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  1. For those of you playing along at home this is Videocart #21-Bowling, for the Zircon Channel F. I wonder if they actually changed its name to the "Zircon Channel-F"? All of the carts released during what is known among Channel F fans as "The Zircon Era" have the Zircon Empire's name and address on the back of the cart. I'll scan a picture of it one of these days. Bowling (Channel F, 1979) The Title (system, year) format was one of the ways of presenting the cart title that Flack suggested, and I like it. Thanks Flack! We've seen a few interpretations of Bowling over the years. RCA Studio II, APF and the Odyssey^2 all had their own takes on the sport. It was one of the few games that didn't suck completely on the RCA Studio II and the other two systems didn't exactly get it wrong either. It felt like I wasn't able to do splits on those systems, though, that could mean I'm just not very good at splits. I could never do seven-ten splits in real life, either. Channel-F Bowling gets all the technical aspects of the sport correct. The scoring is accurate, no "15-for-a-spare-30-for-a-strike" fudging here. The game keeps track of the pins you earn after a spare or a strike and adds them appropriately. It also handles splits. I was surprised when I was able to spare a seven-ten-six split. They don't show the six (or is the four?) pin sliding over from the right to knock the seven, but the seven pin did go down. Also, like every other Bowling game, it is possible to curve the ball. At any point after you roll it, you initiate a hook or a slice by pushing the joystick the way you want the ball to go. You can't un-do the curve either, so you have to be careful not to curve the ball when you initially roll it, or it will go straight into the gutter. Hmm, gutter. That reminds me, I'd better talk about the graphics. The graphics are Channel-F level graphics. (I'll post screenshots later, so check back often!) The pins look like air hockey paddles, which is better than just a square. In fact, I bring up the pins because they were Good Thing. The rest of it was very sparse, like PONG sparse. The designers did go the extra mile by providing a frame record at the top right of the screen, displaying the strikes, spares and opens for each frame played. So overall, points away for graphics, but points added for screen layout. The thing about Channel-F Bowling that didn't work the most, was the speed of the ball and the fact it can't be adjusted. It's fast, especially for my four year old. It was hard for her to get a bead on it when she was preparing to roll it and it was hard for her to curve it when she wanted to, once it went sailing up the alley. I'm not saying that this makes the game bad, per se, but it makes it harder to play with my kids, which is bad. CORRECTION! EDIT: Actually what's bad is trying to play these games without having directions for game settings. The speed of the ball CAN be changed! We were playing 2 player and I must've been hitting speed 2 in response to the "S?" question, thinking it had no effect (the directions on the cart say nothing about it). But G=2 and S=1 was fine for my little girl, provided she didn't twist the joystick around the wrong way and throw everything into the gutter. /EDIT Also on this cartridge is a Bowling variation called Splits. In Splits the program sets up random configurations of shots that can be hard to make. It's a neat idea and makes for good practice. I gotta give them credit for including it on a Bowling cart first. Despite this addition, this isn't the title I'd pop in if I wanted to play a Bowling game. In the Bowling system wars, I'm going to have to consider the Odyssey^2 to currently hold the title of "Best Bowling Game, So Far". Odyssey^2 Bowling is pretty, has a four player option and is the most fun. Next entry it's back to the MESS emulator for Slot Machine.
  2. 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
  3. Alpine Skiing, (Odyssey^2, 1979) Unless I'm forgetting a game, we haven't seen a Skiing game in a home videogame context since 1972! Skiing for the Magnavox Odyssey was fun for its day in a Zen sort of way. Alpine Skiing is less fun but has some perks. I wonder what made them choose the Alps? Why not Andes or Himalayian Skiing? First perk: it's two player, simultaneous. Points to any game that attempts to force people to play together, even if it the overall experience is mediocre. Good games lead to happy bonding opportunities; bad games lead to shared suffering, which is also a type of bonding opportunity. Second perk which really part of the first perk, Alpine skiing gives us a pseudo-split-screen slolom course with alternating red and blue gates. Player one and two share the same randomly generated course but each on their own, private half-a-screen. From the top center of their respective side, players pull back on the joystick and try to steer their skiers through gates that come up from the bottom of the screen. The gates look like trees or mushrooms, depending on how your Rorschach swings that day and can be oriented either horizontal or vertical. You'll either have to make your skier go through them from side to side or from top to bottom. The action button makes you go about 30% faster but usually has the effect of making us crash into the next gate quicker. The idea is to get through the course in the shortest amount of time while passing through each of the 55 gates. If you miss one, then it just becomes a matter of who gets the least amount of gate misses. It's almost like a driving game, in that one must steer through a course, but unlike Bally's Dodge 'Em or Atari's Street Racer (hey, which also had a skiing title in it somewhere) your skier has vertical and horizontal velocity components rather than an ability to simply strafe left or right with a paddle twist. As the skier turns to go left, it slows down like a real skier would and take a little time to establish the pre-turn speed again. My son