Runners-up of 1982


1982 was without a doubt one of the best years in video gaming history. The sheer amount of innovation and variety is stunning. Of course, the glut of low-quality games released in 1982 directly caused the great crash of ’83. So, it was the best of times and the worst of times. But maybe, considering how many games there are on the list below, 1982 ought to be called “the year that almost made it.”

3D Monster Maze |Sinclair ZX-81|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/6c/3DMonsterMaze.JKGS.tape-cover.jpgAlthough the Apple ][ and Commodore PET were popular in America around 1982, the computer of choice for the English was the Sinclair ZX-81, then later the Spectrum. 3D Monster Maze was one of the first successful British games and spurred sales of the new Sinclair machine as it was a demonstration of how a skilled programmer could squeeze a visually-intensive game out of such a primitive machine. 3D Monster Maze was able to produce such great graphical fidelity because its graphics were actually text-like characters arranged in different ways.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/ZX81.chars.00-0A.80-8A.png

3D Monster Maze has no victory; you have to just last as long as you can. When you start the maze the monster is stationary but once you take a couple of steps it starts chasing after you. The game lets you know how close it is but not in which direction. The tension is often palpable. When the monster finally catches up with you a game over screen shows its teeth and a message invites you to try again.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain |Mattel Intellivision|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/49/Ad%26d_cm_cover.png/220px-Ad%26d_cm_cover.png

This was a great game. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t write an appreciation article for this game is that the controls are a little too complicated. Other than that, it’s gold. One weild thing about AD&D is that it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the board game, other than being an RPG and therefore inspired by it.

AD&D has you traveling through a land and you’ll spend most of your time going through caves and tunnels, fighting spooky creatures. You’ll only be able to see a couple inches in front of you and you reveal more of the cave by walking into it. Even if you never play this game, I highly recommend you at least watch a gameplay video (mirror) of it.

Alien Garden |Atari 800|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3b/AlienGardenCover.jpg 27 years before Thatgamecompany took us through fields in Flower, the “thinking man’s” company Epyx gave us Alien Garden, widely considered the first “art game.” The player controls an alien embryo as it floats through the game world, eating crystalline flowers that help it grow, and avoiding other poisonous flowers. There is no instruction at all in the game and if you want, you can completely disregard your goal and be content to just float around, looking at the crystals.https://i2.wp.com/www.atarimania.com/8bit/screens/alien_garden_2.gif

Alien Garden also stands as one of the first examples of a non-combative game. There is nothing to fight or defend against. True, the poisonous crystals can kill you–but only if you choose to touch them. Read about Bernie DeKoven’s contributions to this game and others here.

B-17 Bomber |Intellivision|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/df/B17BomberBoxart.jpgI’d say that the primary distinction between console games and computer games back in the day was genre/style. Consoles were good at providing fast-paced arcade-like experiences with responsive controls but computers adeptly handled large amounts of text and slow-paced gameplay. This meant computers were ideal for adventure games and strategy games in particular. What was cool about B-17 Bomber was that it had elements of strategy in it, and felt like a computer game on a console. Every mission starts off with you looking at a map of Europe and selecting your target. You get to choose how many bombs to carry, with each successive bomb reducing your potential flight distance. Completely fill your cargo bay and you’ll be lucky to cross the English Channel.

Once you get off the ground the game switches to inside the cockpit where you have to fly in first-person mode and fight off enemy aircraft then drop your payload.  B-17 Bomber also included synthesized voice via the Intellivoice peripheral. The voice actually sounds pretty dorky, but back in 1982 it had the novelty factor going for it. Too bad no one actually bought the Intellivoice.

Black Widow |Arcade|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Blackwidow2.pngBlack Widow was a twin-stick shooter created by Atari. It is a vector game with bright colors (remember the multi-colored vectors introduced in Tempest?) and pretty intense gameplay. Black Widow stars a titular spider who has to fight back bugs encroaching on her web. The gameplay is often compared to Williams’ Robotron: 2084, with the primary difference being that Black Widow isn’t boring and terrible.

