Kaboom!


Original version: Kaboom!, released in 1981 for Atari VCS
I discussed in my review of the 1970s that Activision was the first third-party developer in video gaming. They took advantage of their new-found license to make games by producing a slew of titles for the Atari VCS, some of which were even good. OK, that’s a little harsh. Compared to the standard fair Activision’s games were better than average–well, most of them. Some games were still shovelware.


Activision did develop a few outstanding games, the earliest of which was Kaboom! by co-founder Larry Kaplan. Kaboom! is an arcade-style game with frenetic action, just like most other games of the time. It’s based on Atari’s 1978 arcade game Avalanche, which Kaplan wished to port to Atari VCS when he still worked there. Upon leaving for Activision, he instead made an original game based on it.

In this game you have to stop a robber from dropping bombs onto the street below. You are given three buckets of water to move around. If a bomb hits the ground, one of the buckets of water disappears and catching bombs after that becomes just a little harder. It’s a brilliantly cruel means of rewarding good work, because if you do well the game will be easy. If you mess up the game will just make itself more difficult. Mwahahaha!

For whatever reason my emulator is screwy and the reaction time is laggy. I wish I could use a real Atari VCS but mine is broken, so this will have to do. I guess it adds another layer of challenge to be delayed, and it also makes the video shorter. Lucky you. If you want to see a high score video, watch this instead.

 

(link)(mirror)

Activision’s Crackpots took an opposite approach, with the protagonists standing on the roof of a building to drop flowerpots on invading spiders. Because of the spiders’ often unpredictable approach success would just as often rely on luck, and it’s all but forgotten today whereas Kaboom! is still looked back upon fondly. The gameplay mechanic of “catch the falling objects” was soon copied by several other games like the nebulous Eggomania in which the player must use a hat to catch eggs dropped by a chicken. After the round the player may then throw the eggs at the chicken for bonus points (so thank goodness you saved those eggs. You couldn’t break them otherwise).

This is as good a time as any to write about difficulty in games. Video games in general are challenging, and early games were especially challenging. Arcade games needed to be difficult in order to turn a profit, as the length of a gameplay session was almost always dependent upon the remaining number of lives rather than a set amount of time. This had two main results: it turned away potential players who felt alienated at the extreme difficulty, but those who still enjoyed playing games usually enjoyed the high level of challenge. Console games tended to be about as difficult as arcade games because gamers expected the same high level of difficulty that they experienced in arcades. But most games are not nearly as difficult nowadays, and you may be aggravated or even angered by how difficult these games are (especially if you’re not a novice gamer yourself). My advice is to not expect too much of yourself, to just have fun, and to reset when you die. After all, you’re not losing quarters by the truckload so you have no pressure to perform well. And as you saw in the video, there is an option to change the difficulty. After the success of Tempest, more and more games included this option. There’s no shame in playing on easy mode. Of course it’s good for you to challenge yourself, generally speaking, but there’s no obligation to. Just have fun.

Kaboom! is included in Activision Anthology for various platforms. If you have a copy of Kaboom! you can download a backup copy here and run it on Stella (mirror).

 

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