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Everything posted by Mezrabad

  1. I've watched the first four episodes of Stargate on Hulu and was reminded too much of Sliders (planet of the week) and too intimidated by it's prodigious broadcast history (314 episodes if you count Infinity and Atlantis) to want to commit to it. However, the fact it's been on so long must mean something.... okay, truth be told, I wasn't at all interested into you said Ming-Na.
  2. Yes! those signs are awesome! "A playhouse of innocent amusements for young and old" struck me as slightly creepy, too... There was a marketing verbosity at the time that assumed potential paying customer would be literate and willing to read, I think...or maybe it was just a long building and they wanted to fill the ad-space... Ooo, thanks for providing the link to the actual manual, I should've done that!
  3. Steeplechase (Atari VCS, 1980) Before I get into the game, I want to get into the term "Steeplechase". For me "Steeplechase" has always stood for the name of an amusement pier in Atlantic City (though there was one in Coney Island, too, I never saw it). I can't say my family and I went "down the shore" a lot when I was growing up near Philadelphia in the late 70's, early 80's, but the few times I went I remember two of the Atlantic City piers, Steeplechase Pier and Steel Pier. For a 516kb image of Steeplechase Pier, click here. The linked picture is quite a bit before our time, but in some twisted symbolic way that only quality writers can pull off, Steeplechase Pier and the amusement piers like it are a cultural grandparent to our beloved pastime of video games so I don't feel entirely off-topic to bring it up here. If you go to that linked picture you can see people on "holiday" in 1910. 99.99% of the souls in that picture are undoubtedly worm food by now, (with the possible exception of the children on the lower right corner). However, to most of them Steeplechase Pier and Steel Pier were highlights of their holiday. 30 years later, the children and teens going to those places with their families would likely have the same sense of nostalgia so many of us retain from going to arcades in our growing up periods. Hmm, what was my point... oh yeah. In the 2070s, the pictures we have of our Arcades from the 70s and 80s will somehow look as grainy and as dated as this does to us now. Time and populations are really weird that way. Okay, I admit it, I didn't have a point, but that's a cool picture of Steeplechase Pier and I wanted to share. Anyway, the word "Steeplechase" was associated to that pier for me, and somewhere along the way, I learned it also has something to do with horses jumping over hurdles in a race. I was surprised to learn that Steeplechase originally refers to racing from the church steeple of one town to the church steeple of the next town, jumping over whatever got in the way -- ditches, fences, walls, hedges, creeks, etc. Steeplechase for the Atari VCS is more about the horse-hurdles variant. With two pairs of paddles up to four people can compete in two different race types with three levels of difficulty for each. The first three games are regularly spaced hurdles with beginning, medium and hard difficulty. The last three games are irregularly spaced hurdles, also with beginning, medium and hard difficulty. If you are playing with three other people, I can't see that it makes much of a difference which difficulty level you play, but if it's just you and one other person, the remaining horses are controlled by the computer, and then it does matter, because the computer is tough to beat. So, what's the game anyway? Okay, four horses each with their own lane race across the side-scrolling screen from left to right and jump over the hurdles approaching them from the right when the trigger button on the paddle controller is pressed at just the right time to have the horse jump over the obstacle. (Yeah, it's a run-on sentence. Just deal with it.) If the player presses the button too soon, or too late, the horsey graphic performs a grimace-inducing, knee-bending stumble-slide which slows your horse down. The "paddle" part of the paddle controller is used to control how long the horse spends in the air when jumping over the hurdles. The hurdles are of different widths: narrow, not-so-narrow, and friggin' wide. The paddle controller moves a height bar on the right side of each horse's lane. If you're a starting player, you just set that bar as high as it will go, and if you time every jump just right, you know that you'll clear even the friggin' wide hurdles. However, the horses don't actually progress towards the right side of the screen while jumping. The more time the horse spends