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  1. Fishing Derby (Activision, Atari VCS, 1980) There are actually Fish Derbies in the real world, which I don't expect to be shocking news to any of you. However I thought reading the rules to one would be interesting. http://www.valdezfishderbies.com/pages/contest_rules.php It's possible that I wasn't entirely correct about it being interesting. Sorry if you just spent 30 minutes of your life there that you will never get back. Fishing Derby is by David Crane. David Crane apparently also programmed Outlaw (1978), Canyon Bomber (1979) and Slot Machine (1979) all for the Atari Video Computer System. Atari doesn't let anyone know who designs their games. Game designers are kept frozen in a vault under Atari Headquarters and only brought out of the vault when a new game is needed. One night, someone left the door to the vault open. Four designers escaped. Not being able to feed themselves due to not having any marketable skills, or even human language, they had to do the only thing they knew - game programming. All of this has been carefully documented elsewhere in case you think I'm making this up. Fishing Derby consists of two fishermen sitting across from each other on docks. The goal of the game is to collect 99 pounds of fish before the other. On the playfield there are six rows of fish. Rows 1 and 2 weigh 2 pounds each, rows 3 and 4 weigh 4 pounds each, rows 5 and 6 weigh six pounds each. Each fisherman lowers their lines and tries to hook a fish by moving the hook in front of the fish. When the fish is hooked it will slowly swim to the surface. When a player presses the red button, they're able to reel the fish in faster. There is a hazard of a shark swimming above the topmost row that will eat your fish off your hook so one must always be wary of the shark. Also, there's an interesting mechanic that only one fish may be reeled in at a time by either player. So, if you've both got a fish on the hook, the person who hooked theirs first may reel it in while the other waits. I guess there are ways of using this to your advantage, to not just delay the other person's poundage accumulation, but also to wait for the shark to be more on their side. I did not explore this tactic, but it's a thought. This game is fun. It has moments where you think you're going to get a fish up and, suddenly, you hit the shark losing your fish. There are many "so close!" moments. This is a game that is much more fun to play with a friend, but playing with the computer is good practice. I have yet to beat the computer playing with the computer on Beginner and myself on Advanced. The difference between the two settings is that to catch a fish on Beginner, you just need to get the end of your line near the fish's mouth. To catch a fish on Advanced, your line has to practically be right under the fish's nose. (( Thankfully, a post on Atari Age forums has finally helped me to figure out which way the difficulty switches on the 7800 need to go to be (A)dvanced (to the right) or (B)egginner (to the left) I'm trying to remember to put the Spacetime Protective Barriers up (aka parenthesis) when talking about things "not yet of this time" )) Oh, something different about this game from games that have gone before it: the surface of the water, in addition to providing a sort of "depth perception" to the body of water, actually "shimmers" like the surface of a pond or lake. Well, "like the surface of a pond or lake" in the sense that it is always changing - horizontal lines of blue and light-blue seemed to randomly wax and wane on the surface. It's a nice effect and I'm at a loss to think of another game on the Atari where something was animated in this way simply to provide eye-candy. The surface design has nothing to do with the game play and merely provides an animated aesthetic. Come to think of it, the fishermen also seem to provide a flavor that also doesn't contribute directly to the game play. I wonder if this is the first home videogame to do that? I just can't think of others at the moment. Thank you for reading my ramblings! I might make a game play video of the one-player game to see if my paranoia about the shark is true or not... I swear that sucker gravitates to the left during the single player games. I immediately just played two or three more one-player games, me=hard vs. computer=easy. I lost every time. I don't think my losses are entirely shark-related but if I can blame a shark. I will. Yes, I believe in having irrational prejudice towards sharks. Oh, I got through the entire article without including any fishing-related puns. My cognitive therapy exercises must be working or maybe I just wasn't feeling all that abusive today. Please feel free to put any fish-puns you care to make in the comments. Yes, I'm giving you license to make really awful fish-puns. Oh, the horror! The horror! Next time... back to Atari with Pele's Soccer!
  2. Skiing (Atari VCS, Dec 1980, Activision) To me, Skiing by Activision will always be that cheesy commercial with the guy doing the bad French accent and playing the game poorly. I didn't really understand at the time what was going on with these "new Atari games" that had a different box style and didn't seem to be by Sears or Atari. The commercial for Skiing (which my friends and I thought was hilarious) really stands out in my mind, even though it doesn't strike me as funny today. Yes, it's on YouTube. I do remember spending a very focused Saturday afternoon trying to qualify for the Activision Skiing Team. Apparently this has become known as Game 3b (because one plays the third game on the cart with the difficulty settings on "b"). To qualify, your time had to be under 28.2 seconds. I distinctly remember beating qualifying, but I don't remember if I got 28.17 or 28.19. I think I took the actual picture. I never sent it in for the patch, though. This is among my few remaining childhood regrets. Fortunately, um, most of my childhood regrets have been vastly overshadowed by my many adulthood regrets. Such is life. There are two types of Skiing games: Slalom (Games 1 - 5) and Downhill (Games 6 - 10). The games increase in challenge, but it is possible to get to know each course well. Tonight, I popped the cartridge into my Atari Video Computer System, reviewed the manual, selected Game 3b and after about four tries had my time down to 28.46. A few more tries it was at 28.21 (grrrr) and then finally I hit 28.14. I'm still a spiritual member of the Activision Skiing Team. Go me. Yes, I took a picture. I had forgotten that the left difficulty switch when set to "a" would let your skier ski off the trail and through the woods, even making it possible to ski around the mountain. I remember finding that concept very interesting as a teen. I loved the idea of parts of the "world" persisting off-screen. All in all, Skiing is one of my better remembered games from back in the day and I honestly feel that Activision can thank their marketing department for selling it to me with that cheesy commercial. Addendum: I think one of my fondest memories of the Atari was being stuck on the couch for a couple weeks with a broken ankle playing Adventure. I'd broken it while skiing. Maybe that's why I had to get the cartridge. Addendum duex: Anyone else remember the Flintstones episode where there were spies and one of the code words was "slalom"? Was this the cold war creeping in on our childhoods? Okay, we're done with 1980 for the Atari VCS and it only took me from August of 2009 until April of 2021. Ha. I'll start working on the games for the Odyssey^2 next. It's been a very long time since I hooked up my Odyssey^2. Looking forward to seeing how it goes.
  3. Checkers (Atari VCS, Jul 1980, Activision) “Chess is like looking out over a vast open ocean; checkers is like looking into a bottomless well.” -Marion Tinsley Marion Tinsley was the World Champion of Checkers from 1950 to 1990. Other people only gained the title if Tinsley didn't show up to play. He won the World Championship whenever he chose to play for it. Jonathan Schaeffer was a computer scientist. He lead the team that developed Chinook. Chinook is the computer program that plays checkers. Their story is a great story which I would love to tell you. Instead, I'm going to tell you the short and crappy version of that story. Chinook almost beat Tinsley in 1992. In 1994 they played against each other again. They played six games to a draw. Tinsley had to stop playing because he was in a lot of pain. The pain was cancer. He died a few months later. Chinook never defeated Tinsley. Tinsley's death inspired Schaeffer. Schaeffer's computer program "solved" Checkers in 2007. What that means is that the computer knows all the ways to play the game so that it either wins or draws. A much better version of that story can be found here: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/07/marion-tinsley-checkers/534111/ I don't really have anything to say about Activision Checkers. It's a good version of Checkers. It's easy to play. The graphics look fine. There are a total of four games on the cart. Three games against the computer. (Novice, Intermediate, Expert) The Novice game takes about 15 minutes. The Expert game can take about 2 hours because the computer takes longer to think. The Intermediate game takes more time to play than the Novice game and less time to play than the Expert game. I bet you already knew that part about the Intermediate game. The fourth game is a two-player game. For the two-player game I needed to find another person. Every person I tried to drag into my house ran away from me. I decided I would cheat by having another computer program choose my moves for me. I chose the website MathIsFun, which has a Checkers game. I put Activision Checkers on Novice. I put MathIsFun Checkers on Hard. Activision Checkers won. Apparently that website is for kids, so don't be impressed. You might have thought I was going to have Chinook play against Activision Checkers. That would have been smart, but I didn't think of it until just now. Chinook is here: https://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/play/ Let me know if you win.
  4. Welcome back to what I'm now calling Chronogamer LE. The LE stands for Low Effort. If I have to really work up any enthusiasm to play something then that's too much effort, so I will learn what I can about it, read the manual, maybe do some research and play it for as long as I can stand it. If I try to get more involved in it, I'll end up going down a sort of procrastination rabbit-hole where I put it off for, like, half a decade or more and it blocks me from moving forward. I've recently learned I can blame ADHD for this, so, yay for me. Oh, by the way, I found Random Terrain's page that presents some optimal guessing regarding the release dates of games released to be played on the Atari VCS. Nice Job, RT! Your have made it a lot easier for me to get back into this. Bridge (Atari VCS, 1980, Activision) The manual for Activision's Bridge will not teach you to play Bridge. You have to have that knowledge ahead of time. You can get that knowledge from YouTube. You'll learn that it normally takes four people to play this game. You can learn everything you need to get started in about 10 minutes or even less. If you have three other people that you want to hang out with and try a new card game, then this could possibly be an interesting game. Maybe. I'd have to really like at least one of the other people involved to even think about playing any card game these days. Okay, I take that back. I did enjoy playing some Texas Hold-em prior to the Pandemic, but there was money involved and also an attractive woman, so, I guess we understand what motivates me. (It wasn't the money.) Activision's Bridge is for a single player. Like the manual, I don't want to teach you anything about playing Bridge. Sorry. Kinda. Don't look at me like that, just go to YouTube. Regarding this video game: I can see that there is planning and some tactical thinking involved. I can see the appeal of playing this as a social card game with other people. I can see the appeal of having a video game version of Bridge to help a player practice to improve how they play the game. I can even appreciate Activision's Bridge as a way of exploring how to think about playing the card game Bridge. These are worthy and noble pursuits and I admire the courage it must've took for Activision to produce this as one of the four games they debuted in 1980. (Edit: This game DID come out in 1980, but it was not one of the four debut games. They were: Boxing, Checkers, Dragster and Fishing Derby. I'll get better at playing these things in order now that I have a better order for them, but I've dreaded playing Bridge for so long that I needed to get it out of the way so that I could just get back to doing this.) That doesn't mean I have any interest in ever playing it again. Also, I'm a little resentful that I've learned to play a card game that I'll probably never ever play. This is where I'd give the game an emoji rating but it's been so long since I've posted I don't even remember how to do them. In this case it would be one of those "meh" emojis. Oh... okay, that was easier than I thought it would be. Thanks for reading! I might go on YouTube with these articles and show actual game play. I know that I've almost done this in the past and then deleted my YouTube. Sorry about that.