There are fewer enemies than would probably be expected of an arcade game, but they keep you busy despite a lack of sheer numbers. This is made more intense by the fact that you can’t kill certain bugs; you have to get them to destroy each other. If, however, you manage to destroy an egg before it hatches, you’ll have one less bug to deal with. Interestingly enough, there is one bug that assists in destroying other bugs, but this results in fewer points earned, which could end up hurting you later on when you need those points for extra lives. All of these ideas work together to produce a very engaging game.

Cosmic Ark |Atari 2600|

Cosmic Ark holdshttps://i1.wp.com/pics.mobygames.com/images/covers/large/1050629868-00.jpg the honor of being the first sequel on a console, being the successor of Atlantis. Cosmic Ark was created by Imagic, a company made up of Atari employees who left once Activision paved the way for third-party developers. It follows around a mothership that has to go from planet to planet, capturing two of every native species (one per planet) and then shooting back asteroids while flying to the next planet. While on the planet, the away shuttle has to deal with planetary defense systems, which carries with it a very uncomfortable implication about what exactly this ship’s motivation is for snatching away these creatures.

I think the most interesting part about this game is its graphics. Not only are the objects huge and fluid, but the star-field in the background was actually created by exploiting a bug in the 2600 hardware. You can watch my gameplay video of it below. I accidentally set FRAPS to record microphone input and a couple times you can hear me yell “Come on!”

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Dragonfire |Atari 2600, multiple|

https://i2.wp.com/cdn1.spong.com/pack/d/r/dragonfire52866/_-Dragonfire-Atari-2600-VCS-_.jpgAnother classic created by Imagic, Dragonfire was a fantastic action game in which a knight fights a dragon to get its treasure. There are two different stages: the first is on the drawbridge, where you have to run across while dodging the dragon’s fireballs (similar to the confrontations with Bowser in Super Mario Bros.) and the second is a top-down boss fight in the dungeon.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dragonfire is that it was made available as a download through CVC’s GameLine service. An engineer named William von Meister conceived of an internet service that would allow customers to download songs using cable companies as the Internet Service Providers. Predictably, the music industry didn’t like this idea and threatened to sue; cable companies withdrew from the deal and von Meister now had a service without content. He moved on to games and created GameLine. Several dozen games were available for download. The service utilized an over-sized silver cartridge with a phone jack. Users could download a game for a fee, and the game would be playable for 5-10 days before needing to be re-rented. GameLine was very successful until the video game crash of 1983 pulled the rug out from under it. If not for the crash, GameLine would have expanded to providing news and email, among other things. Here’s a July 1983 article about the service.

Dragonstomper |Atari 2600|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8b/Dragonstomper.jpg Now this was an RPG! Vociferous “PC master race” gamers are always prattling on about how the complexity of the PC allows for full-featured and complex games that just aren’t possible on consoles since they’re limited by controllers. What they don’t understand is that there’s a difference between complexity and complication. Super Mario World requires you only to hold right and jump, but you’re more than welcome to find secrets and do all kinds of crazy crap. Nobunaga’s Ambition, on the other hand, is not a timeless classic because it’s too complicated and you can’t do very much beyond normal gameplay.

In the early 80s one of the many genres PC had that consoles didn’t was the RPG. By 1982 we had many staples along the lines of Ultima, but on consoles the best we could come up with was Atari’s Adventure. Luckily Starpath Entertainment came along to change that. Starpath created a peripheral for the Atari 2600 called the Starpath Supercharger, which read cassette tapes and fed the info to the Atari. This allowed for much, much larger games than a cartridge alone could allow and Starpath were able to create some truly amazing experiences with it.

Dragonstomper was an RPG with a large open world and multiple ways to achieve your goals. Starpath got around the problem of the 2600 only having one button, by having menus you could navigate to use items, etc. Dragonstomper is a very under-appreciated title, especially considering how immensely innovative and approachable it is. You don’t need to be an expert RPG master to play it. Just plug in your controller and you’re set. Four years before Dragon Quest made the RPG accessible to a mainstream audience, Dragonstomper was paving the way.