in the air, the further they will fall behind the other horses. In a beginner-level game, the player can get away with just jumping with the bar set high. A more nuanced style of play involves setting the bar to match the length of jump needed, this allows the horse to spend less time in the air for the narrow and not-so-narrow jumps. This increased attention to not only timing your jumps but also your jump efficiency is a necessity to getting even close to beating the game-controlled horses of games 2,3 and 5,6. Here is a YouTube video I found that shows a full game of Steeplechase (being played on an emulator, but hey, I'll take it) (Edit: there's no link anymore. Discovering this in 2021.) This game is not what I would consider an attention grabber. Nothing explodes, nothing moves very quickly, and yet, you'll find yourself frantically trying to keep up with the jumping and the height bar as you spend a lot of time looking at the other horses' collective rear. Steeplechase is an easy game to understand, but I do not consider it a simple game to play. Putting the height bar on the opposite side of the screen actually made it a little tough to pay attention to the height of the bar and the timing of the jump. Also, the thrill of successfully jumping a barrier is not as positively rewarded as the punishment and negative impact of watching a horse crumble to its knees after failing a jump. After a few races and seeing her horse hit the ground again and again, my daughter was ready to turn in her saddle and frankly, so was I. Sadly, I was unable to muster the enthusiasm from my other two family members to give it a shot, nor was the daughter interested in playing again, even if I could get the others to play. Lesson here: if you have a four player game, get everyone to play it with you first, otherwise, it may be hard to get them all to play after they hear the grumbling of the first guinea pig. Kudos belong to Steeplechase for creating game-controlled opponents with simple but effective A.I. In the easiest games, the competing horses are clumsier and their jumps aren't as well timed. For the medium level, their jumps are well timed, but they might not be jumping efficiently. For the hardest level, if you're not playing perfectly you will be eating their dust/mud/turf. Next time we play... Circus Atari! As a sort of PS: The manual for Steeplechase reminds me that while consoles like the Intellivision and Odyssey^2 were pushing "serious" fun, by calling their games simulations, games for the Atari at this time were all about having fun. There's a lot of space in the manual spent on describing the attributes of each of the four horses involved in the race. While none of the horses seemed to have any intrinsic differences that I could detect, it's an interesting contrast. Intellivision manuals went out of their way to describe in detail every last feature of a game, down to describing the sound effects. The manual writers for Steeplechase had no problem including "flavor" material to make a customer reading the manual chuckle a bit. While such marketing-driven humor rarely ages well, it's still interesting to see. 41917
  4. Mezrabad

    Dragon Wars

    Wow, this sounds really cool! I just bought Dungeons and Desktops by Armchari Arcade's Matt Barton and am starting to feel my love of RPGs creep back into my soul and get a good grip. Nice entry on this game, really made me interested in it.
  5. Darrell, Hey, thanks for bringing up SST and for linking to that classic listing of David Ahl's version. I found it particularly interesting because I'd been wondering why they were calling them quadrants! I have a feeling of deja vu when I ask this, but is there a "modern" version of BASIC available anymore? And by "modern" I mean, the same old BASIC, but usable on a modern computer? I want to show my kid good old fashioned spaghetti code (which is what my BASIC programs always became, so much so that instead of calling it BASIC, I called it PASTA (Perpetually Aggravating and Severely Twisted Algorithms) ) I supposed I could just show him it on the C64... Nathan, Thanks! That's really strange that it didn't drop in price with the rest of the games. Maybe they'd just gotten tired of marking things down before they'd gotten to the titles starting with "S"? I didn't know about "phosphor mode", that's a great idea! Ya know, I think if you gave it a chance you'd find yourself quick to warm up to it, if only for an evening of playing. The manual makes it seem very complex, but after one play through it's very easy to have it down cold. I was surprised at how after about 20 minutes I felt driven to complete at least one game successfully, if only to get a ranking other than ensign!