  5. Pele's Soccer (Atari VCS, 1980) As I've said before: "I'm not a sports fan" so how I felt about this game surprised me. Contrasting from our recent excursion into third-party software that had only two games to a cart, Atari's (the party of the first part) Pele's Soccer has 54 games promised for it on the front of the box and it delivers with 28 versions of two player and 28 versions of single player. The "versioning" is three variations each on modes of speed, modes of challenge and goal size. The playfield is interesting in that it's a scrolling vertical field. As you move the ball up or down it, the field scrolls up and down with it. It's another good example of "there's more to this playing area than meets your eye" that was emerging from videogames more and more. Yes, some videogames don't need that, Fishing Derby and Boxing, for example, do just fine without it but I really like the idea of using it to allow the player to focus on "what's happening right now" while being aware of a bigger picture. That's not a very good way to articulate it, but I do like this style of game. I can see how it might not work as well for sport-ports like hockey (where seeing where your team-members are helps) or basketball (important to see the big picture) but for this simplified version of soccer it works. You only have three players for each team and they're locked into a triangle formation, the "forward" at the apex of the triangle and two "backs". You can pass the ball among the members of your little triangle but it takes some practice. I started playing the easier two-player game (game 28) (EDIT: Nelio correctly points out that this is a typo and I was playing the easier one-player game. It's entirely possible though, that I WAS playing the two-player game by myself, which would indeed make it pretty easy.) and unexpectedly found that I enjoyed it. I advanced through a number of the variations, trying them out as I went, finding that the harder it got the more work it felt like and the more my button-thumb began to protest. Regardless, it kept my attention for far longer than I thought it would. I've yet to play it with either of my kids, but I look forward to trying it out with my son, who used to play soccer (ages 5 to 8ish) I think the real plus of this game is how, even on the easiest level, if you're doing pretty well (say, you've scored twice and your console opponent hasn't scored at all yet) the computer player improves its game. The goalie becomes more reactive and I'd swear the blue triangle of the enemy move faster, but again, I tend to imagine these things. Your mileage may vary. For me, personally, it was a lot more fun than watching professional soccer, which, to me, consists of a lot of this: There are penalties in the two-player games that do not exist in the single-player variations that I'm looking forward to experiencing with my son. It would be nice if they could simulate penalties for excessive ear-flicking. While I don't like watching real world Soccer, I must admit there are sometimes amazing moments like this one: (EDIT: Awww, I can't even remember what this gif was, but the link has died. Oh well.) which even makes an "professional sports neutral" person like myself feel begrudging admiration even to the point of tingles. Anyway, sorry for the "half-entry", I really can't count this game as "completed" until I've enjoyed it a bit in the two-player mode. Since I'm a bit retentive about splitting entries into two parts, I'll just edit this one with the two-player information after I've played. (Edit: no, this never happened because OF COURSE it never happened.) Golf is the next game in the pile. (EDIT: When I pulled a bunch of games out of the closet I'd actually thought about doing Golf, but then I noticed Bridge. Bridge is one of those games that I was never able to get myself to play and now that I've finally done so, I'm SO glad it's over. I should do Golf soon. It's funny, because Golf and Bridge are both games that my parents both like to play fairly regularly in real life these days and I just cringe thinking about either.)
  6. Boxing (Activision, Atari VCS, 1980) We've seen a Boxing game once before! 1978 on the APF-1000MP. I'd actually recorded that play session on a VHS tape which now will not load anything because my VCR won't work. Well, the mechanical bits won't work. The electronic bits still work as a conduit to serve my old consoles. All hail the conduit! Oooh, boy... boxing... I don't get boxing as a sport. I get that it takes skill, that it's a discipline similar to any skill that involves using the brain and body. I just don't like that competitive boxing's goal seems to be to punch someone until they're unconscious. Other sports might have greater risk for more serious injuries, it just seems odd to me that boxing still happens as a spectator sport. Enough about my bleh-ness on the subject. Boxing is one of six titles (Six? I don't know why I've always thought there were just four.) in 1980 to be released by a third-party. I'm never totally sure about who the first two parties are. I assume that one would be you, the consumer. The other party would be... the company that manufactures the console itself, in this case, Atari. But which one of those counts as the "first-party" and which is the "second-party". I'm going to guess that Atari would be the first and the consumer would be the second and then out of NOWHERE, comes the third-party, only doing stuff because the first and second parties have done something first. So, Activision. You know that something named Activision has something to do with the game because they spend precious screen-space to emblazon a logo on the screen to read "Activision". Without squinting, I could tell what the screen was supposed to be: two boxers facing each other in a boxing ring. I always thought it was a pretty fair representation of the sport. No need to complicate things by adding the rest of the body. The point is to knock each other out and the head is the best way to do that. Bob Whitehead, the designer and programmer had said that he decided to make the rounds two minutes, instead of however long they are in boxing, because... and all he says is "You'll see." I think what he was saying was "Because your button-thumb can't take much more than two minutes if it can even survive that." This is a tough game for your button-thumb. This is an Atari VCS game I recommend playing with an anachronistic (( Genesis )) controller if at all possible. I thought it was just my old hands complaining, but my son said that he definitely started to feel it after just two games, too. My son thought it was fun in a very simple way - like most games from this era. Not quite the strategy of the games he's into now (DOTA2), but it was short so no biggie. We both particularly liked the animation of the punch landing on the face of the other player and how it collapsed into the rest of his head. We were slightly disappointed that there was nothing to celebrate a KO other than the score changing to show "KO" but we weren't really surprised either. The game has difficulty options which control the speed you move. A difficulty and you're moving slower, B difficulty and you're moving faster. If you want to give your boxing opponent an advantage, set your difficulty to A and theirs to B. If you want a fairly tough game, put yours at A and play the computer on B. You'll likely manage to win, but your thumb will be sore so who's really the winner? I decided to see what the computer would do if you just let your player sit there and do nothing. The reactions varied. Sometimes the computer would come over and immediately start beating on the uncontrolled player-boxer and other times it would pause a few moments before starting the beating. Regardless, about "halfway to KO" the computer would step back a bit, as if to give the player a break, but still dancing around as if to say "So... you gonna fight or what?" and then continue beating the snot out of the uncontrolled boxer-player. Quick video here of the computer (console player?) player beating the uncontrolled boxer-player. No, it's totally not exciting but I posted it anyway. http://youtu.be/WSyW3lKDsSE (Yes, it's a dead link. I'm sorry.) Anyway, it was fun to see Boxing again. If I had to pick a way to compare it to the Atari games that had come out before it, and I'd say it seemed more "solid" and the graphics seem better defined with no blinking. (( Warning: Anachronistic Reference I asked my son "Who's that Pokemon?" and he immediately said "oh, ha. Geodude." )) Annnnd, next time... let's try Fishing Derby, a game I don't think I've ever played!
  7. Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers (Atari VCS, 1980) Someone in the 70s realized that there was fun to be found by using a computer to generate random mazes with a simple algorithm and allowing people to race through it. The first maze game that I can remember appearing on a home console was for the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES) and was cart #10 Maze, Cat and Mouse (1977). I don't know if this is the last "maze game" or not because I can't see into the future. (If I could, I'd have warned people about 80s hair.) This maze game decides to have a theme, and that theme is not merely "racing your buddy through a maze". Instead, it's a complex, textured and many-layered game which can be fraught with societal implications even to this day. It's not a game of cat and mouse! It's a game of Cops and Robbers! Which is totally different because if a mouse fights back, the cat is still gonna win. If a robber fights back, the outcome can be less certain. So, I could totally wax on that, but let's talk about the game instead. The cart contains 16 game variations with each variation further able to be varied by setting increasing parts or the entire maze "invisible". More on the invisibility aspect later. Players each have their little "cops" on screen, starting at the same point on the left side of the maze. The goal is to get through the maze to the exit all the way over on the right side of the maze. Yes, this sounds just like the other "maze" games so far, but wait...there's more!* *the phrase "but wait...there's more!" is over-used and a bit hokey and the creator of this blog would like to apologize profusely for its use. The game variations let you put "Robbers" in the maze. Two, three or five, depending on your selection. The Robbers start at the other end of the maze and randomly run through it. If you're playing the A difficulty game, your Cop moves just as fast as the Robbers. If you're on the B difficulty game, they move faster than the robbers. Players must maneuver through the maze, racing towards the exit, while avoiding the Robbers. This involves a lot of backtracking while trying to dodge the Robbers. How do you dodge the Robbers in what is essentially a single lane maze? You have to hope they take a turn down a blind alley giving you a chance to sneak by. I'm not going to lie, this is fun and depending on your emotional investment in the game, it can be intense (in a fun way). I will say that it's much more fun to play all of these with a partner but it's not necessary. You can easily play all of the games with just you leaving your Cop partner sitting alone at the starting spot. The 16 games the following variants with the number of Robbers or, in some instances, the visibility of the maze. Robbers - This is a race to the end of the maze, but Robbers come after you from the right side and will "take you out of the game" if you know what I'm sayin'. It's interesting because your little Cop doesn't disappear, it just becomes inert and doesn't move. We like to play that the dead Cop isn't really dead (yet) but yelling out to his buddy, "You gotta make it out, Louie! You gotta tell my family I died heroic and stuff...". (To keep things simple we pretended both Cops were named Louie.) Blockade - There's a variant that does let you play a cool trick on your opponent. By pressing the button you can drop an illusory wall to make it look like the bit of the maze you just passed through is actually a dead end. Yes, your opponent can just pass through this pretend wall, but it's a cool trick and if they weren't paying attention to you, they can fall for it. Capture - Another variant has the Cops doing what cops do in a game of cops and robbers, they can catch the robbers. Your goal is to get to each of the robbers and touch them before your opponent does. First to get all of them wins. There's no reason to not enjoy this game for a little while if you've ever felt some degree of satisfaction after getting through a maze. I fully intend to make an actual game play video of some of the more dramatic moments and linking y'all to it. I just didn't want to put off writing a new entry while I was still feeling the urge to write an entry. I wanted to talk about the "invisible" maze options. In most of the variants, if you choose to activate the invisibility option, the "invisible" parts of the maze will not be invisible. You will see your partner and the Robbers making their way along the invisible parts, and if you have a good head for mazes you can use their mistakes to your advantage. It's also possible to have an "auto peek" game or a player peek game. This allows you to see the invisible part of the maze for a brief moment. The problem is that your opponent will also see it. (( Martin Brundle-Fly would have been good at this. ))* (( Yes, by including that gif I AM admitting that I know things about the distant year of 1989, but I couldn't resist. )) (( From now on, if I decide to type something "out of character" for whatever year I'm currently deluding myself into believing I'm in, I'll put those anachronistic comments in double parenthesis. )) Scouts - Also in "invisible maze" you can sometimes have "Scouts". Scouts are your friends who run ahead of you briefly and show you how the maze runs. It's still invisible, but it probably keeps you from breaking your joystick slamming your Cop into an invisible wall because the Scouts give you some idea of where you can go. There, a quick and dirty entry. I'm likely going to add to it with a gameplay video as well as a discussion of a maze generating algorithm. EDIT Still no gameplay video my attention span might not last long enough to do one. I went ahead and did a cringe-worthy pair of videos talking about the maze generating algorithm that I can only hypothesize is used in Maze Craze. I'm a little annoyed at both Quicktime (which seems to want to crop any clip you add to the end of another, instead of just fitting it into the frame... if anyone knows a setting I'm missing, please let me know.) and YouTube, which also seems to decide to crop things. Well, I shouldn't be surprised that there is a learning curve and that freestuff has its limitations. The links to these videos are: Part 1: http://youtu.be/WJBIxAHV28k (EDIT: I'm pretty sure neither of these work anymore.) Part 2: http://youtu.be/XdoPmLaxf8A As always, constructive and sincere criticism is welcome, particularly with regard to any facts that I just blatantly seem to make up on the fly. My next entry should be Activision's Boxing.
