could possibly be an interesting game. Maybe. I'd have to really like at least one of the other people involved to even think about playing any card game these days. Okay, I take that back. I did enjoy playing some Texas Hold-em prior to the Pandemic, but there was money involved and also an attractive woman, so, I guess we understand what motivates me. (It wasn't the money.)
    Activision's Bridge is for a single player. Like the manual, I don't want to teach you anything about playing Bridge. Sorry. Kinda. Don't look at me like that, just go to YouTube.
    Regarding this video game: I can see that there is planning and some tactical thinking involved. I can see the appeal of playing this as a social card game with other people. I can see the appeal of having a video game version of Bridge to help a player practice to improve how they play the game. I can even appreciate Activision's Bridge as a way of exploring how to think about playing the card game Bridge. These are worthy and noble pursuits and I admire the courage it must've took for Activision to produce this as one of the four games they debuted in 1980. (Edit: This game DID come out in 1980, but it was not one of the four debut games. They were: Boxing, Checkers, Dragster and Fishing Derby. I'll get better at playing these things in order now that I have a better order for them, but I've dreaded playing Bridge for so long that I needed to get it out of the way so that I could just get back to doing this.)
    That doesn't mean I have any interest in ever playing it again. Also, I'm a little resentful that I've learned to play a card game that I'll probably never ever play. This is where I'd give the game an emoji rating but it's been so long since I've posted I don't even remember how to do them. In this case it would be one of those "meh" emojis.   Oh... okay, that was easier than I thought it would be. Thanks for reading!
    I might go on YouTube with these articles and show actual game play. I know that I've almost done this in the past and then deleted my YouTube. Sorry about that.
  5. Mezrabad
    Normally I do a retroview of the year I just slowly dragged everyone through. I'm not going to do that right now. Now, I want to post the lists of the games I've been chronogaming. The jpgs are suitable for printing and putting on your chrono-corkboards that I'm certain each and everyone of you have hanging in your living rooms by now. You may also use them to make chrono-t-shirts or even tatoo them onto the backs of your children for use as handy and mobile references.

    Firstly, here is 1972 to 1976. Witness the stunning lack of PONG dedicated consoles in 1976. That isn't because there were none made, but rather because I seriously didn't want to spend a lot of time thinking about PONG variations when I knew that in 1977 I'd pretty much see them all in Video Olympics on the VCS.

    Here's 1977. Still some Stand Alone consoles I'd like to play, and I still can, of course.

    Here's 1978. I was shocked to find some titles that I'd accidentally ignored, in addition to the ones I had intentionally ignored. How did I miss Miniature Golf or Super Breakout? Obviously, I'll need to rectify this soon. The Telstar Arcade is the big No-Show in 1978. I had dismissed it as a PONG-a-like, but I realize now that was a mistake. I'll probably retrogame it while I'm chronogaming the early 80s. I'll be retrogaming within chronogaming. Wheels within wheels, man. The universe is complex, but we cope.

    Ah, 1979, the year we just finished. Took me too damn long to do so, but we do what we can.
    Now, let us look into the future . . .

    1980 is the year of the Killer App for home videogames. Yes, the chronology swells a bit here, but the basketball in the python doesn't come along until 1982-1983--Sadly, I haven't made the lists for those years yet.

    This is as far as we'll look ahead for now. I don't reckon I'll start chronogaming 1981 until spring of 2008 or so. Of course, my estimates have been off before, seeing as how I'm reaching said estimates by simple pulling them out of my ass, which, I guess, is where I keep them.
    So, before I start 1980, I mean to take care of a few of the games from the past that I've missed.
    Coleco Combat (Coleco, 1977) (Assuming I can get it to work again)
    Atari Video Pinball (Atari, 1977)
    Miniature Golf (Atari VCS, 1978)
    Super Breakout (Atari VCS, 1978)
    Take the Money and Run (Odyssey^2, 1978)
    And remove from the blogs, until appropriate to add, the games I did too early, namely:
    Checkers (Zircon Channel F, 1980)
    Slot Machine (Zircon Channel F, 1980)
    And any other errata I find that "need" to be corrected.
    I know, I know--I'm supposed to just be doing all of this for fun, so little mistakes like the above shouldn't matter. Well, being anal retentive is part of the fun.
    So, next entry we'll be treading over for the first time some parts of 1977 that we missed. 13350
  6. Mezrabad
    Chronogamer is two years-old today!!!
    Just for anyone wondering if the decrease in frequency of entries is any indicator of a flagging enthusiasm on my part, please let me assure you it is not. Real life has gotten a little bit in the way of my passionate pursuit of this effort, but this effort will indeed continue just as passionately, only slow.
    To prepare for the next era of chronogaming, I've managed to get most of what I think will see me through to the Great Crash of 1983-84. There are a HUGE amount of systems that were available and "alive" during this era and I think I've managed to get everthing to allow me to play most of the games on the original hardware.

    The awesome Cuttle Cart 3 will get us through the Intellivision Library.
    The equally awesome Cuttle Cart 2 will get us through the Atari VCS library.
    I've got a Vectrex flash cart to get us through the Vectrex stuff.
    AtariMax for the 5200 will serve us in all 5200 needs with the exception of Bounty Bob Strikes Back.
    I have all but two of the carts released in the US for the Emerson Arcadia 2001. (Looking for Spiders and Grand Slam Tennis.)
    John Dondzilla's Odyssey^2 cart will get us through most of the Odyssey^2 games and I've got real copies of each of the Masters of Strategy series so, no worries there.
    I've got 8bitdomain's great Bally Professional Arcade Multicart, so, check that system off, too.
    The final releases for the FairchildZircon Channel F are still sitting around, too, so I'll finally get to them.
    Hmm, what am I forgetting?
    Oh yeah, the Colecovision. No, I haven't gotten one yet, an issue I plan to resolve at CGE if possible. If anyone wants to sell me a working Colecovision and schlep it to Vegas to sell to me, I'm all ears. I intend to use a multi-flash-cart for this system, too. I've bought the attachment that works with the Vectrex FlashCart, but haven't tried it out yet. I may go ahead and get the product similar to the AtariMax 128 5200 flash cartridge, though I can't recall what it's called (ColecoMax?).
    I predict that it will take me a long time to get through this era, unless I seriously figure out my schedule. My initial "off the top of my ass" estimate would be about five years to chronogame everything from 1980 to 1984. I mean, we're talking hundreds of games. If I ever get an Xbox 360 and a copy of Oblivion add two years to that estimate.
    And now for something completely different ..
    show of hands, please: If I could get the cost to $15 how many people would be interested in a book called, Chronogaming, Volume 1 1972-1976? I'm thinking something about the size of a Prima Strategy Guide, color, of about 50 pages, each pair of pages devoted to each game with lots of pictures and screenshot along with a less blog-like (ie spell checked and tighter) chronogaming entry for the game. It would mostly be about the Odyssey with a few of the typical PONG dedicated's thrown in before the dawn of the Channel F. Anyone?
    Your show of a hand does not constitute a promise to buy. Heck even if nobody buys one, I think I want to make one for myself. It would be cool to have it on my coffeetable, if I ever get a coffeetable.
    Also been working on www.chronogamer.com. If you've been reading this, then you've seen it, more or less, but dig the crazy Odyssey pink.
    Anyway, Happy B-day to Chronogamer (again it isn't my birthday, just the blog's).
    Next entry should be Bally Pin.
  7. Mezrabad
    Video Chess (Atari VCS, 1979)
    Someone in one of the forums (AA or DP) asked what was our most disappointing Atari game back in the day?
    I responded "Video Chess". I think I meant to say "Basic Programming" but at that moment, my answer was "Video Chess". For the record, I take that back.
    As a teen, here's the problem I think I had with Video Chess in a nutshell: Long move times for the AI.
    Each successively difficult level of play takes the VCS longer to make its move. Level 8 is the learning level and the playing for real games start at level 1. Quoting from the manual, here is how long the AI can take for each move on each level.
    Level 1 - 15 seconds
    Level 2 - 30 seconds
    Level 3 - 45 seconds
    Level 4 - 2 min., 45 sec.
    Level 5 - 3 min., 15 sec.