  6. 37362 Stellar Track (Atari VCS, 1980) The genetic precursor to Stellar Track is a main frame computer game called Star Trek, based on the franchise of the same name. You can read all about the history of the Star Trek Game at Wikipedia. It isn't that I'm too lazy to just paraphrase the entry, (though I am), but I'm more or less trying to keep this about the particular game rather than it's history. When you start a game of Stellar Track you're given a mission screen. Here is an example: A good beginner's game is recommended in the manual to be between 25-35 Aliens with as many Stardates as you can get. In my experience, those sized games are the most fun. You exist in a galaxy consisting of a 6x6 grid of quadrants. Amongst the 36 quadrants are the number of aliens you're hunting as well as your two starbases. When you start the game, you don't know where anything is. Here's what your Galaxy Map looks like at the beginning of the game. You can see that it tells you you're located at Quadrant 3,2 (third quadrant from the left, second from the top). At the moment the only thing you know is that you're in a Red Quadrant which tells you you've got alien ships near by. If you perform a Short Range Scan, you can see them. (That example is taken from a different playthrough, so don't let that quad coordinate confuse you.) Yes, you're the ship that looks a little like the Enterprise, and your enemies look a little like Klingon starships. If you found yourself in a green quadrant, you could be more relaxed and take a Long Range Scan to see what occupies the quadrants immediately adjacent to the one you're in. Here is an example of what the galaxy map looks like after I've scanned it from two locations: 3,2 and 3, 5. You can see that in the quadrants surrounding my scans, there are numbers. A "20" means there are two alien ships and zero star bases in that quadrant. Later on, from this next scan, you can see that I've found a Starbase, shown by the indicator "01" at quadrant, 6,5. The strategic part of this game is being aware that you have a limited amount of Stardates to spend, and knowing that every time you warp from one quadrant to the next, you're burning up a stardate. For instance, warp to a location three quadrants away and you're burning up three stardates. The game demands that you balance searching for aliens with slaughtering them. You also have to consider repair trips to your starbases as well. Coupled with the strategic aspects of this game are the tactical aspects. When you do warp into a quadrant with enemies in it, you have two ways of taking them out. Weapon 1: Photons can only be fired in a straight shot down a row, column or a diagonal in a quadrant, but are guaranteed to hit and obliterate target in their path. Weapon 2: Phasors are a sort of radial destruction beam that dissipates as they spread like ripples on a pond. They are guaranteed to hit the enemy ships in the quadrant but damage decreases with distance. You choose the direction to fire the Photons, but their main disadvantage is that you may need to scan the quadrant before firing, leaving yourself vulnerable to attack. You choose the power level of the Phasors, the advantage here is that you know you're going to hit whatever is in the quadrant, but you don't know necessarily how much damage you're going to inflict. If it isn't enough, then expect return fire. Here is an example of a quadrant with no enemies and a starbase in it. The gray background is indicative of a starbase's presence. To dock at a starbase, just warp on top of it. So, why dock at a starbase? Well, you use up energy as you travel from quadrant to quadrant (100 units per quadrant), you use it up warping from sector to sector within a quadrant (10 per sector), you lose energy when you are "hit" by the enemy, and you use it up firing phasors (up to 999 units in a single shot, though that's overkill). So, one good reason to visit starbase is for fuel. However, in addition to losing energy when hit by enemies, your various ship functions can be damaged. You can lose your Short Range Scan, your Long Range Scan, your Photon Launcher and/or your Phasors! I have found an effective combat tactic to be warping into the center of a quadrant, and firing off a good sized phasor blast before even scanning the quadrant. This will usually take out two or three of the aliens in the quad. If I waste time doing a short range scan just to see where they are, then they all get a chance to try to damage me after that scan. This is a game I wish I had discovered back in the day. I'd seen Star Trek on a home computer or two (probably a TRS-80, but I wouldn't swear to it) and was very curious about this type of game. Now that I've found it, while I don't think I will choose to spend a lot of time playing it beyond what I have for this article, I can say that were I to have had this back in the day, it would have been a huge time sponge. Each time you start a new game, depending on where you are in the galaxy, and depending on how many aliens and stardates, you have to plan your strategy differently. There are difficulty switches which control the effectiveness of your shields and your phasors, but I've been keeping them on Novice. Here is what I'm used to seeing when I finish a game. Which means I suck. However, I find it hard to believe that if I wiped out 60 out of 61 aliens and ran out of time, that we'd still need to surrender to them, but the game needs to have boundaries I guess. I have gotten as high a rank as Commodore. I think I've played about a dozen games now, and I've only won once . The highest rank achievable is Admiral and it's based on your use of resources in addition to actually defeating the aliens. Okay, truth be told, I'll probably continue to play until I see an Admiral ranking. So far, I prefer the recommended "beginner" games, with between 25-35 aliens and 35-40+ stardates. The games with less aliens also give less startdates. Since the aliens can appear in quadrants in groups of 1, 2 and 3, with less aliens it's possible to find your targets spread out over the galaxy and hard to reach with the amount of star dates you're given. When you get many aliens and many stardates, you may have plenty of time to track them all down, but it can be a long and tedious process. I've found screenshots of this game on the webanets, but they'd been taken with an emulator which grabs just a single frame. Due to the programming technique used to display the text in this game, the only decent screenshot is a good ol' fashioned picture of the TV. Here are some of the remaining screenshots. When you warp into an occupied quadrant, it's good to do so with phasors firing. This is what you want to see after you've fired some phasors blindly. By the way, it looks like I've just killed an alien but still have a full compliment of photons and energy. The status displayed here is the status displayed prior to me firing any phasors. To see my current status, I'd have to use the Status command again. The Commands are selected all via moving the joystick left or right and pressing a button to make your selection. It seems awkward at first, but one gets used to it quickly. Programming in warp coordinates also quickly becomes second nature, though I won't get into that here. I do recommend you play this game with the instructions! The background is green - the quadrant is clean! This is not an action game by any stretch of the imagination. It is a "thinking" game, and it is a chance to play a game formerly limited to big computers on your itty bitty Atari VCS. While there's little chance of interesting my son in Stellar Track (as long as we've got Spore sitting on our Mac), it has certainly kept me engaged the last few evenings. heheh, 'engaged', that's, like, a warp pun... Next entry: Steeplechase. Yeah it's another Sears game, why the heck not?