  8. Off topic, but my Xbox Live name is Chronogamer. If you play 1 vs 100 Live on the Xbox 360, then you'll know what I'm talking about. Last night, I (with the help of my lovely and brilliant wife) came in third out of a crowd of 42,000 in a Live game and won myself a copy of RezHD! Yay! By the way, if you're an Xbox Live person, please invite me to be your friend! 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe (Atari VCS, 1980) I need to clear up any impressions I may have given about my feelings towards playing 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe. I wasn't dreading it because I thought it would suck, I was dreading it because it was going to require a bit more brain power than my energy levels are prepared to muster on the weekends. 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe is a 4X4X4 take on the traditional 3X3 version of the game. Not that I think any of you don't already know this, but it is played by you (X) and an opponent (O) taking turns placing your markers on locations in a 4X4X4 grid. The first to place four of their symbols in a row wins. In traditional Tic-Tac-Toe, there are eight ways of lining up your markers three in a row, and it's very easy to learn how to force a tie once you've played only a few games. After all, there are only nine positions to occupy. In a 4x4x4 cube however, there are now 64 slots to occupy and 76 ways of lining up your markers. You have to have the ability to plan ahead and visualize well to win against the program. 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe has 9 games on it. Game 9 is for you and another human to play. Games 1 through 8 are progressively harder single player versions where it's you against the program. Game 1 is the easiest, where the program only looks one move ahead and only takes a few seconds to make a move. This one isn't hard to beat, and only took me a few tries. For Game 2 the program looks two moves ahead and takes three seconds or less to make its move. This is noticeably more difficult than Game 1, but after playing for about 30 minutes I was able to improve enough to beat the program about three out of five times, more if I chose to go first. Game 3, the program looks three moves ahead, and can take up to a minute to prepare its move. This is where I got my butt kicked repeatedly. Yes, I got better, in the sense, that after playing for about an hour, I got better at seeing the early phases of what the program was doing, and prolonging the inevitable loss, but lose I usually did. Over and over. Game 4, 5 and 6 each look the appropriate number of moves ahead. Game 4 can take as much as three minutes to plan it's next placement. Games 5 and 6 up to 10 minutes or less. Game 7 looks ahead nine moves, and takes 10 minutes or less to do so. Game 8 will also look ahead nine moves, but take up to 20 minutes to make a decision. 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe is the type of game that, were I a sufficiently advanced player, I'd prefer to play on an emulator, because I could get through the "AI thinking" times that much faster. However, given my current level of play, Game 3 was as high as I was able to get. I'm just not a good enough thinker/planner to do well at this, which is exactly what I had anticipated, and what I was dreading. I can't really comment on how good the AI was, all I know was that it is much, much better at this game than I am. So, this game uses the joystick. When it's your turn you move the cursor through the levels to wherever you want to place your piece, and hit the button. This is not a hard interface to learn to use. On the other hand, it does take a little practice to visualize what is going on on the board. You're playing a 3D game on a 2D screen, and while the program does manage to display everything clearly; it is up to you to get used to reading it. I played 2.5 hours and I'm still not used to reading it. Like Chess or Stellar Track, my Inner Geek rejoices to see 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe on the system (Yes, I remember not liking the VCS version of Chess, but I'm still impressed that it exists on the Atari VCS). 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe oozes the mystique of "You'd better be ready to think, or you're getting your butt kicked." If I'd been playing it back in the day, when it wasn't so easy to find something else to play, I could easily see getting addicted to it, and actually improving my game over time...though honestly, that didn't happen with Chess so who knows? Playing 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe for two-and-a-half hours last Saturday afternoon doesn't do it justice, but it was certainly exercise for my flabby little brain. Given how time quickly flew, I'd say I had fun playing it. However, it wasn't the type of fun that I wandered around after going "wow, that was fun!" it was more like: "Whew, the life has been drained from me, was I really playing that long? Did the sun set already? Why am I so hungry? Who are these short people calling me 'Daddy'?" I recommend giving 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe a try, but be warned, the "brights" ("waaay above average" and above) among you might do alright, but the "tweens" (which is "above average" but below "waaay above average") may pull a brain muscle like I did. Though I can't find my little "what to play next" grid, I know I haven't yet played Dodge 'Em, so that's getting chronogamed next. 53,963
  9. Steeplechase (Atari VCS, 1980) Before I get into the game, I want to get into the term "Steeplechase". For me "Steeplechase" has always stood for the name of an amusement pier in Atlantic City (though there was one in Coney Island, too, I never saw it). I can't say my family and I went "down the shore" a lot when I was growing up near Philadelphia in the late 70's, early 80's, but the few times I went I remember two of the Atlantic City piers, Steeplechase Pier and Steel Pier. For a 516kb image of Steeplechase Pier, click here. The linked picture is quite a bit before our time, but in some twisted symbolic way that only quality writers can pull off, Steeplechase Pier and the amusement piers like it are a cultural grandparent to our beloved pastime of video games so I don't feel entirely off-topic to bring it up here. If you go to that linked picture you can see people on "holiday" in 1910. 99.99% of the souls in that picture are undoubtedly worm food by now, (with the possible exception of the children on the lower right corner). However, to most of them Steeplechase Pier and Steel Pier were highlights of their holiday. 30 years later, the children and teens going to those places with their families would likely have the same sense of nostalgia so many of us retain from going to arcades in our growing up periods. Hmm, what was my point... oh yeah. In the 2070s, the pictures we have of our Arcades from the 70s and 80s will somehow look as grainy and as dated as this does to us now. Time and populations are really weird that way. Okay, I admit it, I didn't have a point, but that's a cool picture of Steeplechase Pier and I wanted to share. Anyway, the word "Steeplechase" was associated to that pier for me, and somewhere along the way, I learned it also has something to do with horses jumping over hurdles in a race. I was surprised to learn that Steeplechase originally refers to racing from the church steeple of one town to the church steeple of the next town, jumping over whatever got in the way -- ditches, fences, walls, hedges, creeks, etc. Steeplechase for the Atari VCS is more about the horse-hurdles variant. With two pairs of paddles up to four people can compete in two different race types with three levels of difficulty for each. The first three games are regularly spaced hurdles with beginning, medium and hard difficulty. The last three games are irregularly spaced hurdles, also with beginning, medium and hard difficulty. If you are playing with three other people, I can't see that it makes much of a difference which difficulty level you play, but if it's just you and one other person, the remaining horses are controlled by the computer, and then it does matter, because the computer is tough to beat. So, what's the game anyway? Okay, four horses each with their own lane race across the side-scrolling screen from left to right and jump over the hurdles approaching them from the right when the trigger button on the paddle controller is pressed at just the right time to have the horse jump over the obstacle. (Yeah, it's a run-on sentence. Just deal with it.) If the player presses the button too soon, or too late, the horsey graphic performs a grimace-inducing, knee-bending stumble-slide which slows your horse down. The "paddle" part of the paddle controller is used to control how long the horse spends in the air when jumping over the hurdles. The hurdles are of different widths: narrow, not-so-narrow, and friggin' wide. The paddle controller moves a height bar on the right side of each horse's lane. If you're a starting player, you just set that bar as high as it will go, and if you time every jump just right, you know that you'll clear even the friggin' wide hurdles. However, the horses don't actually progress towards the right side of the screen while jumping. The more time the horse spends in the air, the further they will fall behind the other horses. In a beginner-level game, the player can get away with just jumping with the bar set high. A more nuanced style of play involves setting the bar to match the length of jump needed, this allows the horse to spend less time in the air for the narrow and not-so-narrow jumps. This increased attention to not only timing your jumps but also your jump efficiency is a necessity to getting even close to beating the game-controlled horses of games 2,3 and 5,6. Here is a YouTube video I found that shows a full game of Steeplechase (being played on an emulator, but hey, I'll take it) (Edit: there's no link anymore. Discovering this in 2021.) (EDIT in 2022 I found another example.) Gameplay footage captured by Retro Smack. Retro Smack on YouTube (EDIT Jun 2022: So, does internet etiquette dictate that I should tell this YouTube I'm linking to their video or is it perfectly cromulent to just link to it and forget about it?) This game is not what I would consider an attention grabber. Nothing explodes, nothing moves very quickly, and yet, you'll find yourself frantically trying to keep up with the jumping and the height bar as you spend a lot of time looking at the other horses' collective rear. Steeplechase is an easy game to understand, but I do not consider it a simple game to play. Putting the height bar on the opposite side of the screen actually made it a little tough to pay attention to the height of the bar and the timing of the jump. Also, the thrill of successfully jumping a barrier is not as positively rewarded as the punishment and negative impact of watching a horse crumble to its knees after failing a jump. After a few races and seeing her horse hit the ground again and again, my daughter was ready to turn in her saddle and frankly, so was I. Sadly, I was unable to muster the enthusiasm from my other two family members to give it a shot, nor was the daughter interested in playing again, even if I could get the others to play. Lesson here: if you have a four player game, get everyone to play it with you first, otherwise, it may be hard to get them all to play after they hear the grumbling of the first guinea pig. Kudos belong to Steeplechase for creating game-controlled opponents with simple but effective A.I. In the easiest games, the competing horses are clumsier and their jumps aren't as well timed. For the medium level, their jumps are well timed, but they might not be jumping efficiently. For the hardest level, if you're not playing perfectly you will be eating their dust/mud/turf. Next time we play... Circus Atari! As a sort of PS: The manual for Steeplechase reminds me that while consoles like the Intellivision and Odyssey^2 were pushing "serious" fun, by calling their games simulations, games for the Atari at this time were all about having fun. There's a lot of space in the manual spent on describing the attributes of each of the four horses involved in the race. While none of the horses seemed to have any intrinsic differences that I could detect, it's an interesting contrast. Intellivision manuals went out of their way to describe in detail every last feature of a game, down to describing the sound effects. The manual writers for Steeplechase had no problem including "flavor" material to make a customer reading the manual chuckle a bit. While such marketing-driven humor rarely ages well, it's still interesting to see. 41917