    Level 6 - 12 minutes
    Level 7 - 10 hours
    Level 8 - 10 seconds
    In case you missed it, you should take notice that level 7 takes 10 hours.
    I think that, at 14 years old, I was hoping this cart was going to help me improve my chess game and I was disappointed to find out that the really challenging levels of the game were just going to take too damn long for me to play. "Too damn long" must've been anything over 30 seconds. Ah, the impatience of youth!
    Another issue I had as an impatient 14 year-old was the cursor's response to the joystick input. It seemed so slow to respond that it felt like it was taking me as long as the VCS to make my moves.
    If you're a serious chess player, this game will probably not satisfy you in a reasonable amount of time. If you are not, then, here in 1979, this is probably the only videogame console option for your single-player chess needs. The only other of which I am aware is only being sold in Europe under the name of Schach for the Fairchild Channel F.
    When I took out this game recently to chronogame it, I found that I was much more able to appreciate it now that my hair has greyed some and I'm not in quite the hurry I used to be.
    Level 1 is challenging enough for me and waiting 10 seconds isn't a problem. Either I was a much better chess player 25 years ago, or I just had higher expectations for myself.
    There's mostly no flicker, with the exception of the cursor. Think about that for a minute. 32 chess pieces, every type of piece is distinct, identifiable and none of them flickers. The cursor flickers, but that's okay; cursors are supposed to flicker.
    In addition to chess playing mode, there's a mode that allows a player to set up any kind of chess situation they'd like and then play it against the VCS. That's pretty cool.
    I now think the joystick response isn't all that bad, but I've found that I prefer to use a Genesis controller.
    So, shame on my teenaged self for not appreciating this cart when I first saw it.
    A small drawback is the fact that the whole screen blanks and flickers crazily when the VCS is thinking about its move. If you're the type of person that can suffer a seizure from certain types of flickering lights, I don't recommend you test yourself against this cart.
    If you're a beginning to intermediate player and you can't find someone to play chess with you then Atari's Video Chess will do, otherwise, you'll most likely find it more satisfying to play a friend.
  8. Mezrabad
    My family is out of town all week.
    For approximately 144 hours I've been left to my own devices.
    This is more continuous "free" time than I've ever had since my son was born in 1997.
    The only "grown-up" responsibilities I have are:
    File our income 2006 income taxes.
    Fix my resume.
    Get a job.
    Okay, that last one is pretty important, however, I just graduated from College (BS in Technical Management from Devry University. GPA 4.0 thankyouverymuch.) and after having spent the last 14 months as a full-time student, I'm feeling pretty okay about taking a little break while the rest of my family is having a funfest in central Florida.
    To that end, I went to an "Arcade" last night.
    Main Event - Austin
    They were having a special, unlimited Game Card for $10 from 5pm to 2am. They were sold out when I got there around 8:30pm, but I called again around 11:00pm and their crowd has thinned out enough that they could sell more unlimited cards.
    So, drove the half-mile to the place, plunked down my $10 for a card and proceeded to the Game Room.
    First thing I noticed: arcade machines have gotten bigger. Their footprints are nearly four times the area of a typical classic cab like Centipede, for instance. Second thing: they're more expensive. Now, given inflation, one should expect this, and I wasn't too shocked. What shocked me most was the apparently stunning lack of variety available in this pretty large arcade. (about 30 titles)
    There were Light Gun games (Star Trek Voyager, Jurassic Park, House of the Dead 4 among others).
    There were Racing games (Sega Rally, Re-Volt, Harley Davidson, StarWars Racer among others0.
    There were a few Rhythm games (DDR Extreme, Pump-it-up, Guitar Freaks V)
    One or two flight sim games, a Tsu Mo unit, StarWars Trilogy Arcade, a cool Boxing game, two Snow Board games, a paddle-boat game and a Tekken 5. I never saw anyone playing the Tekken 5 the whole 3.5 hours I was there.
    Overall, though, it seemed like mostly Racing and Light Gun games.
    There were a bunch of redemption games, which I despise for always seeming to reduce my kids into trinket coveting little animals, and about half a dozen air-hockey tables.
    There wasn't a single "old school" game. I guess I understand from a business stand point, but as a retrogamer I was understandably bummed.
    The Tsu Mo unit was what I hit first and I played a MechWarrior game for the first time. $2.00 a pop. One sits in a chair surrounded by blue plexiglass which effectively isolates the player from the distractions of the rest of the arcade. The Mech Battle becomes your world. Very fun. I wish I had played it a whole lot more.
    From that I went to a sit-down light gun game based on the Voyager incarnation of the Star Trek franchise. It was pretty fun at first, but it went on and on. Since I had an unlimited Game Card, I just kept swiping my way past the continues. I think that with another person it might have been more fun, but with unlimited lives it just got old. Without unlimited lives it would've gotten expensive at $1.50 a credit.
    I avoided the Snow-board games as they looked like they required some degree of balance and physical effort beyond what I had in reserve for a DDR set later.
    I tried a Harley Davidson racing-type games. It's a solo game that has you racing to checkpoints. There weren't any continues on it, and I sucked at it, but it was pretty cool to ride a pretend motorcycle in a Hang On sort of way. ($1.50 a pop if I recall correctly.)
    Guitar Freaks V always seemed busy. I'll get back to that later.
    This place has a Final Furlong! If you're not familiar, it's a horse racing game where you have to physically ride mock-horses in almost the same way some racing games have you sit in a car. Unfortunately, this FF machine wasn't hooked up to the lan right and nobody's cards seemed to work on it.
    There was a Sega Air Strike game which was interesting. Cockpit with three screens to give a very sensearound effect. The missions started off fairly easy, but it seemed that as long as one had quarters to feed it, one could continue. The flight sim aspect of it was interesting. There is a thruster control, a joystick to control pitch and roll, foot pedals for controlling yaw. It was a bit like being on a rail shooter, though, I didn't feel like I had a lot of control over where I could go, unlike the MechWarrior game which felt a little like a First Person Robotron.
    I tried a few racers. The racers all seemed to come with two seats and cost from $1.50 to $2.00 a pop. It isn't that they suck, I just don't get why there were so many of them. I guess they make money.
    There was an OutRun2 there that I really wanted to play, but I couldn't move the seat back and my legs were too long.
    I played through the entire StarWars Trilogy Arcade. What a cheap ass coin sucker that is. There's no way to avoid losing shield power in many cases and there's no way to power it back up without completling the scenario. The gameplay isn't very good either, though some of it is strangely remaniscent of the original Star Wars Arcade title.
    I played another gun game that had great graphics, but I forget the name, "Ghost . . . somethign"? Nice big hefty guns that had a good kick to them when fired. Not bad. If I could only remember to reload by shooting off screen. LOL
    Pump-It-Up, a DDR clone, kicked my ass. DDR wasn't bad as it had some titles I distinctly recognized and already knew. What was fun about DDR was seeing the level of proficiency other people had developed at it. Either they are very talented or they spend waaay to much time playing DDR.
    I finaly got the nerve to pick-up Guitar Freak's Player 2 while someone else was playing (I'm pretty shy when I'm by myself somewhere and know absolutely no one). This game's mechanics are similar to Guitar Hero but there seems to be a greater focus on rhythm than melody if you know what I mean. I vastly preferred the arcade controller of Guitar Freaks to my Playstation Guitar Freaks controller. Just sturdier, as one would imagine.
    Anyway, that's how I get wild when my family is out of town. I also had half a Red Bull so I was up until 4:00am watching 24 and The Host.
    If The Host is playing in your town and you like monster movies, you should see it. If it isn't coming to your town you should, um, "find" it and see it.
    That's it. I'll talk about the Atari Video Chess program vs. the Fairchild Schach program next entry. No, it really wasn't as exciting as I hoped it would be.
  9. Mezrabad
    Space Invaders aka Astro Battle (Bally Pro Arcade, 1979)
    Okay, my research on this is sketchy, but as far as I can tell:
    Bally-Midway distributed Space Invaders in the arcades in the United States. The rights to do so, I assume, were purchased from Taito, the company that owned the game and distributed it in Japan.
    Since Bally has this Professional Arcade for the home it only makes sense that they'd do a home version of Space Invaders for it, since it was the single most popular arcade game of all time, if you don't count past 1978.