  7. Wow, there were skin hacks even back then. I lived such a sheltered existence!
  8. I'm adjusting, it's upgrades like this that remind me of all the linkrot I have in my entries that I need to go through and clean up! I just wish there were a way to download all of my entries to "back them up" in a bunch of text or html files without having to go through them all and save copies.
  9. wow, good "back in the day" comments! SpiceWare, I remember turning in aluminum cans to the Reynolds trucks! 17 or 18 cents a pound if I remember correctly. thegoldenband, It's funny I feel the same way about Swordquest, I really wanted to like it, I just didn't get what I wanted. Heheh. When that hits in the chronology, I'm looking forward to closure on that title. to everyone who didn't play Adventure back in the day, here's a confession: I never really got a chance to play Raiders! No lie. One of my friends had it, so I saw it and got to try it. I, by no means, knew what the hell was going on and I never got a chance to sit down and really play it for any length of time. I'm really looking forward to it!
  10. Never!? Wow, dang, see, that's why I was trying to go with the objective description, so that if there were people who'd never played it could get an academic take on it -- I just couldn't pull it off! I resorted to just gushing about it. I hope you try it, Nathan, it can be a real treat. My son and I pull Adventure out every now and then and invariably something unexpected happens and we laugh our butts off over it.
  11. playing games from 1980.

  12. playing games from 1980.

  13. Wow. Just, Wow. Plus he used the phrase "a tad choppy". Isn't usage of the word "tad" banned from the internet unless it's being used ironically? I swear there was a resolution passed at the U.N. on this but I can't find the link...
  14. Adventure (Atari VCS, 1980) Okay, I"ve started this entry about six times! I'm trying to keep myself from babbling but what I keep writing is a long and pretty uninteresting description of the different elements of Adventure. I'm failing to capture the essence of the whole which is so much greater than just a listing of the separate parts. Rather than make another attempt at objectively describing Adventure, let's just activate Fanboy Mode. I think that it's safe to say that this is my favorite console game of all time. People look at it now and very often say the same thing they said in 1980: "those Dragons look like ducks". They see ducks, I see a whole freakin' eco-system. There are countless moments created by this simple little universe that are exciting and funny and interesting in unexpected ways. Dragons will suddenly find you defenseless, only to themselves be carried away by the Bat. Lucky Happy Accidental Dragon killings. Entering a room and *gulp*! Fighting all three dragons at once and surviving! Flying over the Kingdom in a Dragon stomach being carried by the bat... it's just awesome. If you allow yourself to be immersed in this game, you can still enjoy it 28 years after you first played it. I'm speaking from experience. I regard this game with reverent awe. I cannot begin to get into how many hours I've played it, over and over and over again. When I play, I am that square, running through the landscape, wary of what could come swooping in to swallow me up. When I was 13 and playing for the first time, I remember how my heart raced and my hands shook as I held the joystick and crept through the Blue Maze, (back when I didn't know my way around the Blue Maze!). I remember the jolt I would get when a Dragon would find me, and how desperately I would try to get away. The terrifying sounds of its "chomp" would cause me to visibly startle. The pathetic sound of its death (if I was lucky enough to have the sword with me) would fill me with relief rather than triumph. I would breath a quiet "I survived!" and would continue on knowing that there were still two out there... Adventure represents my first real videogame "high". To follow the drug metaphor, Odyssey 300 was my "gateway" game system. It wasn't enough to get me addicted, but enough to get me interested. From the moment I first saw Adventure being demonstrated in a Sears, I wanted an Atari. No games prior to that filled me with such a drive to play them. Adventure was my first "hard" addiction. It is the game that led me to embrace videogames as what other people consider to be merely my "hobby". The truth is, it isn't a hobby, it's my way of life. To this day I still seek to reclaim from new games that thrill I used to get when playing Adventure. Sometimes, I get close. Next entry, for no reason other than the cart is next to the Atari at this very moment, we'll do Stellar Track.
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