  10. 37362 Stellar Track (Atari VCS, 1980) The genetic precursor to Stellar Track is a main frame computer game called Star Trek, based on the franchise of the same name. You can read all about the history of the Star Trek Game at Wikipedia. It isn't that I'm too lazy to just paraphrase the entry, (though I am), but I'm more or less trying to keep this about the particular game rather than its history. When you start a game of Stellar Track you're given a mission screen. Here is an example: If you choose to accept it. HA. You have no choice. A good beginner's game is recommended in the manual to be between 25-35 Aliens with as many Stardates as you can get. In my experience, those sized games are the most fun. You exist in a galaxy consisting of a 6x6 grid of quadrants. Amongst the 36 quadrants are the number of aliens you're hunting as well as your two starbases. When you start the game, you don't know where anything is. Here's what your Galaxy Map looks like at the beginning of the game. You can see that it tells you you're located at Quadrant 3,2 (third quadrant from the left, second from the top). You can't see anything. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. At the moment the only thing you know is that you're in a Red Quadrant which tells you you've got alien ships near by. If you perform a Short Range Scan, you can see them. He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him. I'll chase him 'round the Outer Nebula and 'round Antares Maelstrom and 'round perdition's flames before I give him up! (That example is taken from a different playthrough, so don't let that quad coordinate confuse you.) Yes, you're the ship that looks a little like the Enterprise, and your enemies look a little like Klingon starships. If you found yourself in a green quadrant, you could be more relaxed and take a Long Range Scan to see what occupies the quadrants immediately adjacent to the one you're in. Here is an example of what the galaxy map looks like after I've scanned it from two locations: 3,2 and 3, 5. No, this isn't drawn to scale. You can see that in the quadrants surrounding my scans, there are numbers. A "20" means there are two alien ships and zero star bases in that quadrant. Later on, from this next scan, you can see that I've found a Starbase, shown by the indicator "01" at quadrant, 6 (across) 5 (down). Finally! I hope their restrooms are clean. The strategic part of this game is being aware that you have a limited amount of Stardates to spend, and knowing that every time you warp from one quadrant to the next, you're burning up a stardate. For instance, warp to a location three quadrants away and you're burning up three stardates. The game demands that you balance searching for aliens with slaughtering them. You also have to consider repair trips to your starbases as well. Coupled with the strategic aspects of this game are the tactical aspects. When you do warp into a quadrant with enemies in it, you have two ways of taking them out. Weapon 1: Photons can only be fired in a straight shot down a row, column or a diagonal in a quadrant, but are guaranteed to hit and obliterate target in their path. Weapon 2: Phasors are a sort of radial destruction beam that dissipates as they spread like ripples on a pond. They are guaranteed to hit the enemy ships in the quadrant but damage decreases with distance. You choose the direction to fire the Photons, but their main disadvantage is that you may need to scan the quadrant before firing, leaving yourself vulnerable to attack. You choose the power level of the Phasors, the advantage here is that you know you're going to hit whatever is in the quadrant, but you don't know necessarily how much damage you're going to inflict. If it isn't enough, then expect return fire. Here is an example of a quadrant with no enemies and a starbase in it. Check the tires, change the oil, but don't try to sell me a new air filter, dang it. The gray background is indicative of a starbase's presence. To dock at a starbase, just warp on top of it. So, why dock at a starbase? Well, you use up energy as you travel from quadrant to quadrant (100 units per quadrant), you use it up warping from sector to sector within a quadrant (10 per sector), you lose energy when you are "hit" by the enemy, and you use it up firing phasors (up to 999 units in a single shot, though that's overkill). So, one good reason to visit starbase is for fuel. However, in addition to losing energy when hit by enemies, your various ship functions can be damaged. You can lose your Short Range Scan, your Long Range Scan, your Photon Launcher and/or your Phasors! I have found an effective combat tactic to be warping into the center of a quadrant, and firing off a good sized phasor blast before even scanning the quadrant. This will usually take out two or three of the aliens in the quad. If I waste time doing a short range scan just to see where they are, then they all get a chance to try to damage me after that scan. This is a game I wish I had discovered back in the day. I'd seen Star Trek on a home computer or two (probably a TRS-80, but I wouldn't swear to it) and was very curious about this type of game. Now that I've found it, while I don't think I will choose to spend a lot of time playing it beyond what I have for this article, I can say that were I to have had this back in the day, it would have been a huge time sponge. Each time you start a new game, depending on where you are in the galaxy, and depending on how many aliens and stardates, you have to plan your strategy differently. There are difficulty switches which control the effectiveness of your shields and your phasors, but I've been keeping them on Novice. Here is what I'm used to seeing when I finish a game. Seriously, NO ONE wants to be Ensign Crusher. Which means I suck. However, I find it hard to believe that if I wiped out 60 out of 61 aliens and ran out of time, that we'd still need to surrender to them, but the game needs to have boundaries I guess. I have gotten as high a rank as Commodore. Commodore (64) On the Bridge! I think I've played about a dozen games now, and I've only won once . The highest rank achievable is Admiral and it's based on your use of resources in addition to actually defeating the aliens. Okay, truth be told, I'll probably continue to play until I see an Admiral ranking. So far, I prefer the recommended "beginner" games, with between 25-35 aliens and 35-40+ stardates. The games with less aliens also give less startdates. Since the aliens can appear in quadrants in groups of 1, 2 and 3, with less aliens it's possible to find your targets spread out over the galaxy and hard to reach with the amount of star dates you're given. When you get many aliens and many stardates, you may have plenty of time to track them all down, but it can be a long and tedious process. I've found screenshots of this game on the webanets, but they'd been taken with an emulator which grabs just a single frame. Due to the programming technique used to display the text in this game, the only decent screenshot is a good ol' fashioned picture of the TV. Here are some of the remaining screenshots. When you warp into an occupied quadrant, it's good to do so with phasors firing. To the last, I grapple with thee. From hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee. This is what you want to see after you've fired some phasors blindly. Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space! By the way, it looks like I've just killed an alien but still have a full compliment of photons and energy. The status displayed here is the status displayed prior to me firing any phasors. To see my current status, I'd have to use the Status command again. The Commands are selected all via moving the joystick left or right and pressing a button to make your selection. It seems awkward at first, but one gets used to it quickly. Programming in warp coordinates also quickly becomes second nature, though I won't get into that here. I do recommend you play this game with the instructions! The background is green - the quadrant is clean! I had to ruin the Star Trek quotes to make a Ghostbusters reference. I apologize to everyone. This is not an action game by any stretch of the imagination. It is a "thinking" game, and it is a chance to play a game formerly limited to big computers on your itty bitty Atari VCS. While there's little chance of interesting my son in Stellar Track (as long as we've got Spore sitting on our Mac), it has certainly kept me engaged the last few evenings. heheh, 'engaged', that's, like, a warp pun... Next entry: Steeplechase. Yeah it's another Sears game, why the heck not? (EDIT Jun 2022: fixed the photo links and associated an album, though I don't know why the TI 99/4a picture is in that album.)
  11. Dogpatch (Bally Pro Arcade, 1980) I could only find one game as having come out in 1980 for the Bally Professional Arcade - Dogpatch. In playing this game I was reminded of just how far video games have come over the last three decades. So, I created a video that serves to illustrate the vast gulf of differences between a game like this from 1980 and a game like the one to which I've chosen to compare it from a current generation console. Hmm, my YouTube link broke with the forum upgrade. Bummer. Until I figure that out here's a direct link: Dogpatch session with Daughter (Edit, Jun 2022 -- Ugh -- breaks my heart that I may have lost this video. Not only was it something my daughter and I were doing together, but I can make cool banjo sounds with my mouth.) See how far we've come? Before, in 1980, we were pretending to be rednecks sitting out in the backyard shooting at cans with our shotguns, now we're using sophisticated Wii Remote Controllers to shoot at cans which we now know should be recycled. Also different, is that the cans in the Wii version crumple slightly with each shooting, subtly implying that being shot at multiple times may cause things to be blown apart. That realism just wasn't apparent in the 1980 version. Dogpatch is actually a hoot and a holler. It's fast paced, it's challenging - and when you and your co-player get a volley going - it promotes giggling. If I remember my MAME correctly, this is another title that began life in the arcades. The home version is easily as fun. The Bally controller is well suited to the game, as the gun-handle-with-trigger styled controller suits the flavor of the game perfectly. The paddle portion of the Bally controller is also good for controlling the angle of your redneck's shotgun. My daughter and I played two games of "99 Cans" each for the video - and neither of us complained. My son was disappointed to have missed it after seeing the video and has insisted on playing Dogpatch with me later. Sadly, rare is the old game that my children will request playing more than once. Dogpatch is one of those exceptions. By the way, try playing Dogpatch in an emulater... it just isn't the same! You don't have the feel of the controller grip, the trigger action or the smoothness of the paddle rotation. While I'm all for emulating the games which I can't find or afford, Dogpatch is a perfect example of a home version of a game best experienced on the original console's hardware and controllers. Emulators just cannot do it justice. I hope the video will suffice to act as a few thousand words cause I'm done for now. I loved being able to put that video effect in with iMovie, not to mention edit the shots down to just the highlights of the gameplay. Before I got the new computer, I had no way to edit the movies and had to do everything in one shot. I'm so glad I don't have to do it that way any more! Next entry we start working through 1980 on the Atari VCS namely: Space Invaders! 34,413
  12. Checkers (Intellivision, 1980) Yup, still on Intellivision, still in 1980, as we have been since, what? 2007? Sorry it's taken so long, we are only one game away from finishing 1980 Intellivision games and the penultimate Intellivision game for the year is: Checkers! I didn't actually dread playing Checkers, especially after my better-than-dreaded experience with Backgammon. I was looking forward to jumping back into the Chronogaming groove. Checkers didn't disappoint me. It was an elegantly simple implementation of the game of checkers. As with Backgammon, the visuals were very clean and easy to understand. In fact, the visuals were very much of the same style as the Backgamon visuals. Red and black board, little round pieces and a dash on them if it is a stack of two. In this case a "king". The controls without the overlays were a little hard to figure out, so much so, in fact, that I did have to dig into my "big box of Intellivision manuals and overlays". Once I had the overlays installed, and had read the manual ("Read this manual if you want to play a winning game of checkers!") it was a breeze: playing Intellivision's Checkers was pretty fun. I was able to win regularly against computer on Lo Skill but am ashamed to say I gave up trying to beat it on Hi Skill. I may try again yet, but I was impatient to win so I could record the video I mad below. (EDIT in 2022... I "fixed" this mistake and then realized there was a mention of it in the comments so I had to go back and unfix it. My error-integrity field is still strong.) Normally, I put board-games-turned-videogames into the class of: "Aren't these more fun played with another person? If you have another person, can't you just use a real board?" I think I've changed my stance on this, taking into account the era these early video board games were introduced: See, "now-a-days", if presented with a Checkers videogame, one is tempted to say, "No thanks, I'd rather play a different videogame." However, one may still enjoy playing Checkers (on a board) with another person. In fact, I know my kids and I like playing checkers... though usually we just play videogames... hmm, may have to change that practice. Back in 1980, however, Checkers (and chess and Othello and backgammon) were sometimes the only form of gaming available when you went other places and gamed with other kids or even grown-ups. I remember going to a summer camp where we had a bunch of checker and chess sets and that's what some of us did every other afternoon or so. Checkers on Intellivision (and Atari, etc) was actually a good way to practice for playing against real people. Yes, playing a game like Adventure (coming up in Atari 1980) was its own reward, but I finally understand the value of being able to play against a computer opponent: it may help you improve your game for when you play against that big kid from the 8th grade, or... anyone, that was just an example... The really notable thing about this version of Checkers is your reward for winning against the computer. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but have we heard this extensive amount of music in a home videogame before this one? I've recorded and posted it as a YouTube video, with which I will leave you. Like a lot of these videos, they went away with a YouTube channel I had at some point and deleted in a fit of idiocy stemming from a deep depression. The music I mentioned, if memory serves me, was a chip-tune version of Ride of the Valkyries, originally by Brothers of Metal. (okay, not that one.) That's all, piece out! (get it?) Next time we do NASL Soccer, which I think is a form of Soccer but, judging by the name, you use your nose to play it. 33216