and I aren't able to get the hang of this, and find our little skiers careening down the slope, constantly missing the gates, or hitting the sides of them. My son likes to take his skier over to my side of the screen and act like he's cheating or something by trying to trip me. Though the sprites can overlap, the skier images can't actually interact, so while he's harassing me, his course violation count just keeps rising. The fact that we can cross over to each other's side makes the split screen screen seem a "pseudo" instead of a "bona fide" split. What is cool about the split is that the sides can maintain two seperate "hill speeds", in other words the gate mushrooms can move up faster or slower on one side than the other, so one player can hit the finish line while the other player is still breaking their little virtual neck, over and over, like some tragic figure in Greek mythology. I'm going to rate this a "meh." It isn't awful, but it isn't too much fun either. I should mention that we do like the way the skier falls on its face after hitting a gate. Yeah, so, maybe we are sociopaths, what's your point? Next time we'll play the Hockey / Soccer cart for the Odyssey^2. Computer Intro part 0001 Getting a little deeper into Computer Intro, it should be noted that in addition to allowing one to program with hexadecimal codes, one may also program in Odyssey's assembly language. So, instead of typing two lines with 60 and then 13 you can type it all at once "LDV.0.13" which, I think, is "load register 0 with 13". The Computer Intro manual has backflaps with the codes and pictures of all the little built-in characters made for the Odyssey^2. I'm not sure if Computer Intro will give us a way to make our own characters, but I think it might allow us to choose one of the built-in graphics and move it around. I'll try putting in the first sample program for the next entry.
  4. 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
  5. Schach (Channel F, 1979) I know, I said I was only going to do US releases, that's why this is a "mystery" game. This is a quote from a post I made back in May of 2005 As far as I know, it's the only game program for the Channel F that didn't come out in the US. The cart, with that "glowing thinking light", was probably more expensive to manufacture and, based on past market performance of the Channel F, it was probably decided they wouldn't make enough money on Chess (which is the English word for Schach) in the US market. That's just my idle speculation, however, and I'd be curious to know if a reason has ever been given. I've no intentions of altering this cart into a multi-cart. For one, I don't have the mad skillz. For two, well, even though it isn't worth a ton of money as-is (at least, not in Germany), even though it isn't really, really rare, I think that it is rare enough that I'd rather keep this copy intact as just a Chess cart. A poor analogy might be: "if you had an original copy of "Citizen Kane" would you colorize it?" Yeah, that's actually a pretty useless analogy. I welcome someone else to give an analogy that would better express how I feel. Just read my mind and see what you can come up with. I played this cart only a few times after I got it. I just don't seem to have the time to have a game of Chess anymore. (I'd rather write rambling blogs about it) For the record, I wasn't able to beat it again. I think I won my first game because I was excited and focused, which usually makes me smarter and better looking. Here are pictures: Shh! It's trying to think! It only takes about 10 seconds, tops, for a move. I haven't won since I beat it my first lucky game. It's that damn, eerie, "thinking" light that rattles me. This is how the chessboard looks. When a move is made the coordinates of the move show up on the side. Which, uh, I should've gotten a picture of I guess. Next entry should be the other "mystery" game for the Channel F.
  6. 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?
  7. Mezrabad

    1979 Protoview

    The 1978-1979 school year was significant for me. Other than seven people to whom I'm related, I no longer know anyone I'd ever met prior to the school year of 1978-79. Anyone I knew, peers or otherwise, before that school year, is either dead or is now 28 years in the past and I've got no hope of getting in touch with them and even less hope that they'll remember me. I almost got into just how many friends I've made and kept each year since 1979, but the amount stops growing in 1991 and has remained exceedingly small ever since. Now, before I depress myself, what the fuck was my point . . . ? I had one, I swear. Oh, yeah, the Videogame line-up of 1979!!! Anyone with whom I've ever played a videogame, other than my family, I met after 1979. That's all I wanted to say. I honestly had no intention of getting into counting the number of friends I've made since then but what a nice, cheery way to start an entry! In 1979 there were still five, count 'em, FIVE systems on sale to the general public: the Atari VCS, Odyssey^2 by Magnavox, The Bally Professional Arcade, the ??? Channel F and the APF M1000. The APF M1000, or MP1000, was about to morph into the Imagination Machine in 1980 and then it would die a horrible death. 