BallblazerThe Game: Pong just got a lot more difficult. The table-tennis-inspired sport is now played at blow-your-hair-back speeds on a 3-D field, with vehicles called rotofoils serving as the paddles. Up to four players can compete, or you can humiliate yourself by trying to fight computer-controlled opponents. (Atari/Lucasfilm Games, 1984)

Memories: The announcement was simple, and ominous, and got a lot of press. “Lucasfilm is entering the video game industry.” It made big waves, and why wouldn’t it? The thought of someone with the tremendous creative resources of George Lucas getting in on the action was enough to excite many gamers – particularly those who, around 1984, were deluged in the kind of mediocre titles which brought the video game business to its knees.

BallblazerAtari quickly snatched up the rights to the first two Lucasfilm Games titles, Ballblazer and Rescue On Fractalus, and made the games available for just about every computer and game platform they manufactured except the 2600. The media blitz was considerable for a post-industry-crash video game.

So…was it any good? Well, yeah, actually. If there’s a problem with Ballblazer, it’s the breakneck speed of the thing. This is a game best learned with two human players, not against the computer. Anyone trying to learn to play Ballblazer against a computerized opponent is likely to become discouraged very quickly; two players can take their time with it.

BallblazerThe docs don’t help matters too much – the instructions are woven into a storyline illustrated with all sorts of specs and diagrams of the game’s rotofoil vehicles, as well as shots of the kind of critters who might be inhabiting them (as only the Lucasfilm designers could dream up; I need to go back and see if any of them reappeared as podracer pilots, in 4 quartersfact). If you want to glean the most information out of the docs, you have to have the patience to read through all of the story, the jokes, and pick out what parts of the text are actually relevant to playing the game. This can be alternately fascinating and frustrating.