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Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely See the videoindestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)

Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time. Continue reading

Crazy Climber

Crazy ClimberBuy this gameThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of the Nichubutsu building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings and a large gorilla (perhaps on loan from the Nintendo building) can cause you to plunge to your See the videodeath several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Taito [under license from Nichibutstu], 1980)

Memories: A bit of a cult favorite that never achieved a major following, Crazy Climber was a staple of many arcades and game rooms in the early 80s. The two-joystick control scheme took a little bit of practice, but once players got used to it, it was a major and unique part of the game’s appeal. Continue reading

King & Balloon

King & BalloonBuy this gameThe Game: Manning a fairly agile cannon located on a platform at a castle, your task is simple: protect the King! However, there’s a flotilla of even more agile balloons above you who are there to kidnap his royal highness. As the King is hoisted away by his assailants, he yells “Help!” If you shoot down the offending balloon, the King See the videoshouts “Thank you!” as he floats back to the safety of the castle via an umbrella. The balloons can ram your cannon kamikaze-style and flatten it for a few seconds, but curiously, you have an unlimited supply of cannons. However, if the balloon marauders get three Kings off the screen, your game ends. (Namco, 1980)

Memories: One of the most bizarre and obscure entries in the resumè of Namco (also responsible for classics like Galaga, Xevious, Dig Dug and a little thing we call Pac-Man), King & Balloon comes across as nothing so much as a bizarre attempt to repurpose Galaxian into a cutesy game. The one-shot-on-screen-at-a-time, the attack patterns of the balloons and some of the sound effects hammer the similarities home. Continue reading

Wizard Of Wor

Wizard Of WorThe Game: This should sound pretty famililar to anyone who’s ever played Doom. You (and, if you can find a trigger-happy friend, one other player) suit up as “Worriors” and wander around a twisty maze inhabited by nasty creatures (which can turn invisible and sneak up on you).

You must kill them all.

Glad we got these complicated instructions taken care of. (Midway, 1980)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This maze game, which hit arcades in 1980, was a true milestone. For one thing, it kept Midway on the map as an arcade game manufacturer (its only previous major successes having been Space Invaders, licensed from Taito, and Galaxian, licensed from Namco) with something other than imported Japanese titles in its repertoire. Continue reading

Astro Blaster

Astro BlasterThe Game: Another day, another alien invasion. But this time it won’t be so easy to fight the aliens off: your ship has a limited supply of power, and See the videoyour guns can overheat if you force them to spend too much time blazing away. You have to be judicious with your firepower, dodge incoming fire, and hold out long enough to dock with your own mothership and refuel between waves. (Gremlin/Sega, 1981)

Memories: While Space Invaders “inspired” a glut of knockoffs since 1978, several games tried to improve upon the slide-and-shoot formula in later years: Namco‘s Galaxian and Nintendo‘s Radar Scope introduced dive-bombing attacks, Moon Cresta by Nichibutsu replaced the standard “three lives” system with a three-stage rocket, and Gremlin/Sega‘s Astro Blaster brought something else to the table to up the stakes: the game was based on the premise that any spaceship would have limited fuel and ammo. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: As an unnamed but cartoonishly cute little hero, you are powerless to watch as your girlfriend Cheri is abducted by a boatload of pirates. Only then are you inspired to act, chasing after the heavily armed pirate ship in your defenseless balloon. You dodge cannonballs as you try to reach the pirate ship’s landing pad (what is it, an aircraft carrier?!). Then you have to battle those nasty pirates on the deck of their ship while still dodging that pesky cannon, until you do away with them all and get to Cheri. A bird then scoops her up, leaving you to take a treacherous balloon trip, climb a tree teeming with dangerous critters, avoid tigers in the jungle, and take on an entire tribe of natives (who seem to be in cahoots with the pirates, who now have helicopters and artillery!) to rescue Cheri. Then, of course, she goes and gets herself kidnapped again. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Why do I like this game? Hmmmmm…I don’t know. I only ever saw one Fantasy machine, at the game room at Gaston’s fishing resort on the White River in Arkansas. I think one of the game’s best qualities was the “continue” feature, which allowed you to pop another quarter into the machine and pick up where your previous game left off within 30 seconds. Continue reading