    Fast forwarding a little bit, Atari, in January of 1980, released their home version of Space Invaders and apparently they went directly to Taito to get the rights to do so.
    So then, I'm guessing, this was why Bally had to change the name of their home Space Invaders to Astro Battle.
    *shudder* Okay, that's enough of that. I should probably avoid talking about the history as much as I should avoid talking about the technology.
    The other home version of Space Invaders released in 1979 was Space Destroyers for the APF MP1000.
    (Bally is on the left, APF is on the right)
    So, the immediate differences we see here are different sprite colors for the Bally and less columns (8 compared to 11) and less rows (4 compared to 5) than the APF version.
    APF's version is great if you're looking for an "as close to the arcade" experience as possible. However, there is something to be said about adding variations to the home videogame experience simply because one couldn't get that variation on a single cabinet in the arcade. Bally attempts this by offering four skill levels: Novice, Amateur, Intermediate and Professional. The differences between the levels are simply increasing speed and enemy firing rates. The effects of such are that anyone in your household could play long enough, at least on Novice, to decide whether or not they enjoy the game. Beats the heck out of being destroyed repeatedly and quickly in Professional, Intermediate or even Amateur mode.
    I should mention that, to me, the Bally controller with Space Invaders is a little annoying. Maybe it is just the particular controller I use, but that pistol grip fire mechanism becomes really uncomfortable to keep firing after a few rounds of invaders. If there's ever a game that requires rapidly firing a weapon with this controller, it's gonna hurt.
    Bally Space Invaders limits the player to six screens of invaders. After screen six, they've invaded and it's Game Over for you, earthling. Perhaps since I'm used to the arcade style of playing until death, it seems odd to me to do it that way.
    This is what it looks like when they've invaded.

    The reason I include that shot, is that you don't get to see the Game Over message for very long. Once it's "Game Over", the Bally gives you a second-and-a-half to check your score and then it dumps you back to the game selection screen. It's very annoying, especially if you have a score of which you wanted to take a picture. This is one of those games you'd better be running through your VHS or Betamax if you want to be saving any screenshots of your high score. By the way, this is a one player only cart -- no alternating two-player play mode. Having a buddy with you, keeping an eye on your score, is a good way of actually finding out what your final score was.
    I never thought about this before, but could Space Invaders be considered the first game with a continuous soundtrack? It isn't much, musically, but it certainly sets a tone. Here, again, the Bally's sound capabilities really come through as the audio output of the "invader march", the base explosions, the saucer -- all sound great. The Bally Professional Arcade just seems to have this ability to produce rich deep bass tones that I'm not getting from the Channel F, VCS or Odyssey^2.
    So, to sum up Space Invaders for the Bally Pro Arcade: yay for color, yay for difficulty levels, yay for audio, boo for ADHD Game Over screen, meh for controller. Overall, it gets a happy face.
    Next entry we'll look at Star Battle. 11067
  10. Mezrabad
    This is going to be a lot less interesting than one might hope, sorry to say.
    The "fun" part was figuring out how to set this up on my TV so that I could take cool simultaneous screen shots. See, I've got a wide screen and it lets me view two channels at the same time. That way I could take side by side pictures of both boards. I nearly had a solution that would have only required purchasing an RF to coax adaptor when I realized that, of course, my wife had the camera in Florida with her and the kids this week. This led me to the solution I used, which was far less elegant, but didn't involve having to leave my house and purchase anything. Basically, I used one RF switch box hooked up to a VCR hooked up to a monitor. The consoles hooked to the RF switch by going through a multi-channel switcher that I had stopped using once I had gotten a decent S-Video switch box. Unfortunately the multi-channel was only good if there was only one system on at a time. The two systems generated a lot of interference for each other that caused both boards to look like a good, old-fashioned RF interference moiré-lined mess. I couldn't look at it very long; made me feel a little sick, this partially contributed to not putting both of the systems through all of their paces.
    Okay, on with the vs.
    As far as I can tell, the Fairchild chess program Schach only has one skill level. The trouble here is that even if someone had put the instructions online, they'd be in German, wouldn't they? Anyway, I've never found them online so the point is moot. I did discover another feature of the Fairchild; if you're in the middle of a move that you're not sure what to do, you can have it make "the best move" for you. Just thought that was cool.
    The Fairchild program doesn't seem to have an option for playing either side. You play White. Period. Atari has the option of switching the board up so that it plays white. So that's what I did. Consequently, Atari always gets the first move.
    On Fairchild's only skill level it can beat Atari at its lowest skill level: the beginner game on game 8. It isn't a very exciting game and Fairchild doesn't win because it makes great moves, but only because Atari seems to play "safe" as one would expect from a beginner mode.
    Fairchild "stalemates" with Atari on its game 1. In fact, both players beat each other down to a King, Rook, opposite Bishops and five blocked pawns each before getting caught in the stalemate.
    Now when I say "stalemates" I mean a situation sets up where both programs make the same set of 6 or so moves, over and over and over again. It's like a feedback loop that neither one of them can break out of. If either one of them were programmed to be creative at this point it wouldn't have been so bad, but both wouldn't budge from their attempts to convert the board based on the one plan each of them had. It was very frustrating and dull to watch. After three iterations of it I finally had to go in and kick Atari's ass with some unconventional "human" moves. (I drew it out of its pattern by aggressively moving my king around, killing pawns and talking smack; something Fairchild wasn't programmed to do)
    Anyway, after that little experiment I was left with no energy or enthusiasm to continue the experiment. It's just not that fun to be the lackey that sits there, switching between programs and duplicating each machine's move. It's like playing chess by myself but having no say in what moves are made. Dull, dull, dull.
    The machines are still set up for play. I may do one more game between Atari game 2 and Fairchild's one and only. I foresee a victory for Atari.
    Next entry we're going to try comparing Atari's Basic Programming with Odyssey^2's Computer Intro.
  11. Mezrabad
    meloncholy. this is all I can remember about videogames from my childhood in no particular order punctuation or spelling .
    Everything I can remember about video games prior to 1987 spring of 1986, college roommate asks if I've ever heard anything about Nintendo? I reply "no" spring of 1986, person on dorm floor has an Apple II and a copy of Karateka 2: Wrath of Dude. Laughed heartily. Junior year (1984) two D&D friends talk about Mail Order Monsters sometime in High School, I get a C64 (1984?). No disk drive. I did buy Gateway to Apshai and loved it. Spent all night playing it with a friend. Bought it at King of Prussia and read the instructions aloud like a big dorky ham.
    Received an atari 2600 with combat pack in a blackjack cart and space invaders for Xmas from my dear now dead Granmom. Had to be Xmas of 1980. Later get Outlaw, Adventure, Circus Atari, Surround (with the McGroary's at a sale at Penny's in 69th street). Slot Machine (for some reason). Skiing, Pitfall. Indy 500. Slot Racers. Space Combat. I don't remember what else. I remember playing Superman and Asteroids at Mike Bair's House. I remember an Odyssey^2 at David Cregan's house, but don't remember it ever hooked up. Tommy Malone had a ColecoVision. I think I remember playing Venture on it.
    At the bowling alley arcade. I remember playing Seawolf. Astro Fighter (with Cregan). Venture. Battlezone. Asteroids. Space Invaders. Pac-Man. Missile Command. Galaxian. Star Castle. Omega Race. Space Wars. Q-bert. Tempest. (Some game with the statue of liberty in the background?)
    At our corner WaWa there was a Zaxxon, a Q-bert and a Dragon's Lair if I recall.
    PONG in the bowling alley in New Paltz, NY. Checkmate in the basement of the franklin institute circa 1978. Atari Football (cocktail) at the Pizza Hut at Barkely Square. Dark Castle on the Macintosh. Robot Odyssey on Jeff Glasse's Apple II Circus Atari in a restaurant somewhere.
    5200 games at Bair's: Breakout, Countermeasure, Space Dungeon, Star Raiders.
    playing a sit-down Space Wars cabinet at Chuck Cohen's fraternity on new year's eve, 1990.
    Joust at Pizza Hut. Armor Attack with George Wyatt somewhere. Lunar Lander in a Mall in Quakertown. (7th grade?) Boot Hill at the Wynnewood Bowling Alley along with pinball machine, Eight-ball. Showing Susan McConnell Tetris at Einsteins Arcade on the Drag. Watching Bailey play D&D on his Intellivision.