1979 marks the last year a game was released for just the original console portion and that game was: Space Destroyers (APF MP1000, 1979) which I don't have, so don't even go there. Fairchild Semiconductor stopped selling the Channel F in the US in 1978. A company named Zircon bought the rights and began selling the system with seven games that hadn't been released previously. According to some sources I've read, Zircon did this in 1982, other sources say 1979. Have I kept track of those sources? No, because, damn it, I'm a time traveller, not a frackin' historian. For the sake of getting the Channel F "out of the way" as well as keeping it out of the log jam of systems that's going to occur farther down the timestream in 1982, we'll be covering its remaing US games, this year, with two special mystery games, one from across space and the other from across time. Zircon Channel F #19 Checkers #21 Bowling #22 Slot Machine #23 Galactic Space Wars #24 Pro Football #25 Casino Poker #26 Alien Invasion The other two are surprises, but you won't have to wait too long. No, I'm not telling you right now! You'll have to wait. Or guess. And, no, they've got nothing to do with porn! Jeez, ya pervs . . . Bally Professional Arcade had a short year, but it was easy to find almost all of them. Amazin' Maze / Tic-Tac-Toe Astro Battle aka Space Invaders Bally Pin aka Astrocade Pinball Blackjack / Poker / Acey Deucey Star Battle Odyssey^2 had a fair sized crop. Alpine Skiing Computer Intro Dynasty Hockey / Soccer Invaders from Hyperspace I've Got Your Number Out of this World / Helecopter Rescue Showdown in 2100 A.D. Thunderball War of Nerves And last, but certainly not, well, you know, the Atari Video Computer System had a biggish year: Backgammon BASIC Programming Bowling Canyon Bomber Casino Football Human Cannonball Miniature Golf Sky Diver Slot Machine Superman Video Chess Now, there's been some question about many of the Atari games and the actual year of the release vs. copyright date. For instance, Superman is copyright 1978 by Atari but 1979 by DC comics. Maybe they wrote it in 1978 and got permission to release under DC license in 1979? I have no idea. I went through Atari Age and the Digital Press Collector's Guide for my dates, I wrote down the games for that year and moved on. I wasn't Mr. ErrorChecker. So, if there's a game in the wrong year, please let me know. I won't necessarily move it, but I'm curious enough to know about it. I'll say it again, mostly to remind myself, this is for fun. If I spent too much time playing historian I'd never get to play anything. Speaking of history, as I understand it, the Intellivision was only test marketed in 1979 and only in Fresno, California. It didn't go nationwide until 1980. So, despite all the games with 1979 copyrights, I'm not playing INTV until we start 1980. Back in October, I said I'd be done 1978 by Thanksgiving 2005. ROFLMFAO! I guess I'm neither psychic nor very smart. I'll finish when I finish, but it may get a little tricky over the summer with some other stuff going on. Next entry we'll skip right over the APF MP1000 (I don't have the one cart, Space Destroyers, from 1979) to the Channel F's first Mystery Game! Be sure not to avoid it!
  8. 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 (Dead link removed. Sorry.) 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. (Dead link removed. Sorry again.) 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
  9. Space Invaders aka Astro Battle (Bally Pro Arcade, 1979) Okay, my research on this is sketchy, but as far as I can tell: Bally-Midway distributed Space Invaders in the arcades in the United States. The rights to do so, I assume, were purchased from Taito, the company that owned the game and distributed it in Japan. Since Bally has this Professional Arcade for the home it only makes sense that they'd do a home version of Space Invaders for it, since it was the single most popular arcade game of all time, if you don't count past 1978. Fast forwarding a little bit, Atari, in January of 1980, released their home version of Space Invaders and apparently they went directly to Taito to get the rights to do so. So then, I'm guessing, this was why Bally had to change the name of their home Space Invaders to Astro Battle. *shudder* Okay, that's enough of that. I should probably avoid talking about the history as much as I should avoid talking about the technology. The other home version of Space Invaders released in 1979 was Space Destroyers for the APF MP1000. (Bally is on the left, APF is on the right) So, the immediate differences we see here are different sprite colors for the Bally and less columns (8 compared to 11) and less rows (4 compared to 5) than the APF version. APF's version is great if you're looking for an "as close to the arcade" experience as possible. However, there is something to be said about adding variations to the home videogame experience simply because one couldn't get that variation on a single cabinet in the arcade. Bally attempts this by offering four skill levels: Novice, Amateur, Intermediate and Professional. The differences between the levels are simply increasing speed and enemy firing rates. The effects of such are that anyone in your household could play long enough, at least on Novice, to decide whether or not they enjoy the game. Beats the heck out of being destroyed repeatedly and quickly in Professional, Intermediate or even Amateur mode. I should mention that, to me, the Bally controller with Space Invaders is a little annoying. Maybe it is just the particular controller I use, but that pistol grip fire mechanism becomes really uncomfortable to keep firing after a few rounds of invaders. If there's ever a game that requires rapidly firing a weapon with this controller, it's gonna hurt. Bally Space Invaders limits the player to six screens of invaders. After screen six, they've invaded and it's Game Over for you, earthling. Perhaps since I'm used to the arcade style of playing until death, it seems odd to me to do it that way. This is what it looks like when they've invaded. The reason I include that shot, is that you don't get to see the Game Over message for very long. Once it's "Game Over", the Bally gives you a second-and-a-half to check your score and then it dumps you back to the game selection screen. It's very annoying, especially if you have a score of which you wanted to take a picture. This is one of those games you'd better be running through your VHS or Betamax if you want to be saving any screenshots of your high score. By the way, this is a one player only cart -- no alternating two-player play mode. Having a buddy with you, keeping an eye on your score, is a good way of actually finding out what your final score was. I never thought about this before, but could Space Invaders be considered the first game with a continuous soundtrack? It isn't much, musically, but it certainly sets a tone. Here, again, the Bally's sound capabilities really come through as the audio output of the "invader march", the base explosions, the saucer -- all sound great. The Bally Professional Arcade just seems to have this ability to produce rich deep bass tones that I'm not getting from the Channel F, VCS or Odyssey^2. So, to sum up Space Invaders for the Bally Pro Arcade: yay for color, yay for difficulty levels, yay for audio, boo for ADHD Game Over screen, meh for controller. Overall, it gets a happy face. Next entry we'll look at Star Battle. 11067