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Escape from the Mindmaster |Atari 2600|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/98/Escapefromthemindmaster.jpgAnother amazing title by Starpath, this 1st-person maze game blew the competition out of the water. The premise is that you, a human, are trapped in a maze along with several other sentient creatures by an alien. This alien wishes to test your intelligence and you must solve the six mazes to beat the game. Starpath’s technical wizardry results in the maze scrolling smoothly and multiple objects being drawn on screen at once without stuttering. Escape from the Mindmaster is such a great game that I came this close to writing an article on it. I even recorded a video, which you can watch below. Please excuse my foolishness- I never play as well when I’m recording.

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Haunted House |Atari 2600|

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7a/Hauntedhouse_atari.jpgHere is a different example of getting the most out of a primitive machine. In the case of a horror game it’s not so much the control that has to be simplified, but the graphics. How do you scare a player when your console has access to a mere 128 colors and just as many bytes of RAM? Atari’s answer was to embrace the minimalism and create a spookier version of Adventure. There are three items in the game, of which the player may only carry one at a time. The player must escape the haunted house while carrying the urn.

The house is dark and can be illuminated for a short time by lighting a match. The player has an infinite number of matches but they only stay lit for a few seconds and only illuminate the immediate area. If a monster/ghoul enters the room, a howling wind blows out the candle. On higher difficulty levels, the walls are completely invisible except when a match is lit. I just love “Game Informer’s” review, where they wrote “It may not have the visual razzle-dazzle or chilling moments of the genre’s recent entries, but it did teach a generation of young gamers the word “urn”, filling in that treacherous chasm between “vase” and “carafe.””

Joust |Arcade|

How good are you at jousting on the back of an ostrich? What do you mean, that’s a crazy question? In the world of Joust, that’s the most normal question there is! Joust was extremely popular for its ludicrous fun and was the first platformer that many Americans ever played. In it, you joust with AI-controlled jousters on vultures and the rule is that if you are higher in elevation, you win; otherwise, you lose. This was meant to be a departure from other games at the time which were obsessed with shooting–none had such a novel concept. The Joust cabinet

contained AA batteries so that high scores and settings would be saved when the machine was unplugged. I hope that the engineer who thought of that received a raise.

There’s a lot more I would love to say about this game but there’s not enough room so I would encourage you to look it up on your own. Here’s the Wikipedia entry to get you started.

Moon Patrol |Arcade|

Moon Patrol is often, but incorrectly, cited as the first game to include parallax scrolling. That honor goes to the 1981 arcade game Jump Bug, which is most notable for being a mediocre clone of Donkey Kong. Moon Patrol was the first game to prominently feature parallax, though, as you drive a rover across the lunar surface and watch the landscape breeze past. The object of the game is to traverse the surface while avoiding rocks, pits, and other obstacles, while also shooting down enemy aliens.

The problem with the gameplay comes in the pattern memorization necessary to proceed. The first few levels are OK, but the difficulty quickly ramps up. Before long you will find yourself having to jump over a pit with enough precision to land on a tiny bit of ground before immediately jumping over a second pit, and making sure that you go far enough to clear the boulder on the other side. Not to worry though; if you get a game over you can just continue where you left off–for a quarter, of course. What I dislike most about Moon Patrol is what it represents. Games were starting to rely on luck or trial-and-error in order to suck quarters out of frustrated gamers (Dragon’s Lair, anyone?) in the 80’s equivalent of micro-transactions. Where was the outrage from hardcore gamers? An unskilled player could dominate the high score list provided he had enough money.

Oh, well. The game is decent, I suppose.

Mr. Do

There are some questions in life that are just crazy hard to answer. “Can a game be called a maze game if there’s no actual maze?” Universal seemed to think so when they made Mr. Do. Other questions are easier to answer, such as, “Are clowns terrifying?” That answer is obviously “No.”

