1983 may have been the year of the second video game crash, but as we saw from the Appreciation articles, there was still quite a bit of innovation left in the industry. 1983 was, after all, the year of the Challenger space shuttle, Microsoft Word, and phones with touchscreens. Let’s take a look at the titles that brought a lot to the table, but fell just short of earning their own appreciation article.
Arabian was an arcade action/adventure platformer with quite a bit of variety to it. The first stage takes place on a ship and requires a lot of jumping, the second stage happens in a cave with low crawlspaces and vines, the third contains a flock of automated flying carpets, and the fourth tries to combine the previous levels’ challenges with ladders, stairs, flying carpets, etc. The object of the game is to collect all the letters strewn throughout the level to spell the word “Arabian” and advance to the fourth stage where you must climb to the top of the tower and rescue the princess. Or, I should say “hypothetically,” since the controls leave a little to be desired. I couldn’t get past the third stage before my patience was exhausted. Still, it’s a decent enough game and was very innovative for 1983.
The weirdest thing about the game, I’d say is its music. For some reason, the title music is Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo,” the intro music to each level is from Beethoven’s 6th, and the levels themselves have different classical tunes. I’ll never know why they picked these European pieces instead of something Arabian or Arabesque. I mean, heck, they could have used one of Chopin’s “Arabesque” pieces and it would have been a better choice. I wouldn’t really bring this up except that the jingle that plays when you get an item sounds middle-eastern–why couldn’t they do that for all the music? Oh, well. Sunsoft is a Japanese developer, so maybe the music just had to sound “foreign.” They sure succeeded, but at what cost? If you don’t understand, then just imagine playing Prince of Persia while listening to Abba. Actually, don’t.
Frostbite |Atari 2600|
Spurred on by the success of 1982’s Pitfall, Activision was in high gear by 1983. This band of super-talented individuals cranked out hit after hit for the 2600. Frostbite was certainly no exception for Activision, which of course meant it was exceptional for the rest of the industry. In Frostbite, you have to jump on ice floes to collect snow for building an igloo. You have to avoid dangers such as falling into the water and getting attacked by birds. The game has good, fast-paced action.
It was developed by Steve Cartwright who previously created Barnstorming. Fortunately Frostbite actually has a point to it and is fun to play.
Manic Miner |ZX Spectrum|
And now we start to see jolly old England begin to pick up steam. As the console market was failing, the computer market (both in the US and elsewhere) was coming into its own. Of course, most hits on the home computer back in ’83 were homebrew games, coming out of someone’s garage. Here’s exhibit A. Matthew Smith was one such visionary, who drew the pixel art and wrote the code himself at the age of 17.
The basic premise of the game is that you’re in an underground cavern and you have to work your way up to the surface–this requires making it through 20 hostile chambers. Aiding you are your ability to jump and run, and nothing else save your wits. Aye, your only chance at survival is the sharpness of your intellect and the quickness of your limbs. Why yes, I am really bad at it! Why do you ask?
Manic Miner may have been a great game, but it was not a walk in the park, let me tell you. It was tough-as-nails. Manic Miner (and its incredibly popular sequel Jet Set Willy) are the games that retro platformers such as VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy are trying to emulate. Pixel-perfect jumps and perfect timing are essential in order to have any hope of winning. Even a slight mistake can end the game. Consequently, players were quite happy to discover a healthy cache of cheat codes such as level selects. Even today, many British gamers still have their favorite codes from the game committed to memory. I, however, did not use any codes for the below video, instead being quite content to let my failure speak for itself.
Mrs. Mopp |ZX Spectrum|
And here we have another hit from the UK. Mrs. Mopp was not nearly as popular as Manic Miner, but I would argue that it can be just as exciting. The developer Tina Billett may have been pulling from her own experiences when making this game. The protagonist is an overworked housewife who scurries about the house, tidying up after her family (blimey, I’m writing like a Brit now). You must guide Mrs. Mopp over to one of five tools and use it to pick up the corresponding items–mugs, glasses, bloomers, shirts, and dust piles. The items appear on the floor one at a time and Mrs. Mopp has to run over and collect them. The order that the items appear in is always predictable, but their locations are random. This can be a problem because Mrs. Mopp cannot walk through items and you may find yourself boxed in. This keeps the game from being a true classic, but it’s still worth a play session at least once.
Murder on the Zinderneuf |Multiplatform (home computer)|
I won’t say too much about this game, but it’s basically a murder mystery that takes place aboard the fictional dirigible Zinderneuf. You play as the detective who must solve the murder of a high-profile guest before the ship finishes crossing the Atlantic and lands. The game was programmed well, with little details really giving life to it. The ambient noise, for example, get louder the closer you move to the ship’s engines. The most important detail, however, lies in the game’s randomness. The killer is randomly selected by the computer at the start of each game, making for some long-lasting replayability.
Party Mix |Atari 2600|
This, I believe, is the first of its kind. It’s a compilation of minigames designed to be played by multiple players at once. It contains five games and was the first video game to include split-screen multiplayer. Party Mix was developed by Starpath for use with the Starpath Supercharger. This is the same company that created such innovative titles as Escape from the Mindmaster and Phaser Patrol. Some of these minigames unfortunately don’t have great controls, and I feel that Starpath were being too ambitious. I think their talents would have better been put to use making a full-fledged game than to try to make five smaller ones. Still, Party Mix is notable for what it tried to do. It is the great-grandaddy of all party games like Mario Party.
Pinball Construction Set |Multiplatform (home computer)|
OK, now this is a really cool idea right here. Pinball Construction Set was the first of its kind. It allowed you to design and construct your own virtual pinball machine and then actually play in it. It was created by Bill Budge, who had previously developed the Apple ][ hit Raster Blaster. Raster Blaster was a technological marvel because of the way in which it circumvented the Apple ][‘s severe technical limitations. When Trip Hawkins founded EA Games, he asked Budge to join the team. Budge agreed and started work on Pinball Construction Set. PCS was an instant hit when it came out; it was the strongest title in EA’s launch lineup, actually.
If you’re thinking that the box art looks like an album cover, you’re not far off. Hawkins wanted to give off the impression that EA’s developers were rock stars producing stylish works of art. Hence you can see Bill Budge’s name on the top of the cover in cursive, and the box art screams “1980s rock.” Man, EA was such a great game company back then.
Well anyway, that’s it for 1983. You can see that the console hits are relatively few this year in comparison to the home computer. For 1984 as well this will be the case. As the console market crashed in 1983, the home computer market really took off. Curiously, all of my appreciation articles for 1984 will be console games, but I’m sure a major reason for that is the computer market’s struggle to come into its own.