    Stunrunner at Granite Run Mall with Regina and others. Regina realizing she was with a bunch of geeks. Hard Driving .... where? Planetfall on the C-64. Zork on Glasse's Apple II. Some D&D game at some games convention at Widener's campus. No idea what it was, but if I ever see it again, I'll recognize it.
    Seeing the Fairchild in a JC Penny's or Sears Xmas catalog circa 1976. Seeing the Coleco Arcade (I remember the triangle carts) in a catalog (never saw it in person). 8-track robot, 2-xl? quiz wiz, xmas 1979. Merlin. gave it away to a kid in Canada. made his day. hand-held football. played it like a fiend. Thanks uncle joey. hand-held baseball, too, not as good as football, but I remember sound-effects better. some cart-based balloon breaking game on the c64 loaned to me by Pat Donhahue. Music Maker on the Ti994a along with Return to Pirate's Isle, Pirate Adventure. breaking in to Jeff's house to code the waste of time treasure hunt game (though we typed it in surprisingly well)
    Borrowing a supercharger, dragon stomper and escape from the mind master for a weekend. bitmapping Mickey on the Ti. bitmapping the enterprise on the c64. writing a text adventure game that let user walk around Mike's house but Jeff playing it and trying to break it. the fucker. the C-64 at the Rice's house. the TRS-80 at Bob-johnsons' house. some Pyramid game? The sands of Egypt on some computer in a games and gadgets at King of Prussia. Ulysses and the Golden Fleece for sale at the original Software Boutique in KofPrussia. Eliza for the Apple II. Getting Jeff the extra memory for it for his birthday.
    Tom Malone single-handedly programming our senior year project for basic programming class. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on Jeff's Apple II. and on Evie's IBM. Text adventure Donkey Kong by Tom on his xerox pc? not sure . . .
    Vic-20s in the store. 10 print "hello" 20 goto 10. har har. TRS-CoCo. same as above.
    Shopping for PCs in 1981 with Fr. Menihan and seeing a Commodore Pet. First and only time. Playing Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple II at the George Washington Motorlodge at some PC convention thing. Saw something for Sesame Place then, too. Kill the smurfs fan hack on the c-64. Kung-fu fighting sound sample on the C-64. All the cool SID, C64 midi tracks from Danny Destefano. (Star Trek was the best.) CD-rom demonstration with Jeff and George back in 1984 or so.
    Laser-disk commercial seen with Cregan late one nite. " world on a silver platter . . ." Tom Malone ripping it up on Zaxxon. He had the game down cold. Afterburner in the airport when I arrived in Austin in 1987. Crazy Climber at KofP mall. Some greenish car game. gear shifting, pedal, steering wheel.? Sprint 8 at Polynesian village in WDW, 1979.
    Star Rider at Contemporary Hotel, WDW 1983?
    Vaguely remember seeing a FireTruck game, but never played it. Superbug was familiar. Rally-X was at bowling alley arcade in UD. Ditto Donkey Kong. Rip-off, Space Fury. I remember those in the arcade.
    I feel these memories were more than half my lifetime ago, most of them were about 25 years ago. The fact that I think I'm actually recalling all of them bugs me. There should've been more. There should've been so many that I wouldn't be able to recall them all. I'm not in this for the nostalgia. remembering all this just fills me with melancholy. friends I'll never see again. years I'll never get back. part of me wishes I'd spent more time playing videogames as a teen so I wouldn't have all these lost friendships to mourn.
    I can't remember everything. I just wish I could stop trying to. I wish I had paid more attention when everything was happening. I wish I would remember to do that with my life even now. suddenly my son is 9. my baby boy. the person I held in my arms when he was less than 30 minutes old. less than a day old just rocking with him in the hospital room watching weird blockbuster rental tornado home-movies. He's too big to hold anymore. i weep over it. i weep over my life and the years that just drip away one after another. turning 40 soon. how much life left? how much time?
  12. Mezrabad
    Slot Machine a.k.a. Slots (Atari VCS, 1979)
    I theorize that in the mid 1970s, the U.S. Department of Defense had conducted experiments on non-violent methods of torture. Back then, apparently, violent methods of torture were frowned upon. I’ve heard that, in some circles, they are still frowned upon, even today, but I digress.
    So, the DoD went to Atari and said, "We want you to make a simulation that will suck the very life-energy out of the person interfacing with it. We want it to be simple to use, and we want it to be so awful that prisonersguests will actually request torture in exchange for not being forced to suffer through this activity. That way we'll have their permission to torture them and can extract some real information."
    Atari experimented with a few ideas, (one of which became Hunt & Score), but the actual program they selected to demo to the DoD was considered to be “too life-draining.” One high ranking official was quoted as saying, “That’s enough! I don't even have the energy to puke anymore.”
    However, the Department of Defense, though no longer interested in what Atari had developed, were impressed and they began to inquire about tank sims. That's another story, possibly for another time.
    Atari, was left with this "worse than torture" program into which they had invested dozens of dollars with no way to recoup their expenses. Finally, some programmer, apparently with a history of abuse, said "Hey, we can make a game out of this!"
    And that's how Slot Machine came to be.
    Really, that's all I have to say about it.


  13. Mezrabad
    Casino (Atari VCS, 1979)
    All right, this is another game which makes it possible to play Blackjack on the Atari VCS. I approached this cart with some pretty low expectations. I have a very hard time getting into Blackjack games on videogame consoles, though I do remember enjoying Odyssey^2's Blackjack game well enough -- must've been the keyboard.
    So, I check out the directions (thanks Atari Age!) and find out that it supports up to four players! Well, we only had three players after I conscripted my son (9) and daughter (5) into service. The two-player version of BJ supports splitting and doubling on appropriate hands, which is cool, but there's no room on the screen for splitting in the four-player version.
    The difficulty switches are implemented well. One difficulty switch makes the game more luck-dependent by forcing a shuffle every hand (makes card counting useless). The other switch changes the rules between Casino I rules and Casino II rules (are these real rules or just what Atari calls 'em?) These rules change at what total the dealer will stand and add the ability to win a hand if you take three or eight hits without busting. That's a pretty weird rule change. I've always thought "five hits and no bust" to be a win. On the four-player game you win your hand if you don't bust with only three hits, but on two-player, the card maximum is eight. We never saw anyone get eight cards without busting.
    Stud Poker is a lot like Blackjack. Each player (and the dealer) is dealt two cards. You evaluate the potential of your hand and place a bet or fold. Everyone gets another card and bets again. When everyone has five cards everyone's hand is compared to the dealer's and if a player's hand beats it, they win their bet. The betting seems odd to me, but I'm not familiar with regular poker to know if it is odd or not. As each card is dealt and the betting starts, a bet must exceed the maximum bet from the previous round of betting. It's fun for Stud Poker, but as in most electronic games of chance, I feel as though winning any points is more up to the luck of the draw than any skill.
    Speaking of luck, I'm lucky that I had to play this cartridge, because otherwise, I might not have ever played Poker Solitaire. Poker Solitaire, the last game in this Casino, is quite an addictive game. You draw 25 cards one at a time and have to build the best poker hands by laying them out in a 5x5 grid. You're awarded points based on the poker hands you manage to build in the five rows, five columns and two diagonals. According to the directions, the highest possible score would be 3,340 points and would involve 4 Royal Straight Flushes, 5 Four-of-a-Kinds, 2 Straights and 1 Straight Flush. I haven't quite worked out what that would look like, I've got a long time before I get close to a "perfect game"as my high score is currently 820. I haven't worked out any strategy for this game, yet, but certainly some moves are better than others. However, if the cards aren't there, they simply aren't there. More often than not my score is a dismal 400 or less.
    One piece of advice playing this game: don't judge it if you play the version found in Atari Anthology; the control scheme (no paddle) is infuriating. Trying to tap a d-pad to get the cursor to go one space to the left or right (and not two or more) is annoying. Just thought I'd mention it.
    Overall, this is a good cart and a big improvement over the 1st generation Atari Blackjack cart. The Blackjack and Stud Poker games are fun if you've got more than one player and Poker Solitaire is really addictive. If you've got a real set of cards and some poker chips, I'm pretty sure that most folks would have a better time playing the card games sitting around a table instead of in front of the TV. However, Casino isn't a bad bet bad way to kill some time, for a few hands anyway.