Look how happy he is to see you! ^_^

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now that Pennywise has filled you with good cheer, let’s look at Mr. Do!

OK, so Mr. Do wasn’t originally a clown. In the original Japanese version he’s a snowman. Looking at the flyer above, you’ll see that he lacks any of the normal accoutrements of a clown, like a flamboyant wig, or a squeezable nose.

Or an unbridled joie de vivre.

But what does this have to do with the rest of the game? Well, it should be obvious. Mr. Do is a clown/snowman who burrows through tunnels underground to collect cherries and pushes golden apples off of ledges to crush his enemies. Doesn’t that make perfect sense? Well, maybe it would help to put this game in context. Mr. Do follows in the footsteps of Dig Dug, a game from the same year by Namco. Rather than being confined to narrow corridors composing a maze, Dig Dug can forge his own pathways through the dirt, which begs the question, “Does this even count as a maze?” It would if the enemies were trapped in the tunnels but alas, they can phase through the ground like cheating phantasms, laying waste to whatever strategy you had been carefully brewing up.

 

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The ghosts in Pac-Man can’t fly through walls, but

the corporeal enemies in Dig Dug can. Seems legit.

When Universal drew “inspiration” from this concept they kept the flying down to a minimum and made sure to have the enemy telegraph his move beforehand so you could adjust your strategy. There is also a second way to progress. You can choose to kill all the enemies (by crushing and/or baseball throwing) or collect all the cherries. They are in groups of eight pairs and collecting eight pairs in a row will grant bonus points (the game also produces musical tones with each subsequent cherry collected, making a scale). When enemies turn hollow and fly through the ground they will grab any cherries they come across. This makes your work easier because fewer cherries are left to be collected, but it also means fewer points to be had. Playing just right would make a diamond appear. What was really cool about Mr. Do is that collecting the diamond would grant you a free credit–not just a free life. As far as I know, Mr. Do is the first arcade game to do this, excluding certain pinball games. All of these options allow you to play in whatever way fits your style and allows for deep, satisfying gameplay.

 

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In 1983 Universal released a sequel called Mr. Do’s Castle which bore a striking resemblance to the 1980 game Space Panic. The third game, Mr. Do’s Wild Ride, was originally meant to be titled Go! Go! Coaster and didn’t even include Mr. Do at first. The fourth and final game, Do! Run Run, has Mr. Do running on the ground collecting dots. As he moves he leaves a line behind him. If you draw a shape, whatever dots are left inside will instantly be collected.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZBulGZmC0M

“Say, that’s not a half-bad game mechanic!” -Sega

Despite Do! Run Run being a pretty decent game, I shall forever feel betrayed for Universal missing a golden opportunity to advertise their game using the music of The Crystals.

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The licensing potential was staring them in the face!

 

This is just a theory, but hear me out. What if Mr. Do was devastated by the lack of success in his next three games and it turned him bitter? It would make sense that he would go underground throughout the 80s only to reemerge as a malevolent stunt driver in David Jaffe’s 1995 hit Twisted Metal.

Throwing baseballs is so blasé. Swords are much more thrilling.

But hey, that’s just a theory. A game theor–wait, wrong guy.

 

Oink! |Atari VCS|

Another interesting title from Activision, Oink! puts you in charge of the three little pigs whose houses are being blown upon by the wolf. The object of the game is to continuously build up the walls of your house as the wolf is destroying them. This is an arcade-style game, meaning there is no way to win; the only object is to hold out as long as possible. There are three game modes: one single-player and two two-player. The second game mode has the two players alternating, and in the third mode one player controls the pig and the other player controls the wolf.

Aside from this, I think the box art is just spiffy. Those poor little pigs. Those poor, little, delicious, tasty pigs.