  10. Human Cannonball aka Cannonball Man (Atari VCS, 1979) You're given a cannon, a crazy fool inside the cannon and a water tower, which we affectionately refer to as "the bucket". There are three variables: speed, cannon angle and distance from the cannon to the water tower. In the first game, a speed is randomly generated, representing the speed at which the Cannonball Man will be shot from the cannon. You must try to select the cannon's angle which will allow Projectile Man to land in "the bucket". The bucket is maneuverable, which we actually did not know at first. Let me tell you, the first game isn't too hard without knowledge that the bucket can move, but with that knowledge it becomes much easier. The directions for these old games continue to have useful information and we need to remember to read them. Your game objective is to get Mr. Ballistic into the bucket seven times before you turn him into circus pizza seven times. There are eight game variations, each with a one and two player version. The game variations increase the difficulty. Game 1 is as I described, given the speed of Mortar Man and a fixed position cannon, select the angle of expulsion. Game 2 pretty much the same as game 1, but the cannon is further away from the bucket. Game 3 gives you a random cannon location and you must choose the angle and speed. Game 4 lets you choose the position of the cannon, but the angle and speed are randomly generated. Game's 5 through 8 are pretty much the same as games 1 through 4 except for two very important differences. First difference: the water tower is no longer movable -- there's no fudging your numbers; you either get the variables right or your man is a greasy spot on the midway. Second difference: the other twist adds a "window" through which your little ballistic friend must travel. The window is a gap in a barrier which continuously moves down the screen between your cannon and the bucket. If you don't time your shot just right, Missile Dude hits the barrier and becomes cannon fodder, um, of a sort. This is another game that, like Sky Diver, awards a consolation prize for failure. When your flying fool misses the tower completely or hits it from the side he will subsequently hit the ground with a nice splat sound. The word "Ouch" appears over his formerly ballistic body. The pre-window games are fun enough. The challenge is mostly just recalling what speed and angle combination work best at what distances. A well-considered guess can feel pretty good when you pull it off. If the repetitive gameplay doesn't scare you off, it is possible to get pretty proficient at the first four games. Just try to remember the distance, speed and angle combinations and be ready to move that water tower when needed. The "window" games are harder and a bit frustrating. If you bother to get good at the first four games, so that you know the angles, distance and speeds very well, then you may be able to do well enough at the window games so that they are challenging and not frustrating. The problem I have with the gameplay is that it is fun, but only up to a certain point; that point being when it starts getting too damn hard. There's nothing about the game that keeps us coming back for the real challenge (frustration) of the window levels other than the continuous abuse/death of a humanlike figure, which doesn't have as much draw for us as one might think. What's difficult to tell is whether or not we would've gotten "into" this game back in the day, when games were expensive and purchases were few and far between. If this were the only Atari VCS game we owned, I think we would've enjoyed it to the point where we might have tried to get good at the harder levels. Since we now have access to way too many games, it just isn't a good enough thrill on which to blow a lot of time and effort. We'd much rather play Sky Diver than Human Cannonball. I don't know what game is next; probably Casino. 7352
  11. 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
  12. 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. (DEAD LINKS. YES I'M SORRY. SO SORRY.) See how smoothly they're animated? Pretty cool. Also note that the default background color is blue, but it changes to the color of whoever wins the point. Something odd. Some of my Odyssey^2 boxes have stickers on the side in Japanese. I think I'm playing Odyssey^2 imports from Japan! Ooo! (Translates to: "Play Arithmetic Game" so, really it's just "Fun With Numbers") That's it for now. I'm in my final semester of college. I apologize for how infrequent my entries have been for the past year. Being a full-time student again is like always having voices in the back of my mind saying "Shouldn't you be working on X?", "Don't you have more reading to do for your class?", or "Why, WHY do they always come to me to die!?". I'm saying that there always seems to be more to do. Well, I've got one more paper to write, one more quiz to take, one more final exam to sit for, three more online discussions to wrap up, books to order for next session and then, finally, I'm free until January 7th. Yippee! On December 20th, I'll be a very relaxed guy, probably for the last time, ever. After I graduate in March, I'll have to find a job and then work for the rest of my life. Bummer. Whose idea was that?
