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Found 36 results

  1. I'm brand new to this place, though I've browsed the forums before so I'm quite familiar with the site. Dracula Hunter is a game I've been fascinated with for the past month or so, even written an article on the Lost Media Wiki about it. Apparently the game got shipped out to the United States that saw practically no success, can anyone confirm this?
  2. From the album: My Game Collection

    My Mattel Intellivision console
  3. Bally Pin (Bally Professional Arcade, 1979) Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Bally Pin is the most fun we've had on the Bally Professional Arcade yet, and it's possibly the most addictive fun we've had with a videogame in our chronology thus far. Like the various videogame portings of Baseball, Black Jack or Hangman represent attempts to mix the older school leisures of sports, cards and puzzle games into the new past-time on the block, so too, does the attempt to forcibly integrate Pinball with its younger sibling, the Videogame. Ports of Baseball, Black Jack or Hangman may not always hit their mark in the fun zone, but their technical accuracy usually isn't very far off. Pinball, on the other hand, seems to have evaded capture. Looking at some of the previous translations of Pinball into the videogame realm, we find Atari Video Pinball (dedicated console, 1977), APF's Pinball (APF M1000, 1978), Fairchild's Video Pinball (Channel F, 1978) and Thunderball (Odyssey^2, 1979). The Atari Video Pinball console (un-chronogamed as of yet, sorry) and APF's Pinball each have their little plusses and big minuses, the minuses having to do with their failed attempts to simulate flippers. Channel F's Video Pinball isn't even pinball, it's a Breakout clone; mention it not. Thunderball for the Odyssey^2 is just too fast for me to appreciate, though, it at least makes an attempt to get the flippers right. As I've said before, I am not a person who plays pinball in the real world. Other than a few games of Eight Ball at a bowling alley back in 1979, I've since, more or less intentionally, limited my exposure due to a lack of interest. Bally Pin makes Pinball interesting to me again. Rather than feeling like each flipper is merely a gate keeper designed to prevent the ball from leaving play, the flippers on Bally Pin are implemented in such a way that they can be used to actually direct the ball to an intended destination. This adds greatly to the feeling that one is playing a game rather than passively participating in a pachinko session. There's still a luck factor, but for the first time it feels like skill and intent have something to do with a high score. Bally Pin comes with two pinball playfields: Red and Yellow. Yellow seems like the easier field, but that's just my opinion. Each field has traditional pinball elements in them: targets, drop targets, bumpers and spinners. The targets light the bumpers. Hit all the targets during one ball and you increase your score multiplier. The targets and lit bumpers reset at the beginning of each ball, so, to lose your ball is to lose your target progress. Unlike the targets, the drop targets stay hit between balls. Eventually, if you drop them all by hitting them, you'll get a score multiplier. Only after clearing all of the drop targets do they reset. The spinner doesn't seem to do anything. We thought it would rotate the bumper lights, or reset some of the drop targets, but we haven't yet observed such behavior. The flippers and the plunger are the only devices the player manipulates to directly affect the course of the ball. Regretably, there is no "nudge" simulator, though players should feel free to contort themselves in an attempt to do so, as it amuses the other players. Before ball launch, the plunger moves up and down in its slot. For a "low force" introduction of the ball, you activate the plunger at the top of its oscillation, for a high force ball injection you activate the plunger at the low point in its oscillation. I know we will again see this player-reflex technique of allowing a player to choose the amount of force to be applied in a particular context in the future, but I can't recall seeing it before. This may be an innovation unless I'm forgetting something in one of the golf games. There are four flippers. Two left flippers and two right. The controls for activating these flippers are so awesome that I'm going to give them their own paragraph! If you're not familiar with the Bally Professional Arcade controller then you should be told that they are thought of as "pistol grip" controllers; they are actually shaped how I imagine the handle of a Colt .45 is shaped. The fire button is in the spot where the trigger of a gun would be and one activates it with very much the same finger motion one would use to fire a gun. The joystick portion extends slightly up from the grip and doubles as an 8-way joystick/paddle combination. Not only can one move the joystick in eight directions, one may also twist the knob like a paddle. So, how is a controller such as this used to play Bally Pin? Well, to be quite honest, a controller isn't used at all, instead we use two! Each controller's trigger acts as a flipper button! It is quite effective as a control mechanism for pinball. Of course, Bally Pin is more than its controllers. The ball and flipper movement is smooth, the ball speed is manageable, the playfield goals are readily apparent (take out the targets). Instead of merely trying to keep the ball in play, the player can increase their scoring capacity by clearing the drop targets or by lighting all the bumpers with their targets to acheive a 2x or 3x score multiplier. It's very engaging and very addictive. My entire family participated in a four-player game last night, and I didn't even have to coax or beg them to play again. Really! They simply wanted to, even in spite of the brand new Wii sitting in the next room! So, we didn't merely "like" Bally Pin, we heartily enjoyed it. I'd name it something like "game of the decade" but that might imply that I liked it more than Superman which I also like a lot, but for different reasons. Unlike many of the games we've played, Bally Pin is something the whole family wants to play again. I just asked if anyone wants to play this afternoon and my son, daughter and wife each said "yes" with enthusiasm! So, there we have it. The 1970s are over, in the sense that after 1979 no more years have the words "nineteen" and "seventy" in their pronounciation. Thus ends the first phase of Chronogamer. I hope to start the next phase, 1980-1984, soon. I'll post a list of everything I think I need to be playing in 1980 when I'm ready to get started in the next phase. Thanks for everyone's kind words of encouragement during this exercise in drooling self-delusion. With the exception of parenting and marriage, Chronogaming--researching, acquiring, playing and writing about these games--has probably represented the most focused attention I've ever given a single project in my entire life. I can't think of anything I've ever started that's lasted more than two continuous years while still "getting done"! This doesn't say much for me as a project manager, I guess, but it certainly says, um, something. I won't be updating this blog for a little while, but feel free to drop by www.chronogaming.com as I try to convert this blog into a less siteware dependant format. (ie, should a site stop providing blogspace, I'll still have a place to put all of this.) Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope to see people at CGE. 12700 EDIT: added "to me again" when I say Bally Pin makes pinball interesting. I did think Eight Ball was interesting for all the reasons I like Bally Pin, just not as interesting as videogames were to me back in 1979 (when I wanted an Atari soooo badly, but didn't have one yet). Playing Bally Pin has made me re-understand Pinball's appeal.