Gorf

GorfThe Game: The evil Gorfian Empire is attacking, and for only a quarter, you can enlist and defend Earth against the vicious (yet strangely cute) little critter with a robotic voice. In the first stage, Astro Battle, you have a defesive shield which is weakened with each shot the aliens fire at you – and every shot you fire back at them. (Truth be told, it’s a very thinly disguised take on the Space Invaders formula.) Then, in the Laser Attack level, the aliens break out heavier, nastier artillery that you have to dodge…if you can. Stage 3 sees a guest star from an earlier Midway game in the Galaxians stage, which is a sort of scaled-down version of the Galaxian game itself. Stage 4 is the hardest, with the Gorfian menace repeatedly spiraling out of a Space Warp, defying you to get so much as a single good shot fired off at it. Finally, if you survive the fourth stage, the Flagship level awaits. The flagship can fire any number of projectiles in your direction through your shield, and you have to not only dodge incoming fire, but try to get your own shot to hit just the right place on the flagship to destroy it. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: Gorf was a minor hit in its time, though this latest attempt to turn the Galaxian format into a franchise fell through the cracks. It didn’t help that the first stage seen in the attract mode was a Space Invaders clone. Continue reading

Bagman

BagmanThe Game: You’re a thief trying to make away with all the loot buried in a complex maze of interconnected mines and shafts, and you’d get away with it if it weren’t for some pesky cops who are hot on your trail. You can drop bags of money See the videoon them from a level above, or temporarily brain them with a pick, and they’ll occasionally also bumble into open mine shafts of their own accord. In any of these events, they vanish for a little while to recover before reappearing. But any of these things will do you in too! (Stern/Seeburg [under license from Valadon Automation], 1982)

Memories: Bagman was a very addictive and fun variation on the ladder-climing format that had become familiar in the space of just one year. Despite putting the player in the role of a crook, the worst behavior this game could possibly encourage would be slapstick, Keystone Kops-type violence (wouldn’t it be great if there were a bunch of comically clumsy cops, and wouldn’t it be great if they brought beer – really good beer?). It’s a very cute and playable game. Continue reading

Frenzy

FrenzyThe Game: You’re back in the maze, but this time, the stakes are increased, the danger is increased, and your strategic options are only slightly increased. Touching the walls, the robots, the robots’ laser blasts, or even your own ricocheted lasers are deadly. And of course, the inevitable appearance by Evil Otto is also See the videodeadly. However, you can temporarily repel the smiley little bugger by blasting him until his grin turns into the frown – but he will reappear mere seconds later, moving much faster every time he must retreat and reappear – so you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you enter a generator room, you can halt all the robots in their tracks by penetrating the walls surrounding the generator and blasting it. “Beaded” walls can be eaten away, bit by bit, by laser fire from anyone who shoots it, while solid walls will ricochet lasers around until they hit something – which could mean a death trap for you. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: I can’t even begin to estimate how many orders of magnitude harder Frenzy is than its inspiration, Stern’s mega-hit Berzerk. There are many times when you have approximately a second – before the characters on the screen begin moving – to assess your strategic situation, which usually isn’t too promising, often placing you in a triangulation of crossfire from three or four different robots that you haven’t even begun to figure out how to reach. Continue reading

Jungle King / Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You are the king of the jungle! Swinging from vine to vine! Swimming through crocodile-infested waters! Jumping and ducking huge rolling boulders! And vanquishing spear-weilding natives to rescue the damsel! (Taito, 1982)

Buy this gameMemories: Not that Jungle King was an incredibly simple game – the above description is supposed to be a little bit humorous, if oversimplified – but Jungle King‘s most infamous footnote in video game history is the lawsuit that it drew. The original Jungle King game opened with the sound of a sampled “Tarzan yell” – and the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs was not amused. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated See the videoBuy this gameone-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Gottlieb/Mylstar, 1982)

Memories: So many arcade games looked like hits and smelled like hits before they actually got an arcade road test, and this archive is itself littered with screenshots of wanna-be hits where every name, graphic and sound were trademarked. Because someone was sure that, for example, Winky from Venture would be a runaway hit. Q*Bert is a case where that optimism – and the marketing muscle behind it – was perfectly justified. With a game concept by Warren Davis, memorable characters from Gottlieb staff artist Jeff Lee and wacky jumbled-synthesized-speech effects by David Thiel, Q*Bert was one of those games that went into orbit instantly. It was almost universally loved and talked-about, and you could count on quite a line at the Q*Bert machine at your local arcade. And this is a rare case where I’ll admit, even in jaded hindsight, that all the praise was so worth it. Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of See the videofive rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Gottlieb, 1982)

Memories: A decidedly weird but incredibly addictive game. You may find yourself spending ages on it before you know it, and getting better and better at the game. This is a game which would probably be a hit in a graphically updated edition – providing the game play was left as is. Then again, adding detailed graphics would probably rob Reactor of a lot of its mystique. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