  13. Las Vegas Roulette (Intellivision, 1980) The first step to getting people to stop bothering you about your gambling problem is to admit that you have a gambling problem, even if you don't really believe you have one. This might get those well-meaning, but annoying, dis-enablers off your back for a little while. This is actually a fairly useful step in most forms of addiction, but if you use it too often people will eventually realize you're just as full of excrement as you've ever been and may even cause them to stop lending you money. Despite my lack of enjoyment for any gambling game where you don't get to lose or win real money, Las Vegas Roulette is well-done, provided you like to play Roulette for its intrinsic "gamey" qualities. The betting table dominates the screen and allows for all the bets one can normally place in roulette. The type of bet is determined by where you position your chip on the board using the controller disc. For example, if you want to split your bet between two adjacent numbers, you place your chip right on the line between the two numbers. The manual describes 11 different categories of bets that can be placed (though, I could only come up with nine): Straight, Street, 5 Number, Line, Square, Split, Column, Dozens and Halves. I suppose you could split the halves up into Red/Black, Odd/Even Bets, but that still only brings it up to ten. To generate a random number from a spin, Las Vegas Roulette displays a slotted, numbered strip across the top of the play field containing numbers from an American roulette wheel. When a spin is started, the strip of numbers cycles from left to right and the ball moves in the opposite direction just below the numbered strip. Eventually, both slow down and the ball comes to rest in one of the numbered slots. It's a nice solution to the design problem of wanting to show the process by which the random number is generated without taking up the screen real estate that a big roulette wheel might require. My problem with Roulette, as a game, is that I fail to see any way to cleverly manipulate your bets so that you have a better chance of winning more money than the odds against your bet. For instance, a straight bet pays 35 to 1 but the odds against are 37 to 1 against. I guess that's where the thrill is supposed to come in, the thrill of "beating the odds". To me, it just seems like bad math. Anyway, bottom line is: Las Vegas Roulette is well designed and allows for all of the betting mechanics of regular Roulette. If you like Roulette as a game, with or without the betting, then this is a good substitute for what would be a really long drive to Vegas for most of us. Speaking of Math. Next entry we'll look at Math Fun. 29961
  14. US Ski Team Skiing (Intellivision, 1980) Okay, prior to Skiing on the Intellivision we've thrice seen videogame versions of the real life, not-so-cheap thrill of strapping wood to one's feet and sliding down a mountain while standing up. The first came with the Magnavox Odyssey, called Ski, and I think I compared it to a lava lamp in its ability to provide a nice quiet Zen trance if you were open to relaxing and enjoying it. The second version came bundled as a variation in an Atari VCS game called Street Racer. In this case instead of paddling your car to the right and left to avoid obstacles, you moved a skier right and left to get through gates. The big plus on that game was four people could play it. The last and most recent if I'm not mistaken was Alpine Skiing on the Odyssey^2, which I'd have to actually get out and play to remember it, unfortunately. I seem to remember a mountain involved and trees shaped like mushrooms but that's all I got. Crap, maybe I should go read whatever the heck I wrote about it... (goes and reads) Wow, I played that 1979 game in November of 2006! Cripes, I'm crawling through 1980 at a snail's pace. Full time jobs suck. Anyway, cool things about Alpine Skiing was two player, split screen simultaneous. Which is a cool idea if the game is fun, but I don't remember the game being terribly fun. Multiplayer and ambitious, but about as much fun as eating snow. Don't get me wrong, eating snow is always fun, in concept, but after you eat some, you're kinda like, "ew, I'm still thirsty and my tongue is frozen". Intellivision US Ski Team Skiing, on the other hand, is fun. You can play with up to six players, each taking turns skiing a downhill or slalom slope. There's only two slopes but you can change the degree of steepness depending on just how much you want to challenge yourself. The shallowest slope can be set to 1. If your skis aren't pointing almost directly downhill, you're not going to go very fast or very far. The manual (read the manual to conquer the slopes!) advises the rankest of beginners start at slope setting 4. 4 is indeed a good start, but it wasn't long before I found myself trying 10, 13 and finally 15. Eventually, the best time I was able to achieve on any of them put me squarely in the category of "Hot Dogger" but I easily spent a good 40 to 60 minutes trying to improve. So, what sets this apart from Alpine Skiing? How has simulated skiing evolved since last year? (1979?) Well, the cheapest answer is to say the trees look better. A better, more thoughtful answer would be to say this game, in addition to letting you jump over moguls (don't remember if Alpine Skiing did that) let's you "edge". "Edging" is for making sharp quick turns while continuing in the direction you'd been going before your momentum catches up with the direction you've just turned your skis. I think it could be best compared to "drifting" in a racing game. It really adds a lot to the challenge and it requires some practicing to use it effectively. Initially, when I first played Skiing, I wasn't edging at all (hadn't read the manual) and thought the only thing I could do was jump. Edging added a certain degree of depth to the game which, before I knew to edge, was just a prettier version of Alpine Skiing. This game also has four versions of run speed. If you want to really be in pain, set slope to 1 and play it on the slowest setting. Normal speed and slope 10 was nice and comfortable for me. Maybe I'll take a youtube video, not to show my mad skillz (which aren't really anything to show off), but to get the concept of edging across better. Anyway, that's all for now. Dang, I've still got five games left for the Intellivision's debut year. At this rate I'll be done 1980 Intellivision, sometime in August. To think I was hoping to be in 1984 by now! Ooo, I think I'll do Roulette next. I think it's the first version of Roulette out since the version that appeared on the original Odyssey in 1972. Cool. 29,694
  15. Auto Racing (Intellivision, 1980) We've seen an overhead view in our driving games before. Indy 500 and Speedway took the "camera" and hung it high over the track so that the field of vision encompassed the entire course. Such a viewpoint is useful for seeing "the big picture" but it limits the amount of detail one need bother to show. Auto Racing for the Intellivision takes a different perspective, or, more specifically, a lower, more mobile perspective. In this case, the camera hangs directly over the player's car at all times, moving with it, and the vantage point is so low that we can only see a portion of the track at any given time. This gives the game a feeling of driving in a larger, contiguous world rather than several different isolated arenas. In fact, the five tracks offered are all on one big map. You can see and even access the other tracks by leaving your chosen course and driving through someone's lawn! Like putting shifty eyes on a blackjack dealer, this feature adds nothing to the gameplay in itself, but gives an ineffable boost to the experience overall. While some of the Indy 500 games are about getting around the track as quickly as possible during a single race, Auto Racing is about trying to improve your driving skills so that you can get around each turn of the course as efficiently as possible. Navigating your, um, auto, around a course is a collection of subtle steering nudges, careful braking and controlled drifting . . . LOL, does anyone ever call them "autos"? I mean, "auto racing" isn't an unfamiliar term, but "auto" by itself just sounds weird. "Hey, you kids, get off of my auto!", "I need a jump, my auto battery died"! *snort* "I've got to hurry, I'll be late for my Auto Pool", heh. heheh. Yeah, what was I saying again, something about navigating a track? You want to be good at navigating the track because if you go off the track you may hit a tree, a house or have to crawl painfully slow through a lake. The grass also slows you down a good deal, so keep off of that, too. Something realistic about the steering: if your car is not moving, you can't change direction. Yes, this seems like it would be an obvious requirement, but its addition reminds me of how much I didn't miss it in Indy 500, where cars could spin in whatever direction you wanted, regardless of motion. The version of this game that I have uses relative steering. You push the disc to the right of "midnight" and your car steers to its right. There's also a version called absolute steering which points the car in whatever direction you push on the disc. Can't say which I'd prefer as I haven't tried the absolute version. I suppose one is just as easy to get used to as the other. You get to choose your "auto", by the way. You've got five in your garage each with its own intrinsic characteristics. Besides each having a unique color, some are faster than others while others handle the "cornering" better. Two of the cars are differently colored, but identical in speed and handling. This is for the purpose of two-players racing against each other. Which brings me to where this title can really do whatever the opposite of shine is: two-player races on Auto Racing can be a real drag. Because of the close overhead perspective, (which is a Good Thing in single player,) the maximum distance between you and your opponent is limited. If one of you gets to far ahead of the other, you are both yanked back to a checkpoint. For instance, if your opponent slides into a tree or a house and you keep going...yank. I suppose it could be enjoyable if both racers were skilled enough to not crash at all, but one race can take a long time otherwise. It is Auto Racing that has introduced me to the affliction I'm calling "Intellivision Thumb". The disc on the Intellivision controller is interesting and innovative, but in trying to control my race car I'm afraid it can become a little painful. Perhaps this is the type of pain one gets used to over time, but while intently trying to improve my cornering, I began to feel discomfort which eventually outweighed my desire to continue playing. If I were more literarily inclined, I might do more of a compare and contrast between Auto Racing and Indy 500 since the two were similarly themed games on systems known to be rivals. However, since I'm getting tired of typing, and you're probably getting tired of reading I'll leave it at this: Auto Racing is more realistic than fun and Indy 500 is more fun than realistic but both have their thrills and laughs. Sorry, no screenshots or videos this week. I'm finding that the prospect of adding those is more often a demotivator to writing an entry due to the extra work involved. I think I'm going to focus more on actually playing the games and writing about them rather than adding the "multimedia flair" with the hope that this will allow me to get to more games and entries. I mean, I'm still in 1980 for crying out loud, I was hoping to be in 1983 by now! Next entry will be Armor Battle. 18995 EDIT: crap, I didn't save my initial edits correctly so you were forced to read my crappy grammar and poor spelling which I thought I'd corrected. Jeesh, I'm going to have to hire an editor someday.
