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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...)
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.)
Video Checkers (Atari VCS, Dec 1980, Atari) In 1980, Checkers feels like the new Blackjack. Blackjack seems like it was a requirement to be on every system. Checkers... well, maybe not on every system. It was already on the Fairchild Channel F (which, I missed back when I played through 1978 like... more then a decade ago, but less than 40 years ago. I'll get to it soon.) and we've seen it on the Intellivision and Atari. Now we get to play it on the Atari again. This time, I did think about going to use the world-famous A.I. Checker Program, Chinook, but alas, I wasn't patient enough to sit through the Atari's "thinking" phases at its top level, so I'm just going to go over the features that this Checkers has. Nine levels of difficulty: Games 1-9 represent Checkers against the Computer in 9 levels of increasing difficulty. Game 10 is human vs. human in case all of the checker boards in your house had been stolen or something or you wanted the novel feeling of playing the game on the TV. I'm not judging you for this. The computer takes longer to decide its move the higher the skill level. Ranging from less than two seconds on Level 1, to 30 seconds on Level 6, to 15 minutes per turn on Level 9. "Giveaway" Checkers: Games 11-19 are called "losing" or "giveaway" Checkers. Giveaway Checkers is a variant of the game where you try to lose your pieces first by forcing your computer opponent to jump your pieces. I honestly had never of this version of Checkers before. Skill level of the computer increases as you move from game 11 to game 19, of course. Game Select (to change skill level) functional during a game: Something interesting about the Game Select switch. You can start playing a game on a skill level and decide, in the middle of the game, (but not while the computer is thinking) to increase the skill level. I thought that was kind of neat. Checker notation is used: Atari's Video Checkers uses checker notation and it's noted at the top of the screen. The manual specifically mentions playing other computer opponents and using the Checkers notation to convey the moves to avoid any confusion. (I tried playing two computers against each other when the board is inverted on one. It is hard (for me) to turn my brain around like that. The number system makes it easier to translate the moves to the other computer.) Checker Notation bonus: The B/W switch lets you change up the numbering system in case the computer playing against the Atari is less flexible. This was thoughtful to include and makes the Atari seem to be the more gracious opponent. ("Oh, of course, binary opponent. This unit is happy to adjust its numbering settings for you! It's no trouble at all!") Set up your own board: Moving the left difficulty switch to "a" allows you to set up the board however you like and then play it by putting the switch back to "b". Actual instructions on playing Checkers!: Yeah, I mention this because Activision's manuals are pretty light in general (which was mostly fine). Their manual for their Bridge game didn't fuss with giving the rules at all and their manual for Checkers was also quite brief. Atari's Video Checkers' manual seems absolutely luxurious in comparison. My impression is that the feature set of Video Checkers is pretty rich. I'm not knocking the others (and I'm not going back to actually compare them, lawds no.) but if I had to pick the one I've liked the most so far, I'd have to pick Atari's Video Checkers. I still need to look at Checkers on the Fairchild Channel F though. One game left for the Atari in 1980, Activision's Skiing.
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.