  13. Showdown in 2100 A.D. (Odyssey^2, 1979) Takes the old idea of a duel between gunfighters and gives it a "futuristic" setting, the 22nd Century!!! The cowboys are animated in a similar manner to the main characters in I've Got Your Number and War of Nerves, but of course, these guys have hats. The "trees" are a way of replenishing one's ammunition. Just touch a tree that's the same color as you are and you get more bullets. Running out of ammo seems to be a standard feature in a cowboy themed gun duel game, but the ability to reload is new and I found it to be a nice touch. The trees also serve as pinball bumpers. If you shoot one you may set up a wild series of ricochets that could kill you or your opponent. This feature gave my children a lot of giggles as each would find it absolutely hilarious when the other shot themselves with a ricochet bullet. Looking at the other gun duel games available at the time there's Gunfight on the Bally Professional Arcade and Outlaw on the Atari VCS. Gunfight's design on the Bally Professional Arcade beats out Showdown in 2100 A.D. due to a few factors, one being the ability to control the angle of the shot and another being the better graphics and sound. Gunfight may be a better design, but we had many more laughs while playing Showdown. Outlaw on the Atari VCS, like so many games on the VCS, has a great deal of variations and that alone gives it more replay value than Showdown. Outlaw also has destructible environments which add a lot of fun. Yet, again, we laughed a lot harder playing Showdown. At first glance, on pure technical merit, I'd rank the Gun duel games on the three systems that had them as: #1 Gunfight, #2 Outlaw and #3 Showdown. (Oh, and I almost forgot about Gunfighter for the RCA Studio II which I'll rank fifth out of four.) On the other hand, Showdown in 2100 A.D. has something that neither of the other games have and that's a single player mode with a computer controlled opponent. In fact, it even has a zero-player mode. If you start a game and leave the controllers alone, both gunslingers will become computer controlled and will shoot it out. It can be fun to watch, especially due to the ricochet gameplay. The single player opponent isn't much of a challenge, but the fact that it exists give major points in my book to the Odyssey^2's version. If I were shoveling out original retail price cash for any of the three*, I'd say that Outlaw for the Atari gives two-players the most for their money. However, considering Showdown's single player mode and the fact that we laughed most and hardest while playing the two-player game, I'm going to say that Showdown is our favorite gun duel game from the era. If it were 1979 and we had to choose a gun duel game that we could only play for 15 minutes, I wouldn't hesitate to slap Showdown in before the others. I've got some movies of the action in Showdown. You may also want to check out the I've Got Your Number entry for gameplay movies I added. (See the link at its earlier mention.) Blue Shoots Red! (1.22 MB) Blue gets the drop on Red. Riccochet Shot! (1.65 MB) Red gets pulled back by some trees and then Blue pulls the 'ol ricochet shot on him. Red's Revenge (1.91 MB) Red, entirely fed up with blue, demonstrates an interesting morphing of Blue's corpse while repeatedly shooting it into a pile of mush. (ALL DEAD LINKS REMOVED. I AM FULLY AWARE OF MY MANY FAULTS.) *Ignore, for the moment, the fact that Gunfight was a built-in game for the Bally Professional Arcade.
  14. This review bears no relation to the Kiss album from 1979 with the same name. That album came out in 1979 and now it's after 2000, man. For you Kiss fans, it doesn't take x-ray eyes to see that despite their charisma they could be accused of dirty livin'. If you get the joke then you sure know something. Yes, even in hard times, I've got a magic touch. Hah! I know, I'm hysterical, but save your love for the Odyssey^2. I've been reorganizing my "house of doom" into a single "wall of doom", i.e. trying to get all of my videogame stuff on display and immediately accessible. I'll have some pictures of this work in progress for another entry so please look forward to it. In the meantime, it's about time I fire up the Chronogame machine and do some old games. Dynasty (Odyssey^2, 1979) Like the APF MP1000 game, Catena, before it, Dynasty is a videogame version of the board game known as Othello to some and apparently Go to others. I've heard so much about the ancient game, Go, but I've never actually played it to confirm just how closely it resembles Othello. Regardless, the Dynasty manual says it is based on Go, but if any of you have played Othello then you know this game. Like Catena, there is a computer opponent for you in Dynasty. I'm certainly not a ranked Othello player but I know when I'm facing an inferior opponent and the computer player for this game was pretty easy to beat. Graphics-wise the colors of the opposing armies are easy to distinguish, and they even supply a different colored version for TVs that could only produce a black and white picture. Hmm, some of you young folk out there might not understand what I mean by that. Once upon a time, TV was only in black and white, though, technically, it was actually "greyscale". At one point, color TV was available, but Black and White TVs were still cheaper to produce and purchase. An Atari VCS has a switch to convert its games to black and white for easier visibility on a black and white TV set. Some of the later games may ignore this switch and use it for other features (I don't remember which ones do), but originally, it was for the cheaper black and white TVs that a kid probably had in their bedroom. Y'know I had a black and white TV in my bedroom, but I don't think I ever played my Atari VCS on it. Damn, what a missed opportunity. Aside: I do remember watching my in-room B&W TV set late night on December 8, 1980. I remember The Tonight Show getting interrupted by a special report that told me John Lennon had been murdered outside a New York City hotel. True Story. Anyway, it is pretty cool that there was a black and white version of Dynasty on the cart in case it was hard to distinguish the default colors on a black and white screen. Gameplay is painless. When it is your turn, you move a cursor around the board and select the spot in which