  16. Night Driver (Atari VCS, 1980) First, a look at the arcade game that inspired the home version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK_pwMItCPM I believe that video is captured from the MAME version. The yellow car on the screen would have been an overlay in the arcade. The lights represent the glowing reflectors on the sides of a dark road and as the driver of the car you use a steering wheel controller to keep your car on the road. The sound effects in the arcade original were engine sounds and drifting tire squeals. The arcade version of the game, in addition to a steering wheel, featured a gear shift and a gas pedal. There was even a cockpit version which was the first arcade game I can remember playing which attempted to simulate the actual posture you might have while doing the activity being simulated, which I thought was pretty cool. I use the video here because I'd just spent a half hour write-babbling about this, when I realized my articulation skills were just not up for it today... I think I need to read more books in my free time to improve... but while I'm posting Youtube links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RgIHCqzCF8 The home version of Night Driver for the Atari VCS not only captures the gameplay of the original but it enhances the graphics by adding houses and trees to the scenery, as well as other cars coming towards you on the road. Of course, lacking from the home version is a gear shifting system (which I don't miss) a steering wheel and a gas pedal. The Atari paddle controller serves just fine as a steering wheel, and the red button works as an accelerator, or whatever you'd call an accelerator you can only turn on or off. Something I never knew about this game is that you are actually driving around consistent tracks. Tracks whose twists and turns are the same every play, and they repeat. Tracks you can learn and get better at. I never knew this, which is probably why I never did get better at it. Tracks 1 through 3 are progressively more difficult to navigate while track 4 is random. Tracks 1 through 4 all have a time limit. Tracks 5, 6 and 7 are the same as tracks 1, 2 and 3, respectively, but there is no time limit. You can drive on them as long as you care too. Track 8, like Track 4, is random but also with no time limit. The left difficulty switch allows you to toggle between your car going fast and even faster, in case you're up to the challenge. The right switch toggles whether or not you hear the honking of the on-coming cars so you can avoid the urge to turn into their lane because you're some freak who likes to anticipate the collision. If you compare this home version to the home version of Datsun 280 Zzzap, you can see that adding a few improvements to a home port can make up for the absence of a steering wheel, gas pedal and gear shift and actually make the game worth playing at home, even if it doesn't look exactly like the original. At some point in video game history, the Arcade Version was what every home port strove to imitate, and where it failed to match was where the criticism was often aimed. I like that the Atari programmers decided rather than just do a straight port, they could improve a game so that the gameplay was what mattered, not how close to the original it looked. Oh, and here's the video of the 2600 version. I <3 Youtube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEktzerp14s Home version of Night Driver aside, if you ever get the chance to play the cockpit version of Night Driver, I recommend you take the opportunity. It's a neat experience and a great early example of how, in 1976 -- before there was much of a home market -- arcade machine manufacturers were trying to provide unique experiences that weren't just about the graphics or the gameplay. There was a "feel" to playing a game with the interfaces and environments designed specifically for that game which a converted cab or PC running MAME just cannot capture. Next Entry will be Maze Craze A Game of Cops and Robbers which always struck me as a really odd and awkward name for a maze game... 59344
  17. Dodge 'Em aka Dodger Cars (Atari VCS, 1980) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPcSd7DDLk This game is about an insane sonuvabitch who has no regard for your life, your passenger's life nor even his own life. The playing field is a four-lane circular track. The player races around it collecting dots. The player may only change lanes at four points on the track's circle. The crazy bastard in the other car is going around the track in the opposite direction and his sole goal is to ram you head on... That expression sounds familiar in this context, I think Sega put out this game in the arcades as Head On, but I'm not swearing to it, and I'm too lazy to go to klov.com to look it up. Anyway, this is a fun game. I explained the concept to my son (in the way I presented it above) and he took the bait and agreed to play before realizing it was one of Dad's "old games". It's a good thing that some of these games are worth dragging my son 30 years into the past for, otherwise, he'd write a scary book about me... (Chronogaming...an Abusive Trip Through My Father's Personal Hell was a working title during the RCA Studio II period...) While the concept is simple, the game play is fast and exciting. That other car -- no, it's more fun to think of it as a deranged driver -- always switches lanes at the last split-second to ram you and cause you and your car and his car, the crazy fool, to explode in a cloud of pixels. You anticipate the explosion; the sound of shattering glass; the flames rising out of the flowing gasoline... The cart has three games. You against the program, you and a second person taking alternating turns against the program, and you and another person taking turns being Christopher Walken. The third game is the most amusing, because at no point is a person required to just sit and watch. If a player clears the track twice, then two opposing cars are employed, and are both controlled by the other player. How is this done with one joystick? Well, if a car is at a lane-changing point, if it can change lanes in the direction of the given input, it will. It works and makes things very difficult for the one just trying to collect dots. Interesting to note; the crazy drivers can't make each other explode. We tried to get them together, and it's as if they exist in two different dimensions. It's okay though, either can wipe out the other player's car. Fun for the whole family, especially those who can't drive yet. It's also a good moment to share any horrifying drunk driving stories you know to reinforce the stupidity of driving while drunk, or of changing lanes to ram another's car head on. Next game: Night Driver or Why Not to Drive Drunk, Part 2. 55,057
  18. Circus Atari (Atari VCS, 1980) One of the inspirations for doing what I'm doing here (even though it's been progressively less frequent) is the fact that "back in the day" I didn't actually get to play most of these games. Intellivision? I know one person that had it, and I only ever saw AD&D in action-but never got to play it. I had one friend with an Odyssey^2 and I never ever even saw it hooked up. I'd never heard of the Bally Professional Arcade back in 1981 and, though I'd seen the Channel F in catalogs, I'd never seen one "in the flesh" until 2002. So, it's always a pleasure, while in the process of getting through these games, to take out a game that, not only did I play it back in the day, not only did I play it often, but I actually played it often with other people, which is why I attach some significance to it, I guess. Circus Atari is based on an arcade game called Circus (Exidy, 1977). It could be described as a derivative of Breakout with a thematic twist. Your "paddle" is a teeter-totter that you can move right to left across the bottom of the screen. On the "low end" of the teeter-totter is a clown who is to become your projectile. Parading across the top of the screen are three rows of balloons (red, white (though I thought they looked yellow) and blue). A second clown comes into play by jumping out from one of the sides of the playfield when you press the button on the paddle controller. You have to maneuver your teeter-totter to catch that incoming clown on the teeter-totter's "high end", so that the clown on the "low end" is catapulted into the air towards the balloons. The goal being to pop as many balloons as you can, while scoring points and going through clowns as if they were a disposable commodity. The clowns are animated while they are projectiles, flailing their little arms and legs about in an effort to keep themselves upright while airborne. When up among the balloons, they'll pop as many as they come close to before falling back towards earth. When you fail to catch the plummeting clown, he becomes what is known in show business as "Circus Pizza" -- he lands with a splat, head grotesquely flattened on the floor of your tent, arms and legs still attached but wiggling like recently detached lizard tails. This never fails to amuse me. Never. (My corporate sponsors have informed me that some clown union has threatened legal action. I must point out, that the loss of life in funny ways is only funny in imaginary circumstances. My dark humor is purely in the context of the videogames of which I write.) (Ethics require me to admit that I actually don't have corporate sponsors and there is actually no clown union... as far as I know... it's more of a guild... I think...) The cartridge, as expected from Atari, has several game variations, mostly amounting to one and two player variations of: with and without overhead "bumpers", an easier version for beginners, and a two-player only version that has the players "share" the balloon field while alternating turns. This last variation is interesting in that if you don't "clear" a row, then your opponent might, getting all the good points. A feature of the game is that the red button allows you to switch the high and low ends of the teeter-totter to give you some flexibility in catching the poor, doomed, and yet, happy, soul. Speaking of doomed, yet happy... my children did groan a little as I recruited them for their reactions to this gender-neutral game. Their initial reluctance did give way because what child doesn't like to see a clown go splat? After about 15 minutes, I turned it off to write this, but they were actually interested in playing some more! I forbade this, of course, because I'm a power-abusing father. While I do think of Circus Atari as a Breakout derivative, it should be noted that, unlike Breakout which bounces the ball around in a straight line, circus clowns trace through genuine parabolic arcs...elegant yet simple in their mathematical beauty. Okay, not as simple as a line, but the arc does lend a certain, curvy grace to the flight path. In accordance with a law of physics, the clowns do soar higher and longer if you land the incoming clown further out on the edge of the teeter-totter. Sadly, the inevitably tragic ending of the clown is not intensified by this increased flight duration, but it does let you pop more balloons. Frankly, (may I call you, "Frankly"?) we only play it to watch helpless passengers of the equation describing a parabolic arc, often ending their trip in the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of show business. No business like it; no business I know. If I assigned numbers to games, I'd give this a good number. A number that everyone would recognize, but not be bored by. Probably a number created by multiplying two large primes and adding a one to it. Circus Atari is that much fun. Ironically, I'd been putting off this entry for such a long time, because I thought I was going to have to play 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe and I am admittedly hesitant to do so. I was very happy to double-check my previous entry and realize I had intended to play Circus Atari. However, what must be done must be done, and I do intend to play 3D-Tic-Tac-Toe next. And soon. Really! 51481
  19. Word Fun (Intellivision, 1980) Hey, did anyone else notice the complete revamping of intellivisiongames.com? They've had the same site up for years and its always looked circa 1999-2001 design style, but now they've got something that looks like it's database driven. Well, good for them. I actually have a Word Fun cart, purchased in Tulsa, Oklahoma for $5 in 2006. It wasn't until I plugged it into my Intellivision II in August of 2008 that I found this sucker doesn't work with Intellivision II. For my purposes, I was suddenly happy I had purchased Intellivision Lives! for the Playstation 2. This marks the first Chronogaming title that I had to resort to playing on modern hardware! Word Fun is one of two education titles that used the Electric Company name. If you remember The Electric Company, you'll remember that it was the quirky, off-the-wall, directed-at-a-slightly-older-audience, half-sibling of Sesame Street. It only ran new episodes from 1971 to 1977 and thereafter was in reruns until going off the air in 1985. (according to Wikipedia) So, in an odd way, Word Fun and its companion cart, Math Fun were like the very, very last episodes of The Electric Company, and done entirely without Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman or Rita ("Heeey yoooou guyyyyys!") Moreno. Word Fun epitomizes a tradition of education games on home console systems: instead of having one, really good game that's fun and educational, it has multiple games that are educational. Word Fun is: Crosswords, Word Hunt and Word Rockets. Crosswords is an electronic Scrabble. Each player is given a rack of letters from which they assemble words. The object is to earn the most number of points while taking turns putting words in a grid so that they intersect with the words already placed. If you've played Scrabble or ever filled in a crossword puzzle you know what I'm talking about. The interesting feature of this is that you can't end your turn until your opponent approves the word! This encourages kids to come up with fake words and bullshit their opponent into believing they're legitimate. This is a valuable skill and I approve of it being cultivated. However, Crosswords is one of those games I like better in the real world as Scrabble. Also, Scrabble has those word trays that are handy to use as iPod Touch stands. Word Hunt puts each player in control of a monkey that they each send out to capture letters. A player uses the letters to build up to three words in a time-limited round. There's also the option of sabotage. A player lacking in ruth (ruthless) can send his monkey out to simply deprive the enemy of much needed letters. "Ha ha ha! You wish to spell the word 'fish'? Try doing it with out this 'h', you fool, as I deprive you of it to spell 'hate'!" There is even the option of tossing a letter away if you aren't going to use it yourself, but still wish to deprive your bitter, word-building, jungle rival! The longer your words, the better your score and, like the game Crosswords your opponent has final say on what constitutes a legitimate word. ("Hayt" is a real word, it's the name of Duncan Idaho's ghola in Dune Messiah! What do you mean you've never read it? You're already 10 years old!) Aside: Word Hunt seems to have the uncanny ability to actively anticipate and attempt to prevent the players from spelling naughty words. No matter how hard we tried we were unable to find the necessary letters to spell something offensive. This was disappointing and we don't know if it was a feature in the game or a failure of ourselves. Word Rockets was fun in a "this reminds me of playing Space Invaders in the arcade only without the sheilds, aliens or cannon" way. A word with a missing letter in it sails across the screen and you must fire at it with one of the letters available from your arsenal to complete it. F*g can become fog, or fig! This is about as much fun as it sounds but it is the only single player game on the cart, so it was the only one I was able to play without having to pay my son in gil. (yes, now he accepts imaginary, online currency as payment for playing old games with me.) Anyway, it added some much needed videogame action to the cart, and was probably what the average four or five years old of the era would've enjoyed most. Next time, we play NHL Hockey, continuing my slow but inevitable grind through the well documented sports titles of Intellivision's debut year. 25092
