The Game: A lone space pilot is faced with the impossible task of fending off an entire alien invasion force single-handedly. Colliding with either the aliens or their decidedly unfriendly fire costs the player a ship. Clearing the screen of aliens only reveals a further wave of extraterrestrial killing machines. (Tigervision, 1982)
Memories: Tiger Electronics‘ entry into the increasingly crowded Atari VCS arena had a bit of an insurance policy: Tiger had made a deal with Sierra (then known as On-Line Systems) to port some of the company’s home computer hits to the console market. Threshold had a unique place in Sierra history: its programmer, Warren Schwader, was the company’s first employee from “outside the family” (all of the company’s previous products had been programmed by its founders, the husband-and-wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams).
Sadly, Threshold – which originated on the Apple II as a “near-beer” port of the arcade cult hit Astro Blaster – loses and gains a lot in the translation to the relatively underpowered Atari console. It gains a more colorful look by miles, with colorful borders denoting the edges of the playfield. But it also loses a great deal of complexity and resource maangement strategy: the original computer version of Threshold forced the player to keep an eye on fuel and weapon temperature (running the guns too hot would shut them down, leaving the player’s ship helpless to do anything but evade incoming fire).
The odds are also tilted ridiculously in favor of the house. The Atari edition allows the player to choose between the aliens firing shots that travel straight down the screen vertically, or “smart missiles” that track the player’s movements. Taking out an enemy at close range can also result in a true video game rarity: the ensuing shower of debris can take out the player’s ship anyway. Threshold for the VCS ends up being pretty to look at, but it’s difficult to get very far into the game.