Phaser Patrol |Atari 2600|

Phaser PatrolStarpath cooked up the first of a series of hits with Phaser Patrol. This was their first game, and came packaged with the Starpath Supercharger to allow for a game much bigger than 4 KB. Phaser Patrol is a 1st-person space shooter where you have to explore all the sectors on your map and eradicate any enemy ships therein. Damage taken by your ship might just lower your shield, or it could also damage the onboard systems, lowering your combat effectiveness.

Phaser Patrol is a little rough around the edges and after an hour or so, tedium sets in. Still, it was a brilliant proof-of-concept and I’m sure many later cockpit-perspective space shooters learned from it.

Pooyan |Arcade|

I first learned about this game when I was playing Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which has a mini-game in it derived from Pooyan‘s gameplay. I thought I would check it out and, man, I was not disappointed. You are a pig; wolves are coming by balloon to kidnap your family; you have to shoot them down. Each wolf has a balloon tied to his back and you have to pop it with a dart. Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I meant “balloon” as in “dirigible?” You think these wolves are piloting zeppelins? Think again.

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Q*Bert | Arcade

There are exceptions to everything, it seems. It’s possible to build a Chevy that’s better than a Ford (in theory), it’s possible to make a cartoon about ponies that adults can enjoy, and Q*Bert has proven it’s possible for an isometric viewpoint to not muck up your enjoyment of a game.

Woe unto the developer who wanted to make a 3D game but was limited by the hardware of the early 80s. I can understand why axonometry was used back then–it allows the illusion of a 3D space without requiring any more hardware than a standard 2D profile view– but it fails whenever it’s used just for that purpose. Like Zaxxon, for example. The isometric view didn’t add anything to the gameplay; it just made it more complicated and difficult

But something wonderful happened with Q*Bert: its isometric viewpoint was implemented as a component of the gameplay instead of being just for the sake of graphics. How novel!

 

Q*Bert was the brainchild of Jeff Lee, the original video artist at Gottleib, and Warren Davis, who later developed the video digitization system that was used in Mortal Kombat and other fighting games in the 90s. Jeff Lee conceptualized a game based on an M.C. Escher-inspired pyramid of cubes and envisioned an armless protagonist firing projectiles out of its nose at enemies–Davis scrapped the shooting mechanic for the sake of simplicity. He felt that complex games were frustrating and wanted to make a game that could be played with one hand like Frogger. Thus the challenge of the game changed from killing enemies to keeping the protagonist safe.To make the controls even easier, Davis had the engineers turn the joystick 45º so it would work with the isometric perspective (X-shaped instead of t-shaped). Most fast-paced isometric games have a standard t-shaped input and are inherently trickier to control.

As Davis was programming the game one night, the VP of engineering suggested that he have the squares change color after the protagonist landed on them. This idea was later used in Miner 2049er, another game whose objective is to step on every bit of the floor.

(Note that this gameplay mechanic is ultimately derived from Pac-Man where you also have to touch every part of the maze, but there you had dots disappearing instead of floor being colored.) To add to the Escher influence, there was a creature called “Wrong Way” that jumped on the sides of the cubes rather than the tops. Whenever it’s on-screen the effect is trippy. There are a few other neat graphical touches in the game, most notably QBert’s angry speech bubbles. QBert will occasionally shout “@!#?@”; this was originally included as a joke by Jeff Lee, but the others decided to go with it. @!#?@ was actually going to be the title, but as you can well imagine having an unpronounceable name is not conducive to word-of-mouth recommendations. A few marquees were manufactured with this name and those machines are considered collector’s items.

The code-name for this game was Cubes for the longest time. The staff at Gottlieb had a very difficult time coming up with a suitable name. Lee’s oh-so-witty Snots and Boogers was soon put to rest. Eventually someone decided to name the protagonist Hubert; this was combined with “cube” to make “Cubert,” and with a few slight modifications Q*Bert had his name.