  20. Horse Racing (Intellivision, 1980) For any of you that read this blog whenever I actually post something, you might be painfully aware that I neither enjoy gambling nor sports. I usually bitch and moan about most Blackjack carts I have to play and while I do my best to muster up enthusiasm for the sports titles, I'm sure it's obvious that my heart usually isn't in them. In fact, beyond an appreciation for graphics and/or feature set, I can barely tolerate sports and gambling titles. Also, with my limited appreciation for "board to video" ports of games, (i.e. Checkers, Backgammon) I'm sure you can grok why I might have a difficult time getting through 1980 on the Intellivision. Now, take the cart Horse Racing. You'd think, given that I'm not into sports and I'm not into gambling, that this title is sure to get an instant "meh" from me. Well, maybe you wouldn't think that, but if you did you'd be wrong. First off, Horse Racing is for one to six players. That's SIX. Now, the math folk among you may be asking yourselves, "Did he say 'SIX'? How in the square-root-of-effing-two could there be SIX players with only TWO controllers?" Well, let's go over the concepts first. When you turn on your Intellivision console with Horse Racing in the slot, you're really giving the computer the go-ahead to synthesize eight healthy horses. Each horse has its own secret, built-in set of intrinsics governing its speed, stamina and ability to run on certain surfaces. You have $750 and ten races to try to observe and figure out just what these horses can do. If you run out of cash in the process, your game is over. (Beatings with a pillowcase full of oranges is optional, though not recommended.) Each horse, by the way, is named a color: Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet and White. For each race, four horses race on one of three different surfaces (Dry, Turf or Muddy) for eight different distances (three to ten furlongs). The instruction manual (another excellently written Intellivision manual, btw) suggests keeping track of the length and conditions for each race, the entries and the results -- including the winning time. So, every race, via the results, you're given a handfull of clues about how each horse performs. The better you get to know the horses, the more confident you may bet on them. This can result in wads and wads of well-earned imaginary cash. For instance, in the very first race, I watched Blue, Violet, Green and Orange race for three furlongs on Turf. The finish was V-O-G (Violet, Orange, Green) with Blue trailing. So, what does one glean from this? Well, over a short distance and on turf, we'll tentatively conclude that Violet can beat Orange, Green and Blue. This isn't really a lot to work with, but each race gives you the opportunity for making and/or supporting a hypothesis and this allows you to refine your betting. The second race put Orange, Green, Red and Violet against each other on eight furlongs of turf. I thought "Pfft, I know Violet should at least beat Orange and Green" so I bet on Violet, figuring my only worry would be Red. WRONG! Apparently, while Violet is faster than Orange over three furlongs on turf, Orange has more Stamina and can beat Blue in eight furlongs! The placing was Orange, Violet, Red and Green. Well, at least I can be pretty certain that Green is slower than both of them... So, using the characteristics of each race and the results, you start to put together composite sketch of each horse. It's very interesting and fun. When you get enough "horse sense" you can start placing Exacta bets. An Exacta bet is when you try to predict the placement of the two horses to come in first and second. Exactas pay 15 to 1, which is a good deal more than what you can get for merely picking what may have become an obvious winner. You might ask, "Well what fun is that? After a days at the races, you'll know how to rank the horses!" Well, that's where the beauty of randomly generated qualities comes in. After your day at the races, it's off to the metaphorical glue factory for the whole stable of them. Each time you start a set of races there's a new set of horses; same colors, different abilities. So, how can six people play? Well, each of you gets an account, numbered from one to six. Before each race, you pass around the controllers and everyone gets a chance to look at the offered race and to place their bets. You can let everybody just watch the races or two players at a time may choose to jockey a horse. For every race, the two horses that start closest to the guard rail (towards the top of the screen) are jockeyed by the computer. This means that the computer decides at what position on the track each unjockeyed horse runs, when to coax the horse to run faster and when to apply the whip to inspire a final, potentially crippling, burst of speed. The bottom two horses are optionally controlled by one player each. When I played by myself, I simply let the computer jockey all four ("hands-off" playing). With a group of people, it is possible for any two players to jockey one of the two, non-computer jockeyed horses. A jockey gets to coax and whip the horse as well as decide its positioning -- closer to the guard rail (towards the top) means it's traveling a smaller circle around the track and likely to wear out less quickly than if it were traveling on the outer track. However, there are drawbacks to people having the ability to jockey. If someone jockeys a horse that they haven't bet on to win, then it's too easy for the unethical jockey to apply the whip early, steer the horsey to the outside of the track and poor little Sunny Muffins hasn't got a chance of winning. In a nutshell, the controls allow "fixing". During my second time through by myself, if there were jockeyable horses that I hadn't bet on to win, I'd run those mounts into the dirt. This would allow the horse I bet on to have a better chance of winning. Aside from the potential of burning in Cheater's Hell, this has a practical downside. Say that you've been forcing Pink to lose for three races and then suddenly she shows up against horses you've also forced to lose. How, then, do you bet? By tampering with a horse, you lose the chance to gather information. So, while the chance to jockey is there, it's an extra variable I'd rather do without though I certainly understand the need for its inclusion. Most people would want to actually play videogames, not just watch them. That being said, Horse Racing, however, is indeed fun even if you're just watching the races to observe the equine behavior. If I can ever get six people together to play, I'll let you know how it goes. In a continuing attempt to procrastinate the other sports titles, I think we'll try Space Battle next entry. 22652
  21. Adventure (Atari VCS, 1980) Okay, I"ve started this entry about six times! I'm trying to keep myself from babbling but what I keep writing is a long and pretty uninteresting description of the different elements of Adventure. I'm failing to capture the essence of the whole which is so much greater than just a listing of the separate parts. Rather than make another attempt at objectively describing Adventure, let's just activate Fanboy Mode. I think that it's safe to say that this is my favorite console game of all time. People look at it now and very often say the same thing they said in 1980: "those Dragons look like ducks". They see ducks, I see a whole freakin' eco-system. There are countless moments created by this simple little universe that are exciting and funny and interesting in unexpected ways. Dragons will suddenly find you defenseless, only to themselves be carried away by the Bat. Lucky Happy Accidental Dragon killings. Entering a room and *gulp*! Fighting all three dragons at once and surviving! Flying over the Kingdom in a Dragon stomach being carried by the bat... it's just awesome. If you allow yourself to be immersed in this game, you can still enjoy it 28 years after you first played it. I'm speaking from experience. I regard this game with reverent awe. I cannot begin to get into how many hours I've played it, over and over and over again. When I play, I am that square, running through the landscape, wary of what could come swooping in to swallow me up. When I was 13 and playing for the first time, I remember how my heart raced and my hands shook as I held the joystick and crept through the Blue Maze, (back when I didn't know my way around the Blue Maze!). I remember the jolt I would get when a Dragon would find me, and how desperately I would try to get away. The terrifying sounds of its "chomp" would cause me to visibly startle. The pathetic sound of its death (if I was lucky enough to have the sword with me) would fill me with relief rather than triumph. I would breath a quiet "I survived!" and would continue on knowing that there were still two out there... Adventure represents my first real videogame "high". To follow the drug metaphor, Odyssey 300 was my "gateway" game system. It wasn't enough to get me addicted, but enough to get me interested. From the moment I first saw Adventure being demonstrated in a Sears, I wanted an Atari. No games prior to that filled me with such a drive to play them. Adventure was my first "hard" addiction. It is the game that led me to embrace videogames as what other people consider to be merely my "hobby". The truth is, it isn't a hobby, it's my way of life. To this day I still seek to reclaim from new games that thrill I used to get when playing Adventure. Sometimes, I get close. Next entry, for no reason other than the cart is next to the Atari at this very moment, we'll do Stellar Track.
  22. Golf (Atari VCS, Jun 1980, Atari) (Credit to Random Terrain for his awesome and well-researched list which helps me play Atari VCS games in chronological order with much more confidence. https://www.randomterrain.com/atari-2600-memories-history-1980.html) So, earlier "this year", I played PGA Golf on the Intellivision and there was some discussion of the phrase "below par". I dislike what I considered its misuse in language to suggest poor performance while at the same time in Golf parlance it means a good performance. An astute and always wonderful reader, Nelio, pointed out that the phrase "below par" had usage outside of golf. Of course, he was correct and 13 years later, I decided to look into it. The phrase originated in a financial context and appeared in a financial journal in the early 1700s. I don't know why it became opposite in the game of Golf. A poem was written about it which I publish here without permission from anyone: Above And Below Par by Leon S. White When you say about a chap, that he’s above par Exactly what it is you mean, depends on where you are. If you’re on a golf course, you’re referring to his score Which, relative to even par, is at least one stroke more; But in a different setting, above par means Excellent, outstanding, even sterling genes. So above par’s opposite is that which golfers seek Otherwise below par is really rather weak. However when below par play leads to an above par score Then the seeming opposites are opposite no more. (By the way, that PGA Golf entry "earlier in this year" was entered in August, 2008, almost 13 years ago, and holy crap how time flies.) Intellivison's PGA Golf had a great deal of detail to it. You could slice the ball, hook the ball, worry about the wind, worry about the material of your golf club... it really did a great job, in my opinion. Have I played it since? Well, no. I don't really love golf. However, it did make an impression on me. Golf for the Atari VCS is more like the beer and pretzels version of a golf video game, which isn't to say it lacks in charm. The Atari came out two-ish years before the Intellivision, so it's reasonable that any game on it will be less complex. This game of Golf kept me interested longer than I expected and I managed to play it for about an hour. With other people and beer and pretzels, I might play it longer. (Though, I'm trying to cut back on carbs so perhaps some healthier snacks.) There's a single-player and a two-player game each with easy and hard modes. The player is shown on an overhead view of the whole field. There's a "green" with a hole on it and that's the ball's destination. I have no idea whether it would be possible to get a "hole-in-one" on any of these holes. It felt inconceivable. Your mileage may vary. There is no variation in the club material or weight that you use, just the amount of power you put into swinging your little stick of jagged pixels. The learning curve is mostly spent getting used to the angle the ball will travel depending on the angle the golfer is facing when starting its swing. At first, it can feel counter-intuitive but one can develop the knack. After a swing or two (or five or eleven, don't judge me) the ball will make it to the green. The playing view switches to a closer view of the hole and its surrounding putting green. The mechanics of aiming the ball really isn't any different from the long-distance swinging, but the power of the swing feels a tiny bit more nuanced. I'm probably imagining that. In hard mode the hole looks tiny, and is about a quarter of the size of the hole in easy mode. There are nine different holes. There are hazards on the field that can be gotten over if you've hit the ball hard enough. The ball will will soar over lakes, sand traps or trees if given the momentum. These hazards will stop, trap or deflect a ball, respectively. If playing in hard mode, it's possible to lose the ball in "the rough". When the ball flies off the course it will disappear in the blue area, representing the untamed wilderness beyond the boundary of the course. The ball can still be hit (your club will angle towards it), but it cannot be seen and it will take several strokes to get it out of the rough and back into visibility. Even after the angle of the swinging is understood, the game is still challenging and I did find myself resetting it to play it one more time, twice. I actually wanted to play it a fourth time, but I knew I still wanted to write this entry and I didn't have all night. (If you must know, the par of the course is 30. I was waaaay over par, getting 97 on my first game (easy mode), 68 on my second game (hard mode), and 60 on my third game (also hard mode).) Not gonna lie. I enjoyed myself playing this. Overall, I found myself smiling. There were two choices the developer made that stood out to me. 1. When setting up the swing the player may choose to back away from the ball before they release the button to commit to the swing. This doesn't count as a stroke if it doesn't hit the ball. I thought that was a really nice touch. It's a little difficult at first to get a feel for where the ball is going to go as one maneuvers the golfer and its stick around the ball. Having this option of a few "practice strokes" to better understand my aim did save a lot of frustration. 2. Something I wasn't crazy about was when one gets the ball into the hole, one is instantly transported to the next hole. No fanfare. Nothing. I would have preferred to be given a moment or two. Just to breathe and check my score while I was still in the context of that hole. That's it. Tune in next time. yada yada yada. PS: (While playing Golf, I did find myself thinking "If only I could shave two strokes off my golf game!" and "Existence is pain!". I don't know where that could have come from...)