you want to place your "army". The CPU does the same, but, of course, does it much quicker. The manual boasts that it can make 100,000 electronic decisions a second! For some reason, I don't think this will be the last time I hear that boast about this system. Another feature of Dynasty is that, in two player mode, it allows a timer to be set for a more advanced player, a timer that only runs during the advanced player's turn. So, if I were to play my son, I might give myself a time limit of maybe three minutes and my son would win the game if I didn't beat him in three minutes. It's a nice feature and one that wasn't in the APF version. The sound effects are inoffensive and harmless, there really is no animation to speak of, but the graphics serve their purpose just fine. All in all, there's nothing to dislike about this game other than the slightly IQ challenged AI. If I really wanted to play me some Othello, I'd probably rather get the board game itself and play someone face to face, but lacking an opponent, this game serves its purpose well. Next entry, I think I'll check out Alpine Skiing. Computer Intro, part 0000 As I play through the 1979 Odyssey^2 games, I'm going to try to spend a little time each entry looking at Computer Intro, a cartridge that will supposedly allow me to program simple games into my Odyssey^2. First of all, let me commend this system for the Computer Intro manual (recently purchased from Zach Meston, thanks Zach!). The manual is a friendly, simple introduction to Assembly Language programming. How many books were out in 1979 that were actually friendly introductions to Assembly Language progamming? The introduction explains a lot of neat things about computers, how big they used to be, how much smaller they got, how much faster they'll get and how much information they'll be able to handle someday. (I think their estimates are based, in part, on Moore's Law, which would be appropriate since there were Intel chips in the Odyssey if I'm not mistaken.) The first example starts off by diving right into hexadecimal programming (!!!). It has you start a program with the opcode "60" which is for "Load Register 0." This thing lets you talk to the freakin' processor!! Is that cool or what? When I think about the money my parents spent on the Atari Keyboard Controllers and my copy of Atari Basic Programming, I cringe at how much more I would've learned had I been given an Odyssey^2 with a copy of Computer Intro. This is pretty exciting stuff and I say that with no irony in my tone what-so-ever. How many people around here got their start programming on an Odyssey^2 back in the day? Anyway, very excited about this. How come this wasn't called "Computer Intro!" ? (Where's the exclamation point?)
  15. I find it hard lately to take screenshots of games for which I know screenshots and even well crafted home movies already exist. I also find it to be a little off-putting to my actually sitting down and trying to play a game, thinking "okay, I'll need to take some pictures of this". For now, I'm going to stop worrying about the visuals for these entries and simply "blog". Invaders from Hyperspace (Odyssey^2, 1979) Freaky game. You and your co-player are protecting two planetary systems from alien attack. The two systems each consist of four planets orbiting a central planet. At the start of a game, each player has a system colored to match their ship. The red ship starts out with four red planets orbiting a single red planet and the yellow ship starts out with the identical yellow compliment. Two enemy ships, one colored purple and the other colored green, suddenly warp into the screen space and start shooting planets. Every shot that hits a planet cycles that planet through a selection of colors. Each enemy ship is trying to turn your planets to their color. In fact if you do nothing with your ship, (let it be destroyed or just land on a matching colored planet and stay there) the enemy ships will start to fight with each other regarding how the planets should be colored. It's not all about decorating choices. Having a planet with a color that matches your ship gives you a place to hide and a place to resurrect after your ship is destroyed by either the enemies or your co-player. Let's talk about your co-player, the little booger. This is not a cooperative game. Your goal is to kill 10 of the alien ships before your co-player does the same. If that means knocking him out every chance you have in order to reach 10 kills, then so be it. No, there's no points for killing the other player, but it does take them out of the action for a little while and leave the tasty point causing alien ships all for yourself. This game is more fun with another person, especially if they understand that it's nothing personal when you kill them repeatedly while leaving them no friendly planet on which to regenerate. This can be fun! While it sounds a little abusive, be aware that though you may have eliminated a place for your co-player to regenerate, chances are an enemy ship will make one for him as it shoots the planets and cycles them through their color pallettes. Some cute touches to this game. If you run into a planet that's the same color as your ship, you get to "dock" with the planet and you are protected there. While you may be protected, however, you aren't earning any points. If you run into a planet that is a different color than you are, it results in your mutual destruction. You will eventually resurrect on a matching colored planet, but the planet you just ran into is gone for good. There are eight such destructable planets. The central planet of each of the two systems is invulnerable. The goal of the single player game is to keep as many planets alive as you can while racking up the enemy kills to 10. Which means the best one can do on single player is not running into any planets and leaving all eight of them intact. It's not very difficult and much more fun to have a pain in the ass human controlled competitor trying to peg you every chance they get. We had some fun with this game--particularly yelling at each other for changing a planet's color (we're a red planet! a peaceful planet! we don't want to be yellow!) and there was always an enemy ship, planet or co-player to avoid or fire at. I'll give this game a "smile" rating, because we enjoyed it.