  4. Black Jack/Acey Deucey/Poker (Bally Professional Arcade, 1979) Death and Taxes. And Blackjack. With the exception of the Magnavox Odyssey, Black Jack has appeared on every cart-based, home videogame system released in the United States thus far (up to 1979). It is surpassed in its occurances only by versions of Baseball which also appeared on the Magnavox Odyssey while a version of Black Jack did not. I'm probably covering old ground here, but when confronted with so many different Black Jacks I have to wonder: Why is Black Jack such a game which companies think they have to produce, when a deck of cards will do just fine? Why do they think consumers will be willing to spend $20 on a game cart? The only thing I can come up with is that, it's Black Jack on your television!! ... which must be reason enough. Since the Black Jack carts for most systems are readily available in the second-hand markets of the future, it seems safe to say that they sell fairly well. However, it's hard to recreate any anticipation for Black Jack videogames in my modern brain, though I'm doing my best to think as though I'm "living in the moment." Black Jack allows up to 4 players. Las Vegas rules apply with a few exceptions. For instance, spliting a pair can't occur in games with more than two players due to limited screen real estate. Unlike games for many of the other systems, which have used two, three and even four decks of cards, Bally Black Jack only uses one deck which it shuffles whenever it needs to but always before a hand. That's something I never seem to remember to do when I'm dealing Black Jack; guess I'll never deal Vegas. Betting in Black Jack, as well as the other two games, is handled by the knob and the joystick. Keeping the stick straight lets you rotate the knob through the numbers in the 10s column of your bet. Pushing the stick forward gives you the 100s column. Pulling the stick back lets you pick a number in the 1000s column. It's a clever use of the Bally's unique controller and I'm glad they chose it over their keyboard. Black Jack is Black Jack. Nothing more, nothing less. The presentation is nice, in fact, the cards are probably the nicest we've seen so far, even nudging the APF MP1000 out of the top spot for Black Jack graphics. However, it's still Black Jack and only worth a few yawns unless you're a big fan. In my opinion, Acey-Deucy is much more interesting than Black Jack, but only with three or four players. Initially, I was expecting a completely different game, but I'm glad I was wrong. It isn't the Backgammon variation I had expected, as is the Acey-Deucey on the Channel F's Backgammon cart, instead, this is a variation of the card game known as "In Between". Each player gets a pair of cards and has to bet against the pot for their next card to fall between the cards in their hand. In the screenshot above, you can see that Player2 is screwed, Player1 has a slim chance and Player3 should bet as high as he can. Of course, he can only bet against what is in the pot already ($10 of which was his ante), so the most he can win would be a "net" of $20. The players ante up $10 each every hand, so the pot increases steadily even if nobody bets. Having a "good pair" doesn't mean you're going to win big cash unless there's already big cash in the pot. For it to get "interesting" players need to bet a little bit each round, even on pairs that are less likely to win. As the pot grows, the pressure is felt to take larger risks and try to win the pot before one of the other players does. The pot sort of adds an "arc" to game play. You're not just concerned with an individual hand, you're concerned with how large the pot is growing and how well your opponents are doing. It is kind of like Poker, just less complex and without bluffing. Speaking of Poker, this cart also has Poker for two to four players (no computer player, just a computer dealer). "Five card draw, all see-um" would be how I'd describe this Poker variation. A player sets the bet at a certain level and the other player can "see" it or "raise" it, by setting their bets at the appropriate amounts. There are three rounds of betting, which is quite sufficient as everyone is able to see each other's cards. The winner of the hand collects all of the bets from the other players but there's no explicit "pot" in the middle of the playfield like there was in Acey-Deucey. The betting does have some psychology to it, but there's no bluffing, per se. One may attempt to goad another player into folding by simply pointing out their visible-to-all hand sucks and that it is unlikely to improve. To fold, one just simply decides not to raise their bet to the amount the others have raised theirs. The screenshot above is an example of a player who has folded and turned her cards over. Nice card backs, eh? The game uses an interesting mechanism to allow players to exchange their cards, and is shown in the movie, linked below. Bally Poker Draw Movie (4 MB) See the upwards scrolling card moving left to right? When that card moving through the yellow center is over or under a card which a player would like to exchange, they pull their trigger and that card is replaced. I thought it was a neat method to allow simultaneous drawing. Over all, Bally's Black Jack / Acey Deucey / Poker is a nice package. Any offering that supports up to four players gets points in my book. There's nothing about which I would choose to complain, other than the obvious, and that's the fact that a deck of cards would be cheaper and can be configured to play an even larger selection of games. The last game of the 1970s will be Bally Pin. 12450
  5. Star Battle (Bally Pro Arcade, 1979) Two years ago, back in 1977, a little movie called Star Wars was released. People who made videogames noticed this and immediately began coming up with videogame scenarios from it. One of the first games inspired by Star Wars for a home videogame console is Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade. I don't know if I'm just tired or if my second week of being caffiene-free is just lowering my IQ even further, but I'm at a loss to adequately describe this game. So, I've made a little quicktime movie of it . . . Here. The movie should give you the basic idea of the playfield's simulated 3-d effect, but, because I only have two hands and one of them was holding the camera, I'm afraid it doesn't show you any of the actual game play. You're essentially playing in a simplified representation of the Death Star's equatorial "trench" from the last action sequence of Star Wars. There's no exhaust port in this version, however, and the entire game is about the dogfight between you and the other fighter. Both fighters bear a distinct, non-coincidental resemblance to ships from the movie. One is obviously the silhouette of a Tie Fighter and the other is the simplified rear view of an X-wing. The movement mechanic is a little confusing. The controller allows a player to steer their craft horizontally, and lets them accelerate/decelerate when the knob is pushed forwards or pulled backwards, respectively. By slowing down, a player positions