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QBert was a phenomenal success. I think that one of the reasons is that it could not easily be copied. The basic formula of Space Invaders is pretty easy to build upon, but how do you make a spiritual successor to jumping on blocks? In 1985 Mark of the Unicorn made a strange little game called Hex, which can be thought of as QBert meets turn-based RPG (Role Playing Game). As far as I know it’s the only game based on QBert which isn’t a clone. The difficulty of following-up was apparent even to Gottlieb, who struggled to make successful sequels to QBert. Gottlieb assigned pinball designer John Trudeau to devise a Qbert pinball machine, called Qbert’s Quest. It was quite innovative, but it was a commercial flop. A very sad 884 machines dribbled out of the plant and proved that pinball was in such dire straits it couldn’t be saved even by QBert. It was all downhill from there. Columbia Pictures eventually sold off Gottlieb after its sequels failed to live up to the original. When the deal went through in 1984 Columbia retained the rights to QBert. Columbia Pictures was bought by Sony in 1989, but when Disney made “Wreck-It Ralph,” they credited the little guy’s appearance to “Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.”

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“Wreck-It-Ralph,” by the way, is a terrific movie. It’s filled to the brim with references like this, as well as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods and allusions.

Shark! Shark! |Intellivision|

Shark Shark cover.jpgHere’s a good example of a company learning that demographics often don’t matter. Shark! Shark! was meant to be a cute little game for children and Mattel didn’t expect it to sell very well–they incidentally produced only 5,600 units. They were surprised to find that its high quality and originality attracted adult customers as well; Mattel quickly had to scramble to produce a second batch of cartridges.

Shark! Shark! was a single-screen game with a very simple premise: swim into fish smaller than yourself to grow, and avoid bigger fish because they’ll eat you. You also have to avoid the shark that occasionally swims onto the screen, but if you bite it several times in the tail it’ll die. This isn’t a lasting solution, though. The shark will come back later with greater speed and ferocity. At the same time, your growth into a bigger fish will reduce your speed and agility. At 100,000 points even the greatest players lose their fish at an alarming rate to the super-fast shark. A more general issue with the game is that the shark appears at the edge of the screen with no warning, and you can often die by rotten luck. If not for that, I think it would be a classic. Shark! Shark! was designed by Don Daglow, whose first computer game was Baseball in 1971, and Ji-Wen Tsao, one of the first female game programmers.

 Sinistar |Arcade|

“BEWARE! I LIVE!” When you hear these words, you know that some serious stuff is about to go down. The titular Sinistar is one of the most interesting villains from any arcade game. The most interesting thing is that you won’t even see him until you mess up enough times! In Sinistar you fly a little space ship around and try to sabotage the efforts of the various builder drones that are mining crystals from asteroids and using them to build Sinistar. You need these same crystals to make sinibombs. There are many drones, however (as well as the warships that are chasing you), and inevitably Sinistar is built. Once he is completed, he relentlessly pursues you while shouting things such as “RUN, COWARD!” A talkative fellow he is; a cuddly one he is not. Your only hope of survival is to release your sinibombs (that sounds delicious!) and hope that they hit him. 13 bombs are required to destroy Sinistar. If you are successful, the drones immediately try to rebuild him. Cool fact: Sinistar was the first (and as far as I know only) game to feature a 49-direciton joystick. Yeah, that’s right. Did you think Black Widow was cool for having 8-way sticks? Think again!

Snake |Various years, various platforms|

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Blockade by Sega-Gremlin

The idea of a snake game floated around quite a bit in the 70s and into the 80s. The history is way too detailed to go into detail on this page, but you can read about it here. The earliest snake game was most likely Blockade by Sega, released in 1976. It is a two player game where the object is to outlast your opponent; one of you will eventually run into the walls, your tail, or your opponent’s tail.

Many variants of snake games were made afterwards, some being single-player and others being two-player. The famous lightcycle game from the movie “Tron” is a variant of Blockade, for example. One lightcycle will eventually be trapped and run into its own trail.

The snake game languished in the latter half of the ’80s and remained obscure until being included in Nokia phones beginning in 1998. This Nokia version closely resembles Snake Byte for the Apple //e. Thanks to this the game nowadays is very well-known.