    I get to play Superman next! I'm very excited about it and looking forward to seeing how my kids enjoy it.7485
  14. Mezrabad
    Human Cannonball aka Cannonball Man (Atari VCS, 1979)
    You're given a cannon, a crazy fool inside the cannon and a water tower, which we affectionately refer to as "the bucket". There are three variables: speed, cannon angle and distance from the cannon to the water tower. In the first game, a speed is randomly generated, representing the speed at which the Cannonball Man will be shot from the cannon. You must try to select the cannon's angle which will allow Projectile Man to land in "the bucket". The bucket is maneuverable, which we actually did not know at first. Let me tell you, the first game isn't too hard without knowledge that the bucket can move, but with that knowledge it becomes much easier. The directions for these old games continue to have useful information and we need to remember to read them.
    Your game objective is to get Mr. Ballistic into the bucket seven times before you turn him into circus pizza seven times.
    There are eight game variations, each with a one and two player version. The game variations increase the difficulty. Game 1 is as I described, given the speed of Mortar Man and a fixed position cannon, select the angle of expulsion. Game 2 pretty much the same as game 1, but the cannon is further away from the bucket. Game 3 gives you a random cannon location and you must choose the angle and speed. Game 4 lets you choose the position of the cannon, but the angle and speed are randomly generated.
    Game's 5 through 8 are pretty much the same as games 1 through 4 except for two very important differences. First difference: the water tower is no longer movable -- there's no fudging your numbers; you either get the variables right or your man is a greasy spot on the midway. Second difference: the other twist adds a "window" through which your little ballistic friend must travel. The window is a gap in a barrier which continuously moves down the screen between your cannon and the bucket. If you don't time your shot just right, Missile Dude hits the barrier and becomes cannon fodder, um, of a sort.
    This is another game that, like Sky Diver, awards a consolation prize for failure. When your flying fool misses the tower completely or hits it from the side he will subsequently hit the ground with a nice splat sound. The word "Ouch" appears over his formerly ballistic body.
    The pre-window games are fun enough. The challenge is mostly just recalling what speed and angle combination work best at what distances. A well-considered guess can feel pretty good when you pull it off. If the repetitive gameplay doesn't scare you off, it is possible to get pretty proficient at the first four games. Just try to remember the distance, speed and angle combinations and be ready to move that water tower when needed.
    The "window" games are harder and a bit frustrating. If you bother to get good at the first four games, so that you know the angles, distance and speeds very well, then you may be able to do well enough at the window games so that they are challenging and not frustrating.
    The problem I have with the gameplay is that it is fun, but only up to a certain point; that point being when it starts getting too damn hard. There's nothing about the game that keeps us coming back for the real challenge (frustration) of the window levels other than the continuous abuse/death of a humanlike figure, which doesn't have as much draw for us as one might think.
    What's difficult to tell is whether or not we would've gotten "into" this game back in the day, when games were expensive and purchases were few and far between. If this were the only Atari VCS game we owned, I think we would've enjoyed it to the point where we might have tried to get good at the harder levels. Since we now have access to way too many games, it just isn't a good enough thrill on which to blow a lot of time and effort. We'd much rather play Sky Diver than Human Cannonball.
    I don't know what game is next; probably Casino. 7352
  15. Mezrabad
    Hockey! / Soccer! (Odyssey^2, 1979) / 7160
    Okay, I made a mistake. I think I said that I was going to talk about Hockey! / Soccer! after my first Odyssey1979 entry and I didn't and then I forgot about it. Sorry about that.
    Let's start with Soccer! This title isn't deserving of its exclaimation point. The action is a little slow and a little awkward. The soccer ball doesn't go very far when we kick it, even when using the action button. You can only control the keeper plus one soccer player at the same time. While you're controlling the one player, the other players stumble around like the robots in War of Nerves!. The way to play this game is close to how one might play real soccer in that it's better to pass the ball than to try to run it down the field with a single player. Regardless of the control management scheme, however, Soccer! just plain feels slow. Now, I know I was just complaining about Thunderball! being too fast but there's a happy medium on this system and I'm certain I'll find it.
    Hockey! is a lot closer to that happy medium. Maybe the players on the ice move faster, or maybe passing seems to be handled a little better, but whatever the reason, both my son and I had a much better time playing Hockey! than Soccer!.
    Soccer! consists of two five-minute halves, while Hockey! consists of three five-minute periods. Amazingly, Soccer! feels like it takes longer to play than Hockey! does.
    It is nice to play these games with participants in the shape of human beings instead of paddles. Off the top of my head, I can only come up with previous versions of Hockey on the Magnavox Odyssey and the Fairchild Channel F. I can't come up with any previous iterations of Soccer released in the US. So, what we have here are the best versions Hockey or Soccer to be found on any home system in 1979.
    Next entry will be Sky Diver for the Atari VCS. I mean it this time.
  16. Mezrabad
    Thunderball! (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Thunderball! is a video pinball game in the tradition of APF Pinball (1978) or Atari Video Pinball (1977). However, what served as flippers in those games was really just a barrier which you could turn on and off to prevent the ball from exiting the bottom (or sides) of the screen. In Thunderball! we are given what actually could pass for flippers and it goes a long way towards giving this attempt at pinball a much more authentic flavor.
    I will describe the play of this game as fast paced. The ball moves very smoothly and exactly as one might expect, if one expected the playing field to be tilted towards the player at a 45 degree angle. If I were a talented pinball player, or even a talented videogame player, I would say that the fast pace is a lot of fun. However, my talent, being what it is, merely leads me to feel that anything that happens in this game while I'm playing it is due to luck, because my overall feeling is a complete lack of control.
    This feeling most likely goes away after one develops some proficiency at Thunderball! but neither my son nor I seem able to keep a ball in play long enough to get better at keeping the ball in play. I would need to spend much more time getting better at this game than the actual amount of time I have or care to spend on it. I don't consider this the fault of the game.
    One of the problems with these whirlwind chronological tours of gaming is that some games may require more time for which to develop a taste than I'm willing to invest. Maybe I could get better at a particular game with some practice, but when gameplay initially seems to depend completely on luck, there's just no incentive for me to explore it further. I'm the same way with Pachinko or slot machines in the real world. I'm not saying that Thunderball! depends on luck, I'm saying that it depends on a type of playing skill or an understanding that I currently do not posess, so, to me, it seems like luck. Anyway, if you like pinball, give this a shot, it is certainly the best pinball game we've seen yet.
    Here's a movie of it in action.
    Thunderball! (3.68 MB) (Dead link.)
    Okay, that finishes up the Odyssey^2 for 1979. Yes, I still need to write more about Computer Intro, but I'm not done with it yet, so I'll talk about it later. Instead, we'll start working on the Atari VCS and Sky Diver.
  17. Mezrabad
    Showdown in 2100 A.D. (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Takes the old idea of a duel between gunfighters and gives it a "futuristic" setting, the 22nd Century!!! The cowboys are animated in a similar manner to the main characters in I've Got Your Number and War of Nerves, but of course, these guys have hats.

    The "trees" are a way of replenishing one's ammunition. Just touch a tree that's the same color as you are and you get more bullets. Running out of ammo seems to be a standard feature in a cowboy themed gun duel game, but the ability to reload is new and I found it to be a nice touch. The trees also serve as pinball bumpers. If you shoot one you may set up a wild series of ricochets that could kill you or your opponent. This feature gave my children a lot of giggles as each would find it absolutely hilarious when the other shot themselves with a ricochet bullet.
    Looking at the other gun duel games available at the time there's Gunfight on the Bally Professional Arcade and Outlaw on the Atari VCS.
    Gunfight's design on the Bally Professional Arcade beats out Showdown in 2100 A.D. due to a few factors, one being the ability to control the angle of the shot and another being the better graphics and sound. Gunfight may be a better design, but we had many more laughs while playing Showdown.
    Outlaw on the Atari VCS, like so many games on the VCS, has a great deal of variations and that alone gives it more replay value than Showdown. Outlaw also has destructible environments which add a lot of fun. Yet, again, we laughed a lot harder playing Showdown.