their craft at the bottom of the screen and "closer" (bigger) to the viewpoint of the game's camera. By speeding up, the craft moves to the top of the screen and "farther away" (smaller) from player's perspective. The object of the game is for a player to move their craft to a position, either behind or ahead of the opponent so that they can shoot them down. The challenge is that when the opponent speeds up, it not only pushes his craft to the higher, "ahead" position, it also puts the other player's craft in the lower, "behind" position, whether they want it there or not. (assume "vice versa") In other words, when you choose to slow down or speed up, you're doing so relative to your opponent's speed, as you both jockey for a good shot while continuously traveling down the trench all the time with the effective illusion of traveling at a high speed. Now, when I say "effective illusion" I mean, "most effective to date". I can't think of anything that we've played so far that has been as successfull in acheiving the feeling of forward motion. Night Driver in the arcades did a pretty good job of it, and Datsun 280Zzzap, also on the Bally Pro Arcade, managed to acheive the effect somewhat, but Star Battle does it the best so far, in my opinion. The shots the players fire follow the orientation of the trench, giving the appearance of going into or coming out of a location further down the trench rather than merely traversing the screen straight up/down or left/right. When combined with the scaling of the craft as they move ahead or fall behind, it makes for a nice, quick-feeling, two-player, pseudo 3-d game. There's also a single player version, so you can practice the pretend killing of your imperial/rebel scum friend when they're not there. The tactics aren't very deep, and mostly involve trying to quickly aim and fire while trying to feint your position intention. Despite their lack of depth, playing these tactics well can lead to some pretty satisfying kills, especially when your opponent does exactly what you expected them to do. There's only time for a quick "Ha!" before they reappear on the screen and start gunning for you again, but it can be a satisfying "Ha!" Like many games on the Bally, the players get to customize what constitutes a winning score -- anything from 1 to 99. We usually played to 10. It's not a big deal, but being able to set the length of the game is a very nice touch that I don't think the 2600 or the Odyssey^2 offers. As always, the Bally's sound doesn't dissapoint. Each player has a distinct sound for their shots, the explosion of a ship is a good rumble (at least on my TV) and there's a special deflection sound on the rare instance of shots colliding and canceling each other out. Overall, I give the game a . There's not much to it, but the presentation is well done and Star Battle is the only game to date that offers you the chance to pilot an X-wing or a Tie-fighter. Oh, and by the way, during our play session for this entry, we went back and played the built-in game, Checkmate, a few times. It just never gets old for us! Only two games left in the 197xs! Next we'll do Black Jack / Acey Deucy / Poker. 11,810
  6. 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. So, the immediate differences we see here are different sprite colors for the Bally and less rows (8 compared to 11) and less columns (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. jumper.zip 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
  7. Amazing Maze / Tic-Tac-Toe (Bally Professional Arcade, 1979) I know many of you are very anxious to hear just how the Bally performed in Tic-Tac-Toe against the Fairchild Channel F's built-in Tic-Tac-Toe AI, but before I get to that, I have a solution regarding the heating problems some of us have been experiencing with the Bally Pro Arcade. Bally vs. Fairchild: Tic-Tac-Toe In order to get a statistically significant sample we figured we should pit the machines against each other for at least 29 games, but we decided to field 500 just to be sure. The Chronogaming Stadium was configured to facilitate this event and volunteers were scheduled in four-hour shifts to monitor and conduct the various matches. Unfortunately, before the opening ceremonies had commenced, one of the volunteers broke free of their restraints (obviously due to an underdosage in medication) and managed to release the remaining officiators before escaping from the Chrongaming campus. The ones who didn't escape were rendered useless, or perhaps I should say rended useless by the dogs. So, it ain't happening. We did manage a screen shot from the Jumbotron, however. Really, it's just Tic-Tac-Toe without the chicken. For the graph theory crowd, Amazing Maze offers a Prim and proper diversion. For this home version of its 1976 arcade cabinet, The Amazing Maze Game, Bally upgrades the three-year-old game to color, gives it a graphical "castle" setting, and allows for three different difficulty levels, the standard "easy, medium and hard" flavors. Below is a little movie of the computer making its way through a "hard" level maze. Frankly, it's a larger download than it's worth, but I'm not using the bandwidth for anything at the moment. Amazing Maze Movie So, what we're seeing here is what appears to be a computer player which already knows how to get through the maze, and it's just taking its time so that a slower, more organic player may have a chance against it. It might be a little more exciting if the computer went down a possible dead-end once or twice but moved a little faster. As it is, a human player need only get about halfway through the maze before zipping through the path they just saw the computer take from the beginning. Much more satisfying is to play against a fellow biological unit, or to pit two young human siblings against each other until they've had all the fun I could stand. Here's another possible waste of a download. This is a shot of the Bally "thinking" while it's generating a maze. Maze being generated. Now, is that just "lava lamp" noise, to let the user know the Bally is doing something or is that the Bally using video memory as a scratch pad for whatever minimal spanning tree algorithm it uses? Assuming that's what it uses. Dunno. As a game, Amazing Maze is fun enough, but it doesn't have near the number of variations on a Maze game that the Fairchild Channel F Maze cartridge has. As a "fun" rating, I'll give it a "meh" -- it's not a bad Maze cart, it just isn't great either. At the moment, I'd prefer the Fairchild's rendition of the genre. Next cart is also for Bally's machine, either Astro Battle or Space Invaders, I just can't decide. 10700