Snake Byte | Apple //e

Although not the first game to feature snakes, Snake Byte did set the template off of which countless games would be based. Just as Pong and Space Invaders before it, Snake Byte was at the head of a list that would only grow longer and longer just like its myriad protagonists.

When you think about it, Snake Byte has a woeful premise. I mean, just consider the object of the game–the snake has to slither around to eat apples. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? But think of the consequences. The more the snake grows, the more likely he is to accidentally kill himself. This is why sometimes it pays not to think about the game you’re playing. The snake seems to enjoy himself, though.

Sirius Software really went all-out with Snake Byte. Rather than just having one simple game mechanic, it includes a bevy of options allowing you to customize it to your fancy. Whereas other games of the time just dumped you in the game and said “Deal with it,” (I’m looking at you, Sinistar!) Snake Byte allows the player to set the number of plums, the snake’s speed, and the number of walls in the room. It’s going to get harder the longer you play, but you can at least start farther back. I really appreciate that.

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The apples are good for you, but the plums kill you. Go figure.

One interesting thing about the control of Snake Byte is that it is character-relative. In most games, the control is camera-relative or room-relative, meaning that if you press left, the character will move to the left of the screen and so on. With Snake Byte, however, pressing left will make the snake turn to its left, not yours. This simplifies the control since you’ll only ever press left or right, but it takes some getting used to.

Snake Byte and others like it have spawned many clones, chief among them the game simply titled Snake, otherwise known as “that game on Nokia phones.” Snake does away with the flying plums and the obstacles, presenting a stripped-down level with only the snake and the apples. This version, thanks to its distribution on cell phones, has completely supplanted the original in our culture’s collective memory.

Imgur’s most-viewed image of 2013, and it’s no surprise why. This .gif is so mesmerizing I had trouble focusing on this article.

If Sirius Software, Inc. enjoyed such great success with Snake Byte and its many variants, they must be rolling in the dough, right? Sadly, no. Sirius Software’s meteoric rise to fame was matched only by its sudden bankruptcy in 1984. It seems that their publisher, a certain 20th Century Fox (No, not that one!), neglected to pay $18 Million in royalties, leading Sirius Software to instantly go flat broke. What a tragedy that Fox was unable to make good on its commitment, seeing as how 1984 was one of their most successful years yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilZ-B-R2N_U

If you can’t beat Indiana Jones, rip it off.

Well, aside from Fox maybe paying royalties out of a $70 Million profit margin for that year, I don’t see how this could have been avoided. Another year, another casualty of the volatile gaming market. It’s not all bad though! Sirius’ first co-founder Nasir Gebelli went on to work for Square where he earned a credited role as the programmer for Final Fantasy. Jerry Jewell, the other co-founder, currently runs a non-profit organization in California that teaches children about teamwork. Way to go, guys!

 

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back |Atari VCS|

Now here’s an example of a great licensed game. Empire Strikes Back was the first game by Parker Brothers, and the first Star Wars game. What makes it so brilliant is the nature of the adaptation. Rather than trying to make some sweeping epic out of the entire movie, they played to the strengths of the Atari VCS and adapted one scene to make an arcade-style game instead–one that closely resembles the seminal Williams game Defender.

In ESB you are in control of Luke’s fighter as he tries to repel a fleet of advancing AT-AT walkers. If they reach the base or you lose all your lives, it’s game over. There are different ways to play, some of which are riskier than others. The most excellent book Racing the Beam contains a section explaining some of the technical aspects. You should give it a read.

Sword of Fargoal |Commodore VIC-20|

Sword of Fargoal is a Roguelike created by Jeff McCord and published by Epyx originally for the Commodore PET, then later for the Commodore 64. The object of the game is to descend through a dungeon of about 15 levels, retrieve the titular sword, and return to ground level. Every level is procedurally generated and blacked-out; a level is revealed as you walk through it.