  23. Space Invaders (Atari VCS, 1980) According to Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames by Leonard Herman (a book every classic gamer should own, soon to come out in its fourth edition!), Space Invaders came out in January of 1980 and is considered to be the first "Killer App" for a home videogame console. In addition, it was the first time a videogame company licensed another videogame company's arcade game for port to a home system. Okay, history portion over, I'll leave it to real historians to discuss such things (i.e. go get that Phoenix book); let's talk about this cart. We've seen versions of Space Invaders before on the Bally Pro Arcade (Space Invaders, later known as Astro Invaders) and on the APF MP1000 (Space Destroyers). Of the versions we've looked at so far, Space Destroyers wins for looking closest to the Arcade version of Space Invaders. Atari's version isn't much to see at first glance. The Invaders are yellow and blocky looking. There's only 36 of them. There's three protective bunkers instead of four. The cannon looks different from the cannon in the arcade. The scores are different looking, etc... One could go on about how it looks, but like so many will tell you: it hasn't always been about the looks. Good videogames can have a "groove" that you can get into while you're playing, a sort of zone that is enjoyable and addictive. This home port has that groove. I enjoy playing it as much now as I did during Xmas vacation of 1980. Of course, back then, I only had two standard Atari Joysticks. Today, I've got multiple joysticks with which to defend the planet, including a Wico bat, a fit-to-hand-form clicky Epyx joystick and my favorite to use now: a three button Genesis controller. I don't know how I used to play this game for such long periods with the standard joystick -- these days, my left thumb starts to hurt after only five minutes! Anyway, I should describe the actual game, though I doubt there's a single one of you out there that's never played Space Invaders. A 6x6 grid of space aliens stomp from left to right, right to left, getting a little lower each time they hit a side edge of the playfield. You control a cannon that can move right or left that fires up from the bottom of the screen. You can fire one missile at a time, and you cannot fire again until the previous missile either destroys an invader or disappears into space. The idea is to kill them all before they reach the bottom of the screen, i.e. "Earth". While firing at them, they are firing at you and you must dodge and utilize the cover of the three protective shields when needed. The shields are destructible, so if you or the invaders shoot the shields, they are eaten away, pixel by pixel. At some point the invaders will get close enough so that the shields disappear altogether which means it's only a couple of times left and right before they are literally "on" you. Periodically, a Command Alien Ship, will traverse the top of the screen. You should also try to destroy this ship, not only because it, too, is the enemy, but because it yields bonus points and helps your score. What's the point in saving the world if nobody is keeping score? The most notable sound effects are of the invaders marching side to side. It's a steady, tension building "tromp, tromp, tromp" which speeds up as the number of invaders becomes fewer and fewer. If you manage to survive by dodging the unceasing "laser bombs", you can see and hear the "tromp, tromp, tromp" get progressively faster. Finally, you have a lone invader zipping across the screen like some insane bunny. If you are able to kill the last one, the next attack wave will begin again shortly, and this time they'll start even closer. After a few attack waves, the invaders start so close to the bottom of the screen that they just have to go across the screen once before it is "game over". This is one of those games that can only end in your on-screen death. There's no way around it. You may get good enough so that you can keep playing without dying, but eventually you'll need to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. Your biological imperatives are what will lead to the inevitable invasion and, we assume, the tragic destruction of your planet -- containing everyone you've ever known and loved. This isn't to imply a special effect laden ending, but you should die knowing that your failure has doomed the Earth. What is amazing about the home port of this game for the Atari VCS, is not only the fact that they've managed to capture the spirit and addictive qualities of the arcade game (to me at least) but they've included 112 variations of the game. It's four variations of playfield behavior (moving shields, fast laser bombs, zig zig laser bombs and invisible invaders) spread out in every iteration over 16 games. Then those sixteen different combinations of those four effects are distributed over seven different player variations: Single player, alternating turns for two-players, simultaneous competing two-player, simultaneous competing two-player with alternating shots, one cannon with two controllers - one moves left the other moves right, alternating fire & control between controllers and, finally, one player moves the cannon the other player fires it. 112 games in all. How the hell did they fit that on one cart? The two-player games can be fun but it's interesting to note that the "one cannon-two players variant where one moves left the other right" idea was first used in the Channel F game: Video Pinball -- which is version of Breakout. Space Invaders is sort of a re-skinned version of Breakout, but instead of deflecting a ball at bricks which disappear, you fire a missile at aliens which disappear. Breakout is kind of a single player version of Pong. So really Space Invaders is a logical evolution from Pong, but I digress... The simultaneous competing two-player is my favorite two player variation. You're playing your own game, but you need to make every shot count. If a shot misses, then that's points your opponent can take from you as you wait for your missile to disappear off the top of the screen. I also like the scramble when the alien control ship comes out. Only one can hit it! It's a chance to get ahead of your co-planet saver. Seriously, if the world is going to end regardless, the only thing you have left to enjoy is to try to score higher than your equally doomed friend! As you lay, barely conscious, watching your alien captors continue to destroy all you ever knew, wouldn't you rather be thinking "Well, at least I scored higher then my also-dying buddy!" instead of "Crap, the world is ending, AND I just lost to my friend, this day sucks!" I didn't play through every variation of every game for this. I did play through all 16 single player games and more than one of each of the two player variations with a carefully chosen co-player (who was a little annoyed that there were no power-ups and no way to beat the invaders). While it was fun to play the two player games, I still think I prefer the single player, "vanilla" variation the most. I must admit that I think there's a nostalgic factor at play here. Of all the games I've looked at so far, I confess nostalgia for playing Atari Space Invaders. Back in 1980, this cart represented an actual arcade game in my home. I only had to play it something like 200 times (four times for every dollar spent in the purchase of the $50 cart) and every game after that is gravy... like going to the arcade and playing for free!! Nostalgia isn't why I do this, but I can't escape the nostalgia for the next entry either: Adventure aka My favorite Atari game of all time. 34613
  24. NFL Football (Intellivision, 1980) NFL Football is one of those games that doesn't register on my radar longer than it would take to say, "Hey, those guys look they're really running--oh look, Space Invaders on the Atari!" I'm just not into sports, so if I sound less than enthusiastic about a well done sports title, remember, it's not the fault of the title. We played this months ago and it's taken me this long to get around to writing about it not because it's a bad game, it's just that I don't have anything intelligent to say about it. Neat features of the game: 1. Scrolling football field. If I'm not mistaken we saw this feature first on the Bally Professional Arcade. Your TV is a window into a segment of the field, rather than the whole field itself. Like Auto Racing the scrolling feature lends the effect of feeling like you're part of a larger world and actually moving around in it rather than confined to a tiny rectangular world that just happens to be the same size as your TV screen. 2. Cheering fans. Like Baseball, you've got a "crowd-track". You've also got other sound effects that add to the playing of the game including a ref whistle and a gunshot to signal the end of a quarter. 3. Three time-outs per player. If you know how to strategically use a time-out, then you can do it in this game. 4. Everything you'd expect in a game that said "football" on it. Passing, kicking, punting, safeties, touchbacks. They did a good job with this, the only thing missing is announcers. 5. Excellent manual. The manual is a little over 20 pages long and that doesn't include the playbook for each player. 6. Big playbook combinations. There are nine formations to choose from for each side (Offensive or Defensive), that just sets up where your players start. If you're offense, then you pick from two receivers and from nine passing zones. This is the sort of thing that blows my little non-football playing mind. ONE Drawback: The CONTROLLER. Yep, that's pretty much the trouble. Sure a keyboard controller with an analog disc looks great on paper, but try using it actively and the pain begins. Getting the controller to accept our plays is Madden-ing (heh, I made a pun) geting the players to run where we want is frustrating and painfull. Maybe we just need better controllers. (We're playing on an Intellivision II so I'm sure you can feel our pain.) Overall, I'd say the design and content of this game is enough to keep it on anyone (American) football fan's fond memory list if they are the type to miss football in the off season. If you like watching football with your dad and friends then this game is probably a good substitute during the long spring/summer months without NFL action. For people who like videogames, but are not fans of sports you will appreciate the manual and the feature set but, then again, you're probably too busy enjoying your VCS to care. Next entry: Hmm, it's been so dang long since I looked at my list, I've got no clue what I'm playing next! 22235
  25. NHL Hockey (Intellivision, 1980) Okay, I'm really behind in this blog thing. According to Wired, the blog is dead and now everyone is all a-Twitter. Personally, I can't imagine myself being limited to a certain number of characters, but I can certainly understand how a reader might want to limit themselves to such. I mean, there's a lot to read out there. Anyway, the latest game in the chronology was NHL Hockey for the Intellivision. Say anything you want about the controllers for this system and I'll probably agree with you. Not because I think you're necessarily right, but because I'm really lazy and don't feel like arguing. My general peeve comes with the fact that when using the controllers on the Intellly II, which is what I have, it that it is hard to know when I've actually depressed one of the side buttons. That's a really difficult drawback to work around in a not-as-slowly-paced sports title like hockey. That being said, once again, I think it's amazing how much information the makers of NHL Hockey manage to put in the manual and how many features they manage to implement in the actual game. For instance, what would a hockey game be without penalties? Knocking the crap out of your opponent and hoping to get away with it in hockey is as legitimate a tactic as pretending to get tripped by an opponent and hoping they get a card for it in soccer. NHL Hockey implements a penalty system by allowing you to swing your stick at any opponent. If they have the puck, that's alright--the ref's okay with that, but you can also swing your stick at an opponent who does not have the puck. This will knock his legs out from under him and you have a two out of three chance of getting away with it. If you don't get away with it, one of your players goes to the penalty box for an amount of "simulated" time. If you do get away with it, then hey, getting to knock someone on their butt is its own reward. I think that it is interesting to note that playfield vs. atmosphere space in games is changing. By playfield, I mean the actual space in which your action and game takes place. By atmosphere space, I mean the part of the game that is largely decorative and unaffected directly by anything you do as a player. Hockey, for instance, mostly takes place on the ice; you don't throw the puck in the air, so there isn't the need for air space like a basketball game might need. So, if you look at a screenshot of NHL Hockey... what? No, I don't have one, go find your own, sheesh... the ice only takes up the bottom half of the screen while the the top half contains scoring elements. Keeping score and track of penalty time is an important part of the game, yes, but half of it? I guess it's the price of this 3D-look for games (pioneered by Basketball for the Atari VCS) that make you feel like you're in the stands rather than in the eyes of a bird nailed to the ceiling directly over the ice. Something I don't know if I mentioned about most Intellivision games we've seen, is that there always seems to be at least four speeds to every game. If you turn the game on and activate the disk, for the most part, you get the fast version of whatever game you're playing. If you press "1" on the keypad you get the slowest version of the game; "2" and "3" get you faster versions. Hockey also implements this feature. The irony of this type of system for we modern gamers is that the slowest speed might be easy enough to play, but, invariably it is fairly dull. The faster speeds are much more interesting to play but require some time to master and the controllers are so awkward to use that "more interesting" doesn't help. The goalies in this game were very difficult to get a puck past. First, my son and I played against each other and neither of us could score against the other. Then I played against his un-manned controller and I still couldn't score against the brick wall of a goalie. It took the combined might of my team, with one member in the penalty box, and his team to actually get the puck past my own goalie. The trick was to knock the goalie down and shoot him while he was down. I think we managed to do it by having one of my players hang on to the puck while my son knocked the goalie down. While the goalie sat on the ice, counting his teeth, I let my son steal the puck and shoot at the vacant goal. This was not easy to do. I don't even think we were playing on one of the faster modes. Eventually our game devolved into trying to get away with beating up each other's players and goalies. Can we blame this on the game or on our own appetites for violence? If we blame our appetites, must we not also blame society? I continue to have a really hard time slogging through the sports titles for the Intellivision. I'm just not into them. I also recently discovered that I should have started the year off with Space Invaders for the Atari VCS, because that was released sometime in January of 1980. See, that would've been a kick ass start to 1980, I mean, that would've given me some momentum. Oh well, it's not like this is a science. Here's to more chronogaming in 2009, for 1980. Next entry: I don't even know! Basketball? Didn't I already do that? Did I take my meds today? Damn I feel old.
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