  8. Computer Intro (Odyssey^2, 1979) The Odyssey^2 has one thing that no other videogame console, before or since, ever had: a full-sized, built-in keyboard. Another exclusive for the Odyssey^2 is Computer Intro; a cart that, along with its manual, teaches its user the fundamentals of assembler and machine language programming. Say what you want about the Odyssey^2's games, sound, graphics or exclaimation-point-driven-advertising, but Computer Intro deserves nothing but respect. We're not just talking about a well-written manual, this is a programming environment that lets the user enter and run their own programs with up to 100 lines of code! In 1979, find me anything (hardware + software) in the same price range that even comes close to doing that. By the way, don't just get the cart and try to "wing it". The 102-page manual is essential to use this cartridge properly, not only for the wealth of information and tutorials in its text, but for the illustrative gatefolds that serve as handy references for the user while learning to program. In addition to providing a mini-course in assembly language programming the manual also puts things into perspective, claiming: That's exactly what it does. There's no hyperbole to be found in this manual, no techno-babble (like "on-screen electronic sensors") that one may find in other Odyssey^2 manuals. This is straight, informative useful information. If you, like me, are someone who wishes they had learned how to program at an early age, but didn't have access to a computer until it was comparatively too late, let me add to your wishful thinking by recommending you take a look at Computer Intro's manual here from Ozyr's awesome Odyssey^2 archive. (Print it out, it's easier to read without the background.) After getting an idea of what the manual is teaching you, you'll wish you'd had an Odyssey^2 instead of an Atari -- whoa, let's not go that far! How about this: you'll wish you'd had an Atari and an Odyssey^2, with Computer Intro, back in 1979. In the interest of avoiding a long and boring "compare and contrast" to Atari's Basic Programming, let me just summarize by saying Odyssey^2's Computer Intro is better than Atari's Basic Programming. When I say "better than," I'm saying something very similar, in spirit, to "kicks the ass of," "wipes the floor with," or "is not fit to tie the shoestrings of." I just want to be sure that you understand what I'm trying to imply here. If willing to take the time to read the manual and input the programs, I can't imagine anyone not benefitting from Computer Intro. Next entry, we'll enter into the homestretch for the 197x's, with the 1979 line-up for the Bally Professional Arcade. 9835
  9. Rather than a lengthy compare/contrast of Computer Intro and Basic Programming, like I had intended, I decided to look at each individually. Initially, my first attempts to write about the two displayed a tendancy to bash Atari's offering for merely being unlike Odyssey^2's offering. I decided it didn't make for a fair comparison, nor was it very fun to write, so, I'm doing it this way instead. Basic Programming (Atari VCS, 1979) Machine Gun KittyKats was the name of the game I was going to write using Basic Programming for the Atari VCS. My friend, George, had come up with the idea when I told him about the Basic Programming cart one could get for the Atari VCS. We envisioned two "combat-sized" cats, running around a "combat-like" playfield, shooting at each other using missiles and sound effects like those found in the air-combat portion of the Combat cartridge. We didn't consider these aspirations to be too ambitious. When I finally got a copy of Basic Programming (Xmas of '82?) and I got to "play" with it, I was crushed. There would be no Machine Gun KittyKats using this cart. The $60 I seem to remember my parents having spent for this cart was completely wasted. The program and manual seemed to contain a lot of information, but it was obvious to me that all the information couldn't change the fact that I couldn't make a game with this cart. The included keyboard controllers were also pretty much useless as I didn't own any other carts that used them. Back in the day, Basic Programming was a cart I put in once or twice, only to feel disappointment and even betrayal. Of course, I was missing the whole point. Neither a game nor a programming tool, Basic Programming was an attempt by Atari to live up to the literal name of its console: the Atari Video Computer System. Atari wanted people to think they could learn to program using what most perceived to be a television toy. However, learning to program with this cart is like what learning to play the game of Chess would be on a seven-by-seven square board; one could learn to understand the concepts of Chess, but not be able to actually play the game until access to a full-sized board was acquired. Basic Programming might have taught a really bright and motivated person the barest basics of programming, which they probably already knew, but the rest of us just got pissed-off because we quickly discovered we weren't going to be making much of anything with it. Now, let's focus more on the positives, shall we? One of the cool things about the cart is the way it uses the keyboard controllers. Two keyboard controllers, when locked together, make a handy, 24-key keyboard. Basic Programming turns that 24-key keyboard into an 80-or-so-key keyboard by implementing a mode-switching cursor. Change the color of the cursor on-screen and you change the layout of the keyboard. The keyboard overlays are a nice way to keep track of these different layouts. By labeling each key with its color-coded functions, it isn't hard to get around in the interface. The different layouts also save people from having to type in every character by implementing a keyword token system. Instead of having to type out the word "print" one need only change the cursor to the appropriate color and hit the key for "print". This couldn't have been a "resource cheap" feature to implement, but not knowing much about the Atari innards, I'll leave it at that. The system provides all the concepts of a program; variables, branching, a grid system for barely-minimal graphics, music functionality, collision detection and even a memory stack. As a programming "environment", surprisingly, it utilizes a "windowing" system allowing a user to open and close the display of different data sections. If you want to see the status of your variables while running your program, you can do so. If you want only the graphics display to cover the screen, you can do that too. In fact, I would describe this aspect of the system as "slightly prophetic" and maybe even "ahead of its time". With the memories I had of this cartridge as a teen, I thought I would have some rather acerbic commentary to make about Basic Programming. After learning a little bit more about the limitations of the VCS and after messing around with this cart again, I'm much more impressed. That being said, however, overall, I would criticize it as only being interesting to the people who already know something about programming in the first place! For a true novice, I do not see this cartridge as being beneficial. If the intent of Basic Programming is to be cool, I think it succeeds. If its intent is to teach or to inspire a beginner to learn, I think that 90% of the time, it would fail. Next entry, I'll do Computer Intro for the Odyssey^2. 9612
  10. 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. 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.