    At first glance, on pure technical merit, I'd rank the Gun duel games on the three systems that had them as: #1 Gunfight, #2 Outlaw and #3 Showdown. (Oh, and I almost forgot about Gunfighter for the RCA Studio II which I'll rank fifth out of four.)
    On the other hand, Showdown in 2100 A.D. has something that neither of the other games have and that's a single player mode with a computer controlled opponent. In fact, it even has a zero-player mode. If you start a game and leave the controllers alone, both gunslingers will become computer controlled and will shoot it out. It can be fun to watch, especially due to the ricochet gameplay. The single player opponent isn't much of a challenge, but the fact that it exists give major points in my book to the Odyssey^2's version.
    If I were shoveling out original retail price cash for any of the three*, I'd say that Outlaw for the Atari gives two-players the most for their money. However, considering Showdown's single player mode and the fact that we laughed most and hardest while playing the two-player game, I'm going to say that Showdown is our favorite gun duel game from the era. If it were 1979 and we had to choose a gun duel game that we could only play for 15 minutes, I wouldn't hesitate to slap Showdown in before the others.
    I've got some movies of the action in Showdown. You may also want to check out the I've Got Your Number entry for gameplay movies I added. (See the link at its earlier mention.)
    Blue Shoots Red! (1.22 MB)
    Blue gets the drop on Red.
    Riccochet Shot! (1.65 MB)
    Red gets pulled back by some trees and then Blue pulls the 'ol ricochet shot on him.
    Red's Revenge (1.91 MB)
    Red, entirely fed up with blue, demonstrates an interesting morphing of Blue's corpse while repeatedly shooting it into a pile of mush.
    *Ignore, for the moment, the fact that Gunfight was a built-in game for the Bally Professional Arcade.
  18. Mezrabad
    War of Nerves (Odyssey^2, 1979)

    This is another great example of a game that didn't seem like much when I played it single-player but blossomed into a real giggle when I played it with my son.
    You control a general and your mission is to lead a bunch of robots into battle to catch the enemy general, who also has robots. The challenge here is that you lead, you don't control. The robots can disable each other and you can heal them by touching them. There's a play balancer in that as robots on your team become disabled your remaining robots move faster. There's trees all over the playfield around which the robots and your general must maneuver.
    As a single-player game, this didn't cause any "whooping" from me.
    Then I played it with my nine year old boy and suddenly we were having fun, and I mean fun. We were yelling at our brain-dead robots, we were yelling at our generals and we alternately begged for mercy from each other's robots. ("I'll give you power! Wealth beyond measure! Just let me go, please!")
    I don't think it was "fluke" fun either, in that it had nothing to do with whales. No. I mean in that it wasn't a "one shot, we happened to be in a good mood that day" type of fun. There was just something about the dynamics of the game that made it quite enjoyable for us. I'm not saying everyone could sit down with another person and enjoy War of Nerves but I am saying that I think we could sit down with it a second maybe even a third time and still have fun with it.
    Other than the screenshot at the opening, I wasn't able to get any movies or screens that weren't really blurry or just plain dull looking. I really only want to spend the bandwidth when it's worth it.
    That's it, I'll talk about Showdown in 2100 A.D. next entry.
  19. Mezrabad
    I've Got Your Number! (Odyssey^2, 1979)

    This is an educational title pretending to be a game.
    Each player controls a human shaped figure that starts on either side of the screen. An equation shows up at the bottom middle of the screen. A question mark denotes the unknown element of the equation. In the main playing field is a sea of about a dozen or so shapes, symbols and numbers in two groups each rotating around a center symbol. The object of the game is to be the first player to correctly select the shape, symbol or number that replaces the unknown element in the equation by moving the human shaped figure to the correct symbol. If you touch the wrong figure with your human shaped thing, then you are sent back to your starting side and have to go after the correct one. You use the button to make your creature duck its featureless head underneath symbols you don't want it to touch.
    The game is designed for either the very young, or the very, very old. My daughter took a few turns before she understood the point, but she was unable to really get a handle on controlling the Odyssey^2 joystick (it was her first time using it, she's good at using a Genesis gamepad but just doesn't seem to get joysticks).
    The equations are pretty simple. For instance. "OOO=3?" in this case the correct answer would be "O". Or how about this one: "***=?*" in this case the correct answer would be "3". It is barely math, it is more like "Pre-Math". I see where the design is coming from, they're attempting to create an isomorphism for the player; alowing them to suddenly perceive "***" as equally representable as "3*". I wish someone would make a hack of it and put in equations like: (SSSSSSO*SSSSSSSO)=(SSO*SSSO*SSSSSSSO)=? just for the hell of it.
    All in all, it's an education title.
    I will say one thing, however, the human shaped figures were animated surprisingly smoothly; they weren't from the standard Odyssey^2 set of characters, either. They were bigger and moved very differently than anything we've seen yet. Maybe I'll post a little movie of them later if I can enlist my son to help me while I hold the camera.
    Here's a pair of movies.
    See how smoothly they're animated? Pretty cool. Also note that the default background color is blue, but it changes to the color of whoever wins the point.
    Something odd. Some of my Odyssey^2 boxes have stickers on the side in Japanese. I think I'm playing Odyssey^2 imports from Japan! Ooo!

    (Translates to: "Play Arithmetic Game" so, really it's just "Fun With Numbers")
    That's it for now. I'm in my final semester of college. I apologize for how infrequent my entries have been for the past year. Being a full-time student again is like always having voices in the back of my mind saying "Shouldn't you be working on X?", "Don't you have more reading to do for your class?", or "Why, WHY do they always come to me to die!?". I'm saying that there always seems to be more to do. Well, I've got one more paper to write, one more quiz to take, one more final exam to sit for, three more online discussions to wrap up, books to order for next session and then, finally, I'm free until January 7th. Yippee! On December 20th, I'll be a very relaxed guy, probably for the last time, ever. After I graduate in March, I'll have to find a job and then work for the rest of my life. Bummer. Whose idea was that?
  20. Mezrabad
    Out of this World / Helicopter Rescue (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Out of this World! is a "graviteasing" space race.
    A better way to describe it would be a one dimensional Lunar Lander knock-off. You control a lander module by using its retro rockets to regulate its descent to the lunar surface. Your fuel is limited, which promotes an aside subject.
    Armstrong and Aldrin had a similar issue when they were landing on our moon: they had a limited amount of fuel and had to find a safe place to land the Eagle. Apparently they were indeed about to run out of fuel when they managed to find a nice place to land. Would "we" (as a species) have ever come up with the "Lunar Lander" class of videogames if they'd had an easy time of it?
    Let's get back to the matter at hand. I should say "at thumb" because to control your descent you don't use the joystick, you just press the button to activate your retro rockets. Land at too high a velocity and your ship becomes a chunky pixel pile; take too long to land and your ship runs out of fuel, falls to the lunar surface and becomes a chunky pixel pile. After landing successfully you receive a fuel bonus and must rendevous with the orbiter module.
    I don't like making fun of the graphics of early games because A) it's too damn easy and B) it's besides the point. However, in this case, I must point out that the orbiter module looks like the side view of a dreidel. This is especially cool if you received the cartridge as a Hanukkah gift.

    Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel!
    I made you out of little purple squares . . .
    So, after landing, you must take off again and join up with the Space Dreidel. This doesn't have to be like the gentle landing required to survive contact with the lunar surface. You just have to collide with the dreidel and you're good. What I don't "get" is an orbiter without a predictable period, this one seems a little random.
    Cool Thing: There are three gravity settings. Lunar, Mars and Jupiter. These increased gravity settings don't seem to accelerate your spacecraft's descent, but you do have to slow it down to nearly zero to prevent the pixel pile from forming when on Jupiter gravity.
    Helicopter Rescue! is a daring lifesaving mission!
    To start, you have to rescue people from the roof of the DOOMSDAY hotel which, right away, brings compelling questions concerning the sanity of anyone staying at a hotel that not only chooses DOOMSDAY as its name but also spells it in all-caps. After this sophomoric reflection on bad foreshadowing, one must proceed to pilot a helicopter.
    Before I bitch about the game, let me say, I loved this helicopter. You can move the helicopter up, down, right left. It doesn't tilt or give you any sense of copter control movement, but this baby does rotate. I don't mean a top down view of rotation like in Combat I mean a very smooth side view of a helicopter turning around. It is quite cool.