Sword of Fargoal is extremely difficult to finish, owing in part to the randomness of battles. Even if you “do everything right,” one bad battle can end the game. I really wanted to recommend this game, too, on the basis of its engrossing atmosphere, intriguing exploration-based gameplay, and easy-to-grasp concept. Ah well.

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Many years later a remake of the game was produced for the iPhone. I don’t have one, but my mom does so I used hers for the video capture.

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Taipan! |Apple //e|

https://i2.wp.com/homeoftheunderdogs.net/games/t/taipan/taipan-c.jpgIf you’ve played Sid Meier’s Pirates, you’re familiar with the idea of buying goods at a certain port for cheap (or pillaging them from other ships) and then selling for a tidy profit at a rich port. Well, Taipan! is built entirely around this concept. You control a trading vessel in the Far East during the 19th century. The game is inspired by the novel Tai-Pan by James Clavell. The game has no story to speak of; you just keep running goods between cities and (it is hoped) keep getting wealthier/stronger. The only endgame conditions are getting your ship sunk by enemies, or getting bored after a few hours and quitting. Taipan!‘s influence outlasted its replay value, however, and trading games for many years after owed some part of their gameplay to it.

Typo Attack |Atari 800|

Typo Attack - Box FrontIn my history of the 70s I remarked that Nolan Bushnell left Atari in part over disagreements as to the future of Atari; Ray Kassar wanted to move the company in the direction of home computers, while Bushnell wanted to remain console-focused. Well, Kassar eventually got his wish and Atari rolled out a series of 8-bit computers along with an advertising blitz. Now, what exactly is a home computer? We don’t use the term anymore, but it refers to a microcomputer that’s intended to be less powerful, less expensive, and less cumbersome than a standard “personal” computer. Now remember, back then you would be thrilled to have a computer with 64 KB of RAM for less than $2,000.

To market their new line of “home”computers, Atari briefly adopted Alan Alda as their spokesman. One of the advertisements he starred in was for Typo Attack, an educational game meant to teach finger placement. Take a look:

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Atari and other computer companies of the day went to great lengths to showcase their products’ versatility. It wasn’t just a game platform–it was an omni-purpose machine! Typo Attack represented one of the many cornerstones for Atari’s 8-bit home computers.

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I know it’s off-topic to show these ads, but I can’t pass up the opportunity. We’ll be moving on to 1983 soon, so this might be my only chance. Besides, these ads combine three of my loves: old commercials, outdated computers, and Hawkeye Pierce. So here’s another ad:

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Zektor |Arcade|

https://i2.wp.com/www.arcade-history.com/images/cabinetmini160/3241.jpgTempest excited gamers with its bright, colorful vectors. Well, Sega wanted in on that action and made their own colorful vector game, titled Zektor. As with most other games of the time, Zektor is a shooter. But what’s interesting about this one is that the gameplay comes in two stages. In the first stage, the gameplay is like a vertical-scrolling shooter, but you can fly freely around the screen a la Asteroids. You are flying toward a city to recapture it from an alien robot overlord. There are eight different robots, and they each challenge you to retake their city. You do just that. In the second stage of the game, you reach the city and face off against the boss. The gameplay here switches to that of Star Castle–the boss is in the middle of the screen surrounded by multiple shields. You have to penetrate all the shields and then hit the robot to destroy it. You then move on to the next city.

Zektor isn’t innovative, as it doesn’t really do anything new on its own. But it condenses and harmonizes existing gameplay concepts in a way that’s really cool.

Zzyzzyxx |Arcade|

Lastly, I wanted to include the title of this game. The game itself isn’t anything special, but Zzyzzyxx has a cool name, so I really wanted to type it here. What’s especially cool about Zzyzzyxx is that it’s coincidentally only two letters away from Zzzyzx, which is the name of a road in California. If you go south on the I-15 from Nevada, you’ll see a sign for Zzyzx Road. The creator of Zzyzzyxx said he came up with the name by mashing together a bunch of consonants. He liked the way it looked and sounded. I do too.

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