  12. Backgammon (Atari VCS, 1979) Two games in a row from which I expected very little and yet found so much! Backgammon on the Atari VCS is one of the best videogame versions of the 5,000 year old board game that I've seen to date. The APF version worked well enough, but typing in the moves via their keypad was painful. Atari's solution is so appropriate that I'm tempted to call it elegant. The paddles are the perfect controller for this game. Press the button to roll the dice, turn the paddle to select your pieces and where they land. The only improvement I'd like to have seen is maybe a noise to indicate you've rolled a piece over a point while you were moving it, as it may have made it easier to count as you move your piece. The way it is, silent and smooth, allowed my son to keep overshooting where he wanted to move because he'd lose count going over the bar or losing count. Obviously, more experience with the game eliminates such a problem but I could tell it was frustrating for him (and me) to keep hearing the "buzz" of an illegal move when we'd thought we'd counted correctly. Other than that small complaint, I've got no complaints. In addition to the elegantly functional interface, the screen is colorful and the red and white pieces are both easy to distinguish from the board and each other. I'm no Backgammon player, so I wasn't shocked when the AI beat me on the easy level, but it the AI did seem to have a consistent strategy, and wasn't just rolling and moving like the AI for the APF's Backgammon seemed to be. Atari's version includes a "doubling cube" which is a way of making the game a little more interesting if there's a wager at stake. A doubling cube is like a dice, except it has a 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 on the sides. The player that "owns" the cube can choose to offer to double the wager, if they think they are going to win. If the other player disagrees with their opponent's assessment of the game, believing they have the advantage, then they can accept the doubling, and take ownership of the cube. However, if they decline, then they are admitting they will probably lose and the game ends, and the wager remains at multiple amount shown on the cube (i.e. 8 times the original wager). Wikipedia explains it so much better; go there if you still don't get it. The doubling cube is a nice feature and players of the board game will be glad to see it. The orientation of the backgammon board was vertical. This is different from how most of the players of the board game would see the board, but I think it worked well for the same reason I'd prefer videogames of Chess and Checkers to be oriented horizontally instead of vertically. It comes down to offering both players and equal footing on the perspective from which they view their pieces. When one plays Chess, one is used to seeing their pieces closer to themselves, moving away towards the enemy, who approaches. In a videogame version of chess, putting a single player on the bottom of the screen-moving up, while the computer opponent's pieces start at the top and move down makes sense. However, add a second, flesh/blood player to the mix, and that player has to play the game "upside down". It would be fairer if player one could move pieces from left to right and the other player from right to left. Yes, it's different from how it is usually played, but both players have to deal with the difference. In Atari's Backgammon, orienting the board vertically accomplishes the same thing. Player one is used to looking across the board at their opponent so a horizontally oriented board would work, but only for a single player game. In a two player game, orienting the board vertically forces both players to play the game "quarter-turned". Yeah, I've probably thought way too much about this, but I really did like how they chose to present this game. So, Happy Face for Backgammon! If you like the game of Backgammon, this is a good version to play with another person. I'm so not qualified to talk about the AI, but that seemed solid enough as well. Next entry we'll look at Video Chess.
  13. Sorry about the last entry, it was a bit depressing, but it proved to me why I don't choose to approach this hobby for the sake of nostalgia. The only thing I miss about being young is having acres and acres of free-time. Time I wish I'd spent more of either learning or playing videogames. As a grown-up, what's cool about this hobby is having a 30 year backlog of relatively inexpensive games to sift through along with having slightly better time-management skills. Football (Atari VCS, 1979) I'm just curious about why we even call this sport "football" when the players use their hands so often. Let me start by saying that I try to approach every cart with an attitude of gratitude. I'm grateful (to no higher power in particular) that not only do I have access to pretty much anything ever released for the 2600, but I am actually able to find some time to play, even as I'm into the thick of my last two weeks of higher education. That being said, I should also point out that while I may try to approach with gratitude, I often fail. This often leads to ill-tempered entries, (VCS Slot Machine, APF Blackjack) that may (VCS Slot Machine) or may not (APF Blackjack) do the featured game justice. I expected such an injustice to occur with Atari's Football for the VCS. I was wrong. In fact, my lowered expectations probably contributed to our enjoyment, though these same low expectations also caused me to procrastinate getting around to playing the damn thing! VCS Football gives you three defensive/offensive linemen, a quarter/defensive back, five offensive/defensive plays to choose from and control of your ball carrier (quarterback or receiver) or linemen (when you play defense). When the quarterback throws the ball, games 1 and 2 also give you control of the side to side motion of the ball, making it possible to maneuver it around the opposition. Game 3 gives you no control over the players with the exception of when the quarterback passes the ball; the other players do whatever the play chosen for them dictates. One of the frustrating aspects of the game is lack of control of the defensive back once the ball has been successfully passed. Most of the time, if my son or I are able to complete a pass, we are able to take it to the touchdown. I think it would have been a good idea to transfer the defense's control of the linemen to the defensive back once the pass is made, to give the defense a chance to try to tackle the carrier. EDIT: Well, apparently it was a good idea! So good that Atari had implemented it! Apparently one can take conrol of the defensive back by holding their button down! So . . . I guess I have no complaints! Thanks to maibock for pointing this out! If we gave out prizes here at Chronogamer industries, you'd get one. Probably a copy of VCS Football. This is another lesson in learning to print out the manual and have it next to us while playing. EDIT Again: My son and I just played another game of Atari Football and being able to control the d-back made a big difference. We had a great time again! I'd never have believed I'd ever enjoy playing a videogame of Football, but this is proof that I can. Yes, I'm shocked. This is not a pretty game. It is blinky and fairly ugly, especially compared to previously released football games, such as those released for the Bally Pro Arcade or the Odyssey^2 consoles. Despite the ugly, blinky players, the game offers a full football field, a timer, scoring, down indicators, play indicators and a ball possession indicator. I can't recall how that compares with the other versions, but I can't come up with anything else that would be absolutely necessary. EDIT: While I'm editing, I