    Here is a movie of an entire rescue in action. Note the smooth rotation of the helicopter.
    (Dead Link. I do remember the rotation of the helicopter being exceptionally smooth, though.)
    It doesn't look so bad, but that's all you do!
    You move the chopper over to the hotel.
    Hold down the button to lower the basket.
    The person gets into the basket.
    Hold down the button to raise the basket.
    Move the chopper over to the rescue pad.
    Lower the basket.
    The person disappears.
    Raise the basket.
    You have two minutes to perform as many rescues as you can stand.
    The graphics actually surpass the gameplay due to surprisingly good graphics and surprisingly stale gameplay. This has to be a first in home videogaming history. Sadly, this phenomenon has been duplicated ad infinitum, especially in recent years.
    Overall, I can only roll my eyes. If they could do the cool copter graphics in the Helicopter game, why couldn't they have improved the graphics for Out of this World? Why couldn't they have added some thruster or gravity elements to Helicopter Rescue? Both games seem like half a design. I wish they'd combined them somehow into a single game that was more fun.
  21. Mezrabad
    I find it hard lately to take screenshots of games for which I know screenshots and even well crafted home movies already exist. I also find it to be a little off-putting to my actually sitting down and trying to play a game, thinking "okay, I'll need to take some pictures of this". For now, I'm going to stop worrying about the visuals for these entries and simply "blog".
    Invaders from Hyperspace (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Freaky game. You and your co-player are protecting two planetary systems from alien attack. The two systems each consist of four planets orbiting a central planet. At the start of a game, each player has a system colored to match their ship. The red ship starts out with four red planets orbiting a single red planet and the yellow ship starts out with the identical yellow compliment.
    Two enemy ships, one colored purple and the other colored green, suddenly warp into the screen space and start shooting planets. Every shot that hits a planet cycles that planet through a selection of colors. Each enemy ship is trying to turn your planets to their color. In fact if you do nothing with your ship, (let it be destroyed or just land on a matching colored planet and stay there) the enemy ships will start to fight with each other regarding how the planets should be colored.
    It's not all about decorating choices. Having a planet with a color that matches your ship gives you a place to hide and a place to resurrect after your ship is destroyed by either the enemies or your co-player.
    Let's talk about your co-player, the little booger.
    This is not a cooperative game. Your goal is to kill 10 of the alien ships before your co-player does the same. If that means knocking him out every chance you have in order to reach 10 kills, then so be it. No, there's no points for killing the other player, but it does take them out of the action for a little while and leave the tasty point causing alien ships all for yourself.
    This game is more fun with another person, especially if they understand that it's nothing personal when you kill them repeatedly while leaving them no friendly planet on which to regenerate. This can be fun! While it sounds a little abusive, be aware that though you may have eliminated a place for your co-player to regenerate, chances are an enemy ship will make one for him as it shoots the planets and cycles them through their color pallettes.
    Some cute touches to this game. If you run into a planet that's the same color as your ship, you get to "dock" with the planet and you are protected there. While you may be protected, however, you aren't earning any points. If you run into a planet that is a different color than you are, it results in your mutual destruction. You will eventually resurrect on a matching colored planet, but the planet you just ran into is gone for good. There are eight such destructable planets. The central planet of each of the two systems is invulnerable.
    The goal of the single player game is to keep as many planets alive as you can while racking up the enemy kills to 10. Which means the best one can do on single player is not running into any planets and leaving all eight of them intact. It's not very difficult and much more fun to have a pain in the ass human controlled competitor trying to peg you every chance they get.
    We had some fun with this game--particularly yelling at each other for changing a planet's color (we're a red planet! a peaceful planet! we don't want to be yellow!) and there was always an enemy ship, planet or co-player to avoid or fire at.
    I'll give this game a "smile" rating, because we enjoyed it.
  22. Mezrabad
    Alpine Skiing, (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Unless I'm forgetting a game, we haven't seen a Skiing game in a home videogame context since 1972!
    Skiing for the Magnavox Odyssey was fun for its day in a Zen sort of way. Alpine Skiing is less fun but has some perks. I wonder what made them choose the Alps? Why not Andes or Himalayian Skiing?
    First perk: it's two player, simultaneous. Points to any game that attempts to force people to play together, even if it the overall experience is mediocre. Good games lead to happy bonding opportunities; bad games lead to shared suffering, which is also a type of bonding opportunity.
    Second perk which really part of the first perk, Alpine skiing gives us a pseudo-split-screen slolom course with alternating red and blue gates. Player one and two share the same randomly generated course but each on their own, private half-a-screen. From the top center of their respective side, players pull back on the joystick and try to steer their skiers through gates that come up from the bottom of the screen. The gates look like trees or mushrooms, depending on how your Rorschach swings that day and can be oriented either horizontal or vertical. You'll either have to make your skier go through them from side to side or from top to bottom. The action button makes you go about 30% faster but usually has the effect of making us crash into the next gate quicker. The idea is to get through the course in the shortest amount of time while passing through each of the 55 gates. If you miss one, then it just becomes a matter of who gets the least amount of gate misses.
    It's almost like a driving game, in that one must steer through a course, but unlike Bally's Dodge 'Em or Atari's Street Racer (hey, which also had a skiing title in it somewhere) your skier has vertical and horizontal velocity components rather than an ability to simply strafe left or right with a paddle twist. As the skier turns to go left, it slows down like a real skier would and take a little time to establish the pre-turn speed again.
    My son and I aren't able to get the hang of this, and find our little skiers careening down the slope, constantly missing the gates, or hitting the sides of them. My son likes to take his skier over to my side of the screen and act like he's cheating or something by trying to trip me. Though the sprites can overlap, the skier images can't actually interact, so while he's harassing me, his course violation count just keeps rising. The fact that we can cross over to each other's side makes the split screen screen seem a "pseudo" instead of a "bona fide" split. What is cool about the split is that the sides can maintain two seperate "hill speeds", in other words the gate mushrooms can move up faster or slower on one side than the other, so one player can hit the finish line while the other player is still breaking their little virtual neck, over and over, like some tragic figure in Greek mythology.
    I'm going to rate this a "meh." It isn't awful, but it isn't too much fun either. I should mention that we do like the way the skier falls on its face after hitting a gate. Yeah, so, maybe we are sociopaths, what's your point?
    Next time we'll play the Hockey / Soccer cart for the Odyssey^2.
    Computer Intro part 0001
    Getting a little deeper into Computer Intro, it should be noted that in addition to allowing one to program with hexadecimal codes, one may also program in Odyssey's assembly language. So, instead of typing two lines with 60 and then 13 you can type it all at once "LDV.0.13" which, I think, is "load register 0 with 13".
    The Computer Intro manual has backflaps with the codes and pictures of all the little built-in characters made for the Odyssey^2. I'm not sure if Computer Intro will give us a way to make our own characters, but I think it might allow us to choose one of the built-in graphics and move it around.
    I'll try putting in the first sample program for the next entry.
  23. Mezrabad
    This review bears no relation to the Kiss album from 1979 with the same name. That album came out in 1979 and now it's after 2000, man. For you Kiss fans, it doesn't take x-ray eyes to see that despite their charisma they could be accused of dirty livin'. If you get the joke then you sure know something. Yes, even in hard times, I've got a magic touch. Hah! I know, I'm hysterical, but save your love for the Odyssey^2.
    I've been reorganizing my "house of doom" into a single "wall of doom", i.e. trying to get all of my videogame stuff on display and immediately accessible. I'll have some pictures of this work in progress for another entry so please look forward to it. In the meantime, it's about time I fire up the Chronogame machine and do some old games.
    Dynasty (Odyssey^2, 1979)
    Like the APF MP1000 game, Catena, before it, Dynasty is a videogame version of the board game known as Othello to some and apparently Go to others. I've heard so much about the ancient game, Go, but I've never actually played it to confirm just how closely it resembles Othello. Regardless, the Dynasty manual says it is based on Go, but if any of you have played Othello then you know this game.
    Like Catena, there is a computer opponent for you in Dynasty. I'm certainly not a ranked Othello player but I know when I'm facing an inferior opponent and the computer player for this game was pretty easy to beat.