  16. 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.
  17. After my last entry, two very generous individuals offered to lend me their Space Destroyers cartridge!!! Fortunately, one of them lives right here in Austin, TX, not far from me! We met in a McDonalds parking lot and exchanged the warez (I gave him APF instructions as collateral. He's actually buying my whole APF Collection when I return Space Destroyers.) I brought it home and experienced the awe and wonder of a really good Space Invaders clone on the APF MP1000. Space Destroyers (APF, MP1000) This is a simple port of the arcade game, Space Invaders. I say "simple" because it doesn't try to add anything to the original, it merely emulates it and does a damn good job. The movie below is nine seconds of it in action, but beware, its almost 3 megabytes big! (Can you imagine how frickin' huge 3 megabytes must've seemed back in 1979?) (DEAD LINK to movie. I'm so ashamed. Oh goodness. Someday I hope I'll recover these. Someday I hope I just make YouTube videos about all of this stuff but honestly I do like the sound of my own typing much more than I like the sound of my own voice.) The sound effects are perfectly cromulent. The gameplay is as close to the original as one would want it. I did notice slight slow downs when there was one Invader left zipping across and a shot traveling up the screen. Other than that, I'd say, "perfect." Let me show you an odd thing about this cartridge. See how much bigger it is than the cart featuring our old friend, Hangin' Chad? Yeah, I know, but it gets weirder. The thing is: All the APF carts other than Space Destroyers are the same size and they were all packaged in a generic green box which had no game identifiers on it. (Just like the boxes for the Bally Professional Arcade carts.) Yet, all of the boxes seem designed to fit cartridges the size of the Space Destroyers cart. According to the gentleman that loaned me the Space Destroyers cart, he's got a few of the boxes for the other APF carts and Space Destroyers fits them perfectly. Oh, so another neat thing about this cart. It conveniently has a list of all the other carts that came out which work with the APF MP1000 consoles. Here's another odd thing, which I've mentioned before. My APF MP1000 console has Rocket Patrol built into it. From everything I've read, the APF M1000 didn't have Rocket Patrol built in. Yet, My APF MP1000 console is labeled "M1000." Which either means it is labeled wrong, or we don't know what the real difference between an APF M1000 and an APF MP1000 is. One last oddity is that, like a few other carts, Space Destroyers says it will only work on the MP1000. Yet, here it is working. So, go figure. Before I wrap up things for the APF, there are some errata in previous posts about some of the games, that I need to straighten out. Blackjack: I found instructions for Blackjack. Once I learned how to do something besides take a hit, the game was much more pleasant. It can deal up to FOUR decks which breaks previous deck holding records on other BJ carts! It offers you insurance when the dealer has a face up. You can win if you have five cards that don't go over 21. Boxing: I mentioned before that there are three AI driven boxing opponents with different alliterative names yet indistinguishable fighting habits. THAT was an incorrect statement. I played it again yesterday and say that each computer opponent has a boxing style primarily concerned with their offense. Horrible Harry punches every 3rd beat. (one, two, PUNCH, one, two, PUNCH). Slugging Sam swings every other beat (one, punch, one, punch) and Jabbing Joe stabs at the air every beat (jab, jab, jab, jab). Just thought I'd mention it as I wasn't kind when I spoke of the variation in opponents before. (Hey, it'd been a month or so since I'd played it. Gimme a break.) EDIT: Just added some pictures. Just got back from selling the APF. *sniff* It's the first time I've sold off a collection for a particular system in one big fell swoop! Now I have to work on selling my RCA Studio II stuff. Well, for the last time, I end the APF. I can't say the same for 1978 because if I ever get a Telstar Arcade or a Coleco Combat (or even just get to play one of them) then we'll have to warp back here again. I'm still waiting to play Atari PONG on a model C-100, too. Anyway, one last shot of the little family of carts.