should include something supercat pointed out that I neglcted to mention. Atari Football has an on screen 1st-down line! I don't believe any other football "port" to date (1979) has this feature! Each game is 5:00 minutes long, which was short enough for me to enjoy one game enough that I wanted to play one more. Be wary that trying too hard to control the players could lead to a damaged joystick! The player-sprites respond well enough, but never move as quickly as one would like, possibly due to the scale of the field (the field looks small, the players look big, it wouldn't work to have them zipping around it). Most people's reaction to this is to push the joystick harder. If you play this game with anyone who is enthusiastic about videogames or football, you should let them use one of your Genesis controllers instead of an Atari joystick, just in case. Not that we know what the hell a Genesis controller is back here in 1979, we just break a lot of joysticks. Despite the graphics, despite the sluggish players, there's a Football game on this cart. Despite or even because of a complete lack of appreciation for the sport of American Football on my part, we enjoyed each of the games we played for the purpose of this entry. Next entry we'll take a quick look at Backgammon. 8735
  14. 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. 8186
  15. Canyon Bomber/Sea Bomber (Atari VCS, 1979) Crater Digger? Pit Maker? This game harkens back to a simpler time, when all the human mind could handle was one button. Picture a canyon extending from mid screen to the bottom in depth and stretching from one side of the screen to the other in width. Now, fill it to the brim with multi-colored blocks, each layer of blocks having its own color, like Breakout only going down. Or, better yet, view a screenshot taken directly from Atari Age's entry for the cart. pesco.zip Now take some of the flying vehicles from Combat or Air-Sea Battle and have a yellow vehicle fly over this canyon from one direction while a red vehicle flies over from the other. Press the button on your controller to make your bi-plane/bomber/helicopter drop a bomb. The bomb falls through the blocks like a bath toy sinks through bubble bath foam. Drop as many of these bombs as you can, one at a time, before your aircraft flies off the other side. You have no control over your aircraft. It just flies steadily across. This sequence repeats with different aircraft and different flight speeds until there are no more blocks to hit (which will re-fill the canyon), or until both players accumulate six misses. High score wins. A miss is constituted by failing to release a bomb during a flyover, or releasing a bomb that hits no blocks. A variation of the game is to drop bombs until a player reaches 1000 points or more and misses aren't counted. A variation of the skill level is "bomb recall". On difficulty "A", once you drop a bomb, you can't drop another until it hits. On difficulty "B", if you drop a bomb that looks like it isn't going to hit anything, you may "recall" it by firing another. The bomb's downward velocity is consistent with gravity, but how long they fall depends upon the speed of the plane they fall from and how close they are to the edge of the canyon. Later in the level, your ability to aim becomes a factor as the targets available become fewer. The A.I. for the one-player versions of Canyon Bomber is, as the manual describes it, "steady". Dropping a bomb as often as possible is all it does. The funny thing about this is that this A.un-I. initially scored higher than me because I was trying to take careful aim from the beginning of the game. This just wastes time. The key to scoring better than the AI is to bomb the hell out of the canyon in the beginning, when it's impossible to miss blocks, then start being careful and selective when the pickings get slim. It becomes just a matter of hitting at least one block each flyover until your enemy runs out of misses or until your score is higher than theirs. The deeper down a block is, the more points it is worth, so that's what you're aiming for. Please be aware: while I may be giving you an obvious strategy for playing the game, this does not mean I am recommending that you play it. This bomb-dropper just isn't much fun. Bright colors. Dull gameplay. It may be a good game to play with very young children or very old adults, but even they will grow tired of it quickly and begin whining and wetting themselves in an attempt to get ejected from the living room. I've tried playing it solo. Meh. I've tried getting my kids to play it with me and with each other. There's just not much call for it in these parts. My son played it for about two minutes before asking if we could play Atari's Bowling again. (We did, and we had fun.) FYI: Atari had a Canyon Bomber machine in the arcades back in 1977. The display was black and white, featuring blimps and bi-planes to act as your bomb vehicles. The canyon had more of a rocky appearance to it, and the targets were little white circles with numbers on them. The numbers, of course, represented points you earned when you destroyed them. It's available in MAME. There is somewhat of a saving grace on this cart, though, and that's in the second-fiddle game, Sea Bomber. Sea Bomber is a little like the arcade game Depthcharge. Using your button you drop the bomb. Using your paddle you set the depth at which you'd like your bomb to explode. The bomb vehicles are the same as from Canyon Bomber, but the bombing field this time is a sea-scape, starting off at light blue and darkening as you reach the bottom. Watercraft traverse the screen at different depths and you need to annihilate as many as you can. The deeper they are, the higher they score. Witness the screenshot, also from Atari Age's entry for the Canyon Bomber cart. Your shots fall straight down, as if through water. You must take into acount your target's speed, depth and direction, the direction and speed of your aircraft, and the speed your shot sinks. If you wait too long to plan a shot, your plane may have taken you beyond dropping range for your chosen prey. From flyover to flyover, the only consistent factor is the speed at which your bomb falls while the speed of the aircraft and watercraft changes from flyover to flyover. Madly bombing and hoping for luck will not serve you well. If you've got this cart and you've been disappointed with Canyon Bomber, Sea Bomber makes up for it a little. FYI: Depthcharge is also available in MAME, though there may be other games more similar to Sea Bomber; I just haven't seen them yet. Hmm, next 1979 game? I honestly don't know . . . it's a surprise! Well, not really, I just don't know what it will be yet.8135