    Graphics-wise the colors of the opposing armies are easy to distinguish, and they even supply a different colored version for TVs that could only produce a black and white picture. Hmm, some of you young folk out there might not understand what I mean by that.
    Once upon a time, TV was only in black and white, though, technically, it was actually "greyscale". At one point, color TV was available, but Black and White TVs were still cheaper to produce and purchase. An Atari VCS has a switch to convert its games to black and white for easier visibility on a black and white TV set. Some of the later games may ignore this switch and use it for other features (I don't remember which ones do), but originally, it was for the cheaper black and white TVs that a kid probably had in their bedroom. Y'know I had a black and white TV in my bedroom, but I don't think I ever played my Atari VCS on it. Damn, what a missed opportunity.
    Aside: I do remember watching my in-room B&W TV set late night on December 8, 1980. I remember The Tonight Show getting interrupted by a special report that told me John Lennon had been murdered outside a New York City hotel. True Story.
    Anyway, it is pretty cool that there was a black and white version of Dynasty on the cart in case it was hard to distinguish the default colors on a black and white screen.
    Gameplay is painless. When it is your turn, you move a cursor around the board and select the spot in which you want to place your "army". The CPU does the same, but, of course, does it much quicker. The manual boasts that it can make 100,000 electronic decisions a second! For some reason, I don't think this will be the last time I hear that boast about this system.
    Another feature of Dynasty is that, in two player mode, it allows a timer to be set for a more advanced player, a timer that only runs during the advanced player's turn. So, if I were to play my son, I might give myself a time limit of maybe three minutes and my son would win the game if I didn't beat him in three minutes. It's a nice feature and one that wasn't in the APF version.
    The sound effects are inoffensive and harmless, there really is no animation to speak of, but the graphics serve their purpose just fine.
    All in all, there's nothing to dislike about this game other than the slightly IQ challenged AI. If I really wanted to play me some Othello, I'd probably rather get the board game itself and play someone face to face, but lacking an opponent, this game serves its purpose well.
    Next entry, I think I'll check out Alpine Skiing.
    Computer Intro, part 0000
    As I play through the 1979 Odyssey^2 games, I'm going to try to spend a little time each entry looking at Computer Intro, a cartridge that will supposedly allow me to program simple games into my Odyssey^2.
    First of all, let me commend this system for the Computer Intro manual (recently purchased from Zach Meston, thanks Zach!). The manual is a friendly, simple introduction to Assembly Language programming. How many books were out in 1979 that were actually friendly introductions to Assembly Language progamming? The introduction explains a lot of neat things about computers, how big they used to be, how much smaller they got, how much faster they'll get and how much information they'll be able to handle someday. (I think their estimates are based, in part, on Moore's Law, which would be appropriate since there were Intel chips in the Odyssey if I'm not mistaken.)
    The first example starts off by diving right into hexadecimal programming (!!!). It has you start a program with the opcode "60" which is for "Load Register 0." This thing lets you talk to the freakin' processor!! Is that cool or what? When I think about the money my parents spent on the Atari Keyboard Controllers and my copy of Atari Basic Programming, I cringe at how much more I would've learned had I been given an Odyssey^2 with a copy of Computer Intro. This is pretty exciting stuff and I say that with no irony in my tone what-so-ever.
    How many people around here got their start programming on an Odyssey^2 back in the day?
    Anyway, very excited about this. How come this wasn't called "Computer Intro!" ? (Where's the exclamation point?)
  24. Mezrabad
    Okay, one last "gone before" entry.
    1977 was when things started rolling, with the introduction of the Atari VCS, but 1978 was when things started rocking. Five programmable videogame consoles available that year.
    Atari VCS
    Fairchild Channel F (formerly VES)
    Bally Professional Arcade
    The Magnavox Odyssey^2
    APF MP1000
    Atari VCS 1978
    Flag Capture
    Home Run
    Hunt & Score
    Slot Racers
    Space War
    Fairchild Channel F 1978
    #15 Memory Match
    #16 Dodge It
    #17 Video Pinball
    #18 Hangman
    #19 Checkers
    #20 Video Whizball
    Bally Professional Arcade 1978
    Gunfight / Checkmate / Scribblin / Calculator (built ins)
    280Zzzap / Dodgem
    Clowns / Brickyard
    Elementary Math / Bingo Math
    Sea Wolf
    Letter Math / Spell & Score / Crosswords
    Panzer Attack / Red Baron
    Tornado Baseball / Tennis / Hockey / Handball
    Magnavox Odyssey^2 1978
    Armored Encounter / Subchase
    Bowling / Basketball
    Computer Golf
    Cosmic Conflict
    Las Vegas BlackJack
    Matchmaker / Buzzword / Logix
    Math-A-Magic / Echo
    Speedway / Spin-out / Crypto-Logic
    APF MP1000 1978
    Bowling / Micro Match
    Brickdown / Shooting Gallery
    Casino 1: Roulette / Keno / Slots
    Hangman / Tic-Tac-Toe / Doodle
    Pinball / Dungeon Hunt / Blockout
    Rocket Patrol
    UFO / Sea Monster / Break it Down / Rebuild / Shoot
  25. Mezrabad
    Okay, it's another "clip show" entry. See, part of the goal was to play everything in a long unbroken chain so the gradual evolution of these things could be observed. However, it ain't unbroken, so I'm refreshing my memory.
    This is just a refresh of 1977 with (EDIT 2021: without) links to the original articles.
    Miscellaneous Dedicated
    Stunt Cycle (a.k.a. Motocross)
    Video Pinball (a.k.a. Pinball Breakaway)
    Ultra PONG Doubles (a.k.a. PONG Sports IV)
    Coleco Combat
    Weird and Miscellaneous
    Coleco Telstar Arcade
    Okay, I don't know if Telstar Arcade should be considered a programmable system or not. Four carts were put out for it, but they were all carts with a different "pong on a chip" type arrangement in in each one. In other words, as I understand it, the "program" was hardcoded onto the chip and not sitting in a "rom" space. It could be that it wouldn't have to stay that way, later cartridges could have produced the same effect with actual programs stored in rom, but I don't think that ever happened. Can anyone with a better stocked brain confirm my reasoning for me? (EDIT 2021: Eric Ball pointed out that it the Coleco Telstar Arcade is more of a programmable system than, say, the Magnavox Odyssey is. In 2021, it's hard to find the Telstar Arcade for a price I'm willing to pay, so I guess I'll never play it, which, at my now more advanced age, I'm okay with. After thinking about it, it now feels like Telstar Arcade was more like a specialized controller set with video output. One could plug special carts into it and use the different controllers with the games in the carts. End EDIT)
    RCA Studio II
    Bowling / Freeway / Patterns / Doodles / Math (These were the built-ins)
    Space War (TV Arcade I)
    Fun with Numbers (TV Arcade II)
    Tennis / Squash (TV Arcade III)
    Baseball (TV Arcade IV)
    Speedway / Tag (TV Arcade Series)
    Gunfighter / Moonship Battle (TV Arcade Series)
    Blackjack (TV Casino Series)
    Biorhythm (TV Mystic Series)
    TV School House I
    Math Fun (a.k.a. TV School House II)
    Fairchild VES
    #4 Spitfire
    #5 Space War
    #6 Math Quiz I
    #7 Math Quiz II (#5, #6 and #7 are all the same entry)
    #8 Magic Number (NIM, Mindreader)
    #9 Drag Race
    #10 Maze (Cat & Mouse, Blindman's Bluff, Jailbreak, Trailblazer)
    #11 Backgammon / Acey-Ducey (#10 and #11 are the same entry)
    #12 Baseball
    / #13 Robot War / Torpedo Alley (#12 and #13 are the same entry)
    #14 Sonar Search
    Atari Video Computer System
    !!! Combat (a.k.a. Tank Plus) (Combat is the same entry that introduces the VCS)
    ! Indy 500 (a.k.a. Race)
    Video Olympics (a.k.a. Pong Sports) (Yay! Four Players!)
    !! Surround (a.k.a. Chase)
    ! Air-Sea Battle (a.k.a. Target Fun)
    Basic Math (a.k.a. Fun With Numbers)
    Blackjack(Same entry as BlackJack)
    Star Ship (a.k.a. Outer Space)
    Street Racer (a.k.a. Speedway II) (Yay! Four Players!)
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