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Found 36 results

  1. Out of this World / Helicopter Rescue (Odyssey^2, 1979) Out of this World! is a "graviteasing" space race. A better way to describe it would be a one dimensional Lunar Lander knock-off. You control a lander module by using its retro rockets to regulate its descent to the lunar surface. Your fuel is limited, which promotes an aside subject. Armstrong and Aldrin had a similar issue when they were landing on our moon: they had a limited amount of fuel and had to find a safe place to land the Eagle. Apparently they were indeed about to run out of fuel when they managed to find a nice place to land. Would "we" (as a species) have ever come up with the "Lunar Lander" class of videogames if they'd had an easy time of it? Let's get back to the matter at hand. I should say "at thumb" because to control your descent you don't use the joystick, you just press the button to activate your retro rockets. Land at too high a velocity and your ship becomes a chunky pixel pile; take too long to land and your ship runs out of fuel, falls to the lunar surface and becomes a chunky pixel pile. After landing successfully you receive a fuel bonus and must rendevous with the orbiter module. I don't like making fun of the graphics of early games because A) it's too damn easy and B) it's besides the point. However, in this case, I must point out that the orbiter module looks like the side view of a dreidel. This is especially cool if you received the cartridge as a Hanukkah gift. Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! I made you out of little purple squares . . . So, after landing, you must take off again and join up with the Space Dreidel. This doesn't have to be like the gentle landing required to survive contact with the lunar surface. You just have to collide with the dreidel and you're good. What I don't "get" is an orbiter without a predictable period, this one seems a little random. Cool Thing: There are three gravity settings. Lunar, Mars and Jupiter. These increased gravity settings don't seem to accelerate your spacecraft's descent, but you do have to slow it down to nearly zero to prevent the pixel pile from forming when on Jupiter gravity. Helicopter Rescue! is a daring lifesaving mission! To start, you have to rescue people from the roof of the DOOMSDAY hotel which, right away, brings compelling questions concerning the sanity of anyone staying at a hotel that not only chooses DOOMSDAY as its name but also spells it in all-caps. After this sophmoric reflection on bad foreshadowing, one must proceed to pilot a helicopter. Before I bitch about the game, let me say, I loved this helicopter. You can move the helicopter up, down, right left. It doesn't tilt or give you any sense of copter control movement, but this baby does rotate. I don't mean a top down view of rotation like in Combat I mean a very smooth side view of a helicopter turning around. It is quite cool. Here is a movie of an entire rescue in action. Note the smooth rotation of the helicopter. Helicopter Rescue movie 5.24 MB It doesn't look so bad, but that's all you do! You move the chopper over to the hotel. Hold down the button to lower the basket. The person gets into the basket. Hold down the button to raise the basket. Move the chopper over to the rescue pad. Lower the basket. The person disappears. Raise the basket. Repeat. You have two minutes to perform as many rescues as you can stand. The graphics actually surpass the gameplay due to surprisingly good graphics and surprisingly stale gameplay. This has to be a first in home videogaming history. Sadly, this phenomenom has been duplicated ad infinitum, especially in recent years. Overall, I can only roll my eyes. If they could do the cool copter graphics in the Helicopter game, why couldn't they have improved the graphics for Out of this World? Why couldn't they have added some thruster or gravity elements to Helicopter Rescue? Both games seem like half a design. I wish they'd combined them somehow into a single game that was more fun.
  2. Checkers (Channel F, 1979) This was what the U.S. got instead of the Saba Schach game I wrote of a few days ago. Checkers? Don't misunderstand me, I like the game of checkers, it's what most people learn before moving on to Chess and I'm no exception. The US gets Checkers and not Chess? It just seems wrong, insulting even. How does it rate as a checkers game? Not bad. The controls make enough sense that one can jump right in. My only complaint is that the AI always gets to go first and there's no option for two people to play against each other. Of course, the big plus is there IS an AI to play against! It just isn't a huge challenge and I'm not aware of any difficulty settings that can be changed. It should be noted that I don't have the Checkers cart. It's pretty rare and the few times I've seen it on ebay it was in big lots with other stuff and was going for a pretty penny. A pretty penny I wasn't willing to part with, especially since it was emulated well enough for a game of Checkers. With regards to sound: Thankfully, there's very little sound. What they do choose to use is really annoying. When the computer player picks a piece to move, the piece blinks and you hear a high pitched "beep beep beep". I don't know if it would be so painful coming out of the actual console, but coming out of my TV it hurt me the first time I heard it. I turned the volume way down after that. Here's the screens from the MESS version. Nothing terribly impressive to look at but not un-fun to play. If you're a kid and no one wants to play checkers with you, this isn't a bad cart to have. Next entry, we go Bowling!!!
  3. Sorry for the hiatus, real life and such, yada yada yada. Slot Machine (Channel F - Zircon, 1979) Jerry Lawson, the designer of the Channel-F, in a panel discussion at CGE 2004 revealed that he'd made Slot Machine for his mother, who was fond of going to the casinos and playing the slot machines. I don't know if he gave it to her for Mother's Day, but in honor of the sweet sentiment: Happy Mother's day to all the mother's out there who tolerate videogames in their homes. Yeah, it's like a week away, what's your point? I don't have this cart for the Zircon Channel-F, myself. The last one I saw on ebay sold for $73 loose, which is when I decided that the MESS experience was good enough for me. Something I thought was particularly interesting about this cartridge is that it has a sort of title/intro screen. If I knew how to make an animated GIF out of MESS screenshots, you'd be able to see the marquee lights circling the welcome to big casino. Slot Machine is the earliest example of a slot machine program that I've seen but is predated by Slots on the Casino I cartridge for the APF MP1000. (I haven't played that one yet, but I'm happy to announce that I now have it, so someday I will.) This is a very simple cartridge, something your mother would be able to figure out. You set the amount of money in your "purse" anywhere from $1 to $99. Then you choose your bet by pushing the stick in one of the four directions for $.05, $.10, $.25 and $.50. Then you start feeding the machine by pressing down the plunger to start it and then to stop it. I have no manual for this, but the winnings seem slim for all but three in a row, which I was only able to "achieve" with the bottle graphic and it won me about $30. At the time it was enough for me to wrap my winnings of about $95 back around to winnings in the mid $20s. at_speed.zip The "F" stands for "Fun". All in all this game is easy to play but, for me, not very fun in that I just can't get into playing a slot machine, much less playing one with pretend money. Anyway, the story behind it is more interesting than the game itself and I think it's cool that this guy was able to make a game for his mother and then have it published on his system. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have been paying attention to eBay and was able to win all but one of the rest of the APF carts from 1978. So, we're going to reset the chronometer to 1978 for a few days while we take care of those. Please look forward to it!
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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.
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