  16. Bowling (Atari VCS, 1979) I was in a bowling league when I was in middle school. My team won the league championship two years in a row. I don't remember my average, but when I was 13 years old, my high score was 191. I don't think that's a great high score, (though I've never beaten it since ), and I'm certain my average wasn't very impressive, but it disturbs me to suddenly realize that I may actually be more qualified to talk about videogames based on bowling than videogames based on any other real world activity. Damn, that's one crappy realization nobody should have to start their day with. Enough about me, let's talk about Bowling! We've seen an interpretation of the great sport of bowling on four previous systems. (RCA Studio II, Fairchild Channel F, APF MP1000 and Odyssey^2) On each of those systems the ball would oscillate just in front of what traditionally would be the foul line. The player would have to time their release of the ball as it was moving back and forth. Atari decided on a less abstracted approach which allows the player to position a figure on screen that actually animates and rolls the ball. In an interview with Digital Press at CGE 2005, Larry Kaplan described this figure as the first multi-colored sprite in home videogames. I question the accuracy of this, as the Bally Professional Arcade appeared to feature multi-colored sprites in its built-in game, Gunfight, released in 1978. I'm no programmer and perhaps the term "sprite" is more refined than I thought it was, so your mileage may vary. Regardless of the little multi-colored bowler being a "first" for Atari, Bowling for the Atari VCS is the best version of the game that we've seen so far. The ability to position the release of your ball is welcome, as is the graphical improvement of controlling a human figure which looks like it's rolling its ball. No scoring simplification is used; if you get a spare, your frame is totaled with the pins you knock down with your next ball, as it should be. The presentation of the scoring is good enough. Similar to the Fairchild version, you're only shown whether you spare, strike or leave a frame open while your total is displayed above it all. An additional touch occurs after rolling a strike or a spare, the player is given a little "way to go!" in the form of a palette flash for the bowler sprite and a celebratory audio cue All of the above, while fine and dandy, are not what make Atari's version of Bowling the best I've seen so far. What does it for me is the simulation and visual presentation of the pin action; when the ball hits a pin, the resulting trajectory of the pin is displayed! I'm pretty certain other versions have simulated pin interaction, for instance, Fairchild's Bowling allowed me to pick up a split, but Atari's version is the first to provide visual cues for what's going on. Instead of the pins going from a "standing" state to a "knocked down" or simply a "no longer there" state, Atari's pins "slide off" the alley in a number of directions; towards the gutter, diagonally towards the back or straight back, depending on the angle of the ball. It definitely adds to the experience and helps the player decide how to curve the next ball. I forgot to mention the curves! A standout feature of most of Atari's offerings is the variations of play on each cart and bowling has three variations to it in addition to allowing one- or two-player games. One variant allows the players to control the curve of the thrown ball, a gift I'm positive some bowlers think they have. If you've ever seen someone twist their body and wave their arms to try to redirect their rolled ball, then you know what I mean. Another variant allows the player to control when the ball begins to curve but after the curving starts, the player can do nothing. The last and most simple variation is straight shot only; line it up, throw and watch it go. (no lofting, please) The only drawback to Atari Bowling on the VCS, and this is only a slight drawback, is that it supports a maximum of two players. I only mention it because Odyssey^2's bowling supported four. If I were to start having weekly chronogaming parties, I think I'd actually choose the Odyssey^2 version for the ability to support four players. Also, and I'm not saying this is necessarily a drawback: I was unable to produce a 7-10 split. I tried hitting the center pin dead on, which is what produces the 7-10 in real life, but I couldn't get this evil split to show itself. Maybe, the game is better off! In my book, the 7-10 split is the Kobayashi Maru of bowling, so I didn't exactly "yearn" for it. It might've been excluded for gameplay improvement, but it seems doing so would "water down" the simulation. I don't know it isn't there for certain, I just know I was unable to produce such a split. Oh, so the only reason I give Bowling merely a and not a is that I'd rather hit a real bowling alley with my kids. In fact, I think I need to do that soon. Next entry . . . Canyon Bomber! 7995
  17. Superman (Atari VCS, 1979) "He turns all of his injuries into strengths, that which does not kill him makes him stronger, he is superman." -Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche This isn't really a review, but rather, a highly academic look at the social implications of the Atari VCS game, Superman. Really, if you haven't played it, you'll be completely lost and I recommend you go back to your little emulator or your actual console, if you even have one, and go playexperience this game. What follows, is an extremely erudite discussion of the material and it presumes some familiarity with the selection on the part of the reader. So, go do your homework! C'mon, any writing that starts out with a Nietzsche quote has to be as pretentious as hell, doesn't it? Okay, let me set a more appropriate tone with a different quote: "I wish I had a kryptonite cross, because then you could keep both Dracula AND Superman away." - Jack Handy [Deep Thoughts] That quote doesn't really represent my feelings about the game, but it sets a better tone. Rather than "review" Superman, I'm going to talk about why it's a special game -- not as special as other games to come, but pretty darn special regardless. To pre-summarize: 1. It has an identifiable character 2. It has a story 3. Multi-screen world 4. Movie Coincidence #1 - It's the first home videogame having a protagonist with an identity that existed outside the videogame in which it appears. Videogames have been offering people the chance to pretend to be something else for about six years (speaking from 1979). One may play games which allow them to be airplane pilots, sky divers, race car drivers, players of professional sports, spaceship pilots, helicopter rescue pilots, generals, submarine commanders, tank commanders . . . the list goes on and on. Since 1972 we've played dozens of different games that either gave us control of a generic vehicle or object with a specific function (flying, shooting, deflecting) or a generic person in a specific occupation (see previous list). Superman was the first time a videogame player could control, and thus, essentially, become a specific identifiable character. Not just any character; a superhero! Not just any superhero; Superman! We get to fly, have super-strength and use x-ray vision the way Superman would use them and certainly not the way we'd all probably like to use them. Particularly the x-ray vision. Forget about any complaints one might have about the gameplay, about the flickering graphics or about the slightly confusing city layout. We're talking about the chance to be Superman in a videogame! The value of this can only be slightly overstated, but not by much. #2 - It's the first home videogame with a story, simple though it may be. (No, Breakout's "story" doesn't count.) The bridge has been destroyed! Lex Luther and his gang are getting away! I must reassemble the bridge and catch the bad guys! Damn helicopter, stop taking my bridge pieces (*grab*shake-shake-shake-shake-shake*)! Beware the Kryptonite Satellites! Beep-beep-beep-BONG! Crap I've lost my powers! Lois!...Lois? Drama, comedy and romance, right there amongst the blocky, blinky sprites. Seriously, well, no, but let me say that Superman is practically literature compared to any home videogame before it. Truth! Justice! Restoration of superpowers (i.e. "potency") through overtly sexual behavior! The American Way! It's all that and a bag of Pop Rocks. #3 - First multi-screen virtual world in a home videogame. This is the first game where you have to know your way around more than one screen and understand how each screen connects to the others. I tried to draw a map of this world recently but in the middle of doing so I remembered my old adage: "There's USUALLY a bigger geek." Indulge me my tangent. It's important