  18. From the album: My Game Collection

    My Mattel Intellivision console
  19. This is not an April Fool's Day prank, but since it is April Fool's Day, I think it would be entirely appropriate to talk about something one wouldn't expect to find for the Channel F. I'd been trying to come up with ways to talk about the odd hack or homebrew every now and then. I don't want to do it too often, because it does fall outside of the chronology, but on odd dates and stuff, Friday the 13th, Feb 29th, April Fools and whenever, I'll do them for the heck of it. Tetris (Channel F, 2004 - Peter Trauner) Who says there are no good games written for the Channel F? Title page. I don't know who Frank is, but the other two are easy to figure out. If I remember correctly a gentleman named Fredric Blåholtz issued a challenge and a reward to get homebrewing started for the Channel F. He wanted someone to program a Channel F version of Tetris and he offered a complete collection of Channel F carts to the person who did it first. I believe there was a thread that spoke of this on Atari Age's forums. Tetris in action. There are probably ways of making a real live Tetris cart but I haven't made one. The screenshots are what it looks like on the MESS emulator when output to my TV. We used Playstation controllers to play it, which worked well enough. The play is two-player, head-to-head. A single player game starts if you wait long enough after the second player loses. The score is simply the number of blocks emitted by the, um, block emitter. Unexpectedly, the winner of a two player game is determined by who survives the longest, not by the score. There are no scoring bonuses for taking out more than one row at a time, but, there does seem to be a way to punish your opponent for not doing as well as you. I was doing pretty well and my son started complaining that the game was adding rows to the bottom of his side! We weren't able to isolate the behavior completely, but it seemed to happen whenever I was able to get rid of two or more of my bottom rows. End round shot Is it fun? Of course it is, it's Tetris! There's no sound that I was able hear, so you might call it quiet fun. Anyway, there it is: a game that doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to be fun on the Channel F. Who woulda thunk it? Next Entry I'll start working on US released games for the Channel F starting with #19 Checkers.
  20. 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 EDIT 2021: ouch, I swear I'm not a homophobe, we really said that expression a lot back in the day. Very cringe. Sorry End Edit)) but I'm one of those writers that hates to edit because I'd rather spend a lifetime wincing at what I've written. (and boy I did wince now in 2021) #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
  21. War of Nerves (Odyssey^2, 1979) This is another great example of a game that didn't seem like much when I played it single-player but blossomed into a real giggle when I played it with my son. You control a general and your mission is to lead a bunch of robots into battle to catch the enemy general, who also has robots. The challenge here is that you lead, you don't control. The robots can disable each other and you can heal them by touching them. There's a play balancer in that as robots on your team become disabled your remaining robots move faster. There's trees all over the playfield around which the robots and your general must maneuver. As a single-player game, this didn't cause any "whooping" from me. Then I played it with my nine year old boy and suddenly we were having fun, and I mean fun. We were yelling at our brain-dead robots, we were yelling at our generals and we alternately begged for mercy from each other's robots. ("I'll give you power! Wealth beyond measure! Just let me go, please!") I don't think it was "fluke" fun either, in that it had nothing to do with whales. No. I mean in that it wasn't a "one shot, we happened to be in a good mood that day" type of fun. There was just something about the dynamics of the game that made it quite enjoyable for us. I'm not saying everyone could sit down with another person and enjoy War of Nerves but I am saying that I think we could sit down with it a second maybe even a third time and still have fun with it. Other than the screenshot at the opening, I wasn't able to get any movies or screens that weren't really blurry or just plain dull looking. I really only want to spend the bandwidth when it's worth it. That's it, I'll talk about Showdown in 2100 A.D. next entry.
  22. 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!!!
  23. 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. 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!
  24. Thunderball! (Odyssey^2, 1979) Thunderball! is a video pinball game in the tradition of APF Pinball (1978) or Atari Video Pinball (1977). However, what served as flippers in those games was really just a barrier which you could turn on and off to prevent the ball from exiting the bottom (or sides) of the screen. In Thunderball! we are given what actually could pass for flippers and it goes a long way towards giving this attempt at pinball a much more authentic flavor. I will describe the play of this game as fast paced. The ball moves very smoothly and exactly as one might expect, if one expected the playing field to be tilted towards the player at a 45 degree angle. If I were a talented pinball player, or even a talented videogame player, I would say that the fast pace is a lot of fun. However, my talent, being what it is, merely leads me to feel that anything that happens in this game while I'm playing it is due to luck, because my overall feeling is a complete lack of control. This feeling most likely goes away after one develops some proficiency at Thunderball! but neither my son nor I seem able to keep a ball in play long enough to get better at keeping the ball in play. I would need to spend much more time getting better at this game than the actual amount of time I have or care to spend on it. I don't consider this the fault of the game. One of the problems with these whirlwind chronological tours of gaming is that some games may require more time for which to develop a taste than I'm willing to invest. Maybe I could get better at a particular game with some practice, but when gameplay initially seems to depend completely on luck, there's just no incentive for me to explore it further. I'm the same way with Pachinko or slot machines in the real world. I'm not saying that Thunderball! depends on luck, I'm saying that it depends on a type of playing skill or an understanding that I currently do not posess, so, to me, it seems like luck. Anyway, if you like pinball, give this a shot, it is certainly the best pinball game we've seen yet. Here's a movie of it in action. Thunderball! (3.68 MB) (Dead link.) 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.
  25. 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 control 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 neglected 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
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