to realize, that somewhere out there in the world there's most likely someone who has already done something similar to what you're thinking of doing and posted it on the introntronet. Now, I'm not saying this happens 100% of the time, but when most of us come up with an idea based on popular culture (i.e. something that millions of others have also seen), the probability is close to 1.000 that someone else has done something similar before we even thought of it, and in some cases they've gone an extra mile or so beyond what we'd have been willing to do. For example: Chronogaming. Could I really be the first nutjob to say "hey, I'm going to sit down and play every single home videogame ever released; I'm going to do it in chronological order AND I'm going to write about it in a blog!" ? Okay, maybe I am. Bad example. Anyway, as I started to draw my map of the world of Superman, I realized that surely someone had already done so and had probably done a much better job than I was planning to do. Of course, I was right. Maurice Molyneaux's Supermap of Superman <--Warning! Spoiler! So, as you can see, Superman's world is not limited to one screen. This world is a mosaic, if you will, of multiple screens; a dense tapestry of images woven into the cartridge to become a "real" imagined place that we can navigate in our minds! Um, yeah, that sounded really "gay" (to use an expression from the era) but I'm one of those writers that hates to edit because I'd rather spend a lifetime wincing at what I've written. #4 - First home videogame with an apparent connection to a movie. Superman: The Movie was released on my birthday in 1978 (I turned 11, that day). Superman: The Cartridge came out somewhen in 1979. Was it a licensed tie-in to the movie? Well, not this time. Was it pretty good timing on Atari's part? Yah, you betcha. Have I left anything out? Probably, but I've blathered on enough. I'm almost done. Superman for the Atari VCS is the melding of two popular youth pastimes -- comic books and videogames -- for the first time. More importantly, it represents the germ of the start of storytelling using the home videogame medium. Was the game fun? Well, this isn't really a review, this is more of a commentary on what Superman represented as an edifice in the cultural landscape of Videogames (um, yeah), but I will say that it was fun for me. I won't do anything so pedestrian as to actually rate it. Oh, okay, I've given it a cool smiley. Happy now? Personally, I think it's a great game and probably one of my Top 10 favorite Atari VCS games if I were a person to make such a list. I am sad to say that my son didn't really get into it as much as I had hoped he would. However, I was astonished by how quickly he picked up on the whole world map pattern, the subway system shortcuts and how to effectively use the x-ray vision to avoid Krypton Satellites and to find criminals, the bridge pieces and Lois. Smart boy, mine. I'm not sure what we'll play next. We'll try something a little more mundane, Bowling, perhaps? 7752
  18. 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
  19. 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. (Reference: Instruction Manual Page 3) 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
  20. Sky Diver (Atari VCS, 1979) aka Dare Diver "If at first you don't succeed, forget sky diving." One or two players each control a sky diver. Each sky diver starts in a plane going across the top of the screen from opposite directions. Your objective is to get your diver out of the plane and safely landed on a narrow-ish landing pad at the bottom of the screen. There's a wind sock indicating the direction (right or left) and speed (zero, slow, medium or fast) of the wind. Using that information, you carefully time your diver's jump from the plane. Once in free fall you have about a second to open your chute. The longer you wait to open your chute, the higher your score will be for the jump, provided you land on the target landing pad (with your chute open). Each game consists of a series of nine jumps. You lose four points for any failed jump (ie, when your diver becomes a little smear in the dirt.) and you can earn between 1 and 11 for a successful jump. If you land safely but not on your platform you earn zero points. There are five different two player games, though it's also possible to practice with only one player. Games 1 and 2 use stationary target pads with wind; the pads are smaller in game 2. Games 3 and 4 are moving pads with no wind; pads are smaller in game 4. Game 5 is a race to a single target; first player down safely gets points, the other player gets nothing. Sky Diver is a simple game that can be a fun diversion for about 10 to 15 minutes about once a week. Your play time may vary but this game never gets old to us. I'd compare it to the future games found in Wario Ware but I haven't actually played them so it wouldn't be a fair comparison. Basically, each round only lasts about three or four seconds between the planes beginning their flight across the top of the screen to the safe or otherwise landing of your parachutist. The action in-between requires you to think quickly (where's my platform? is the wind blowing? how hard? what direction?). While your diver is falling you have to carefully time the opening of your chute, not just to aim for the maximum amount of points, but to also consider how hard the wind is blowing because it influences your chute once it's open. You can control the left-right motion of your faller after opening the chute, but you'll be fighting the wind if you didn't plan your jump appropriately. In non-wind games, you've got to worry about the moving platform. It's a little trickier, but not impossible. What we enjoy about this game is that if you fail to open your chute you are rewarded with a nice "splat" sound and your diver makes a little pixel puddle in the dirt. It's funny enough for a chuckle and then you're back in the plane, ready to try again. I don't think either of us have ever scored a "perfect jump" of 11 points, but every other week or so we give it our best shot. So, while this isn't a game we can play for hours and it isn't a game we could play every day, it is a game that we enjoy the hell out of it whenever we do play it. BONUS! reader participation riddle (answer in comments) Q: When their parachute fails to open, what's the last thing to go through a sky diver's mind? Next entry we'll do another thrill seeker sim: Human Cannonball. 7210
  21. 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.
  22. 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) 7136 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.
  23. 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 (to which I added movies, so you should go back and watch them) and War of Nerves, but of course, these guys have hats. 7078 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 riccochets 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 riccochet 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 destructable 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 riccochet 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 riccochet shot on him. Red's Revenge (1.91 MB) Red, entirley 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.
  24. War of Nerves (Odyssey^2, 1979) 6911 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.
  25. I've Got Your Number! (Odyssey^2, 1979) 6870 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. Red picks correctly and celebrates. (2.46 MB) Green picks incorrectly and is sad. (1.04 MB) 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! intvren.zip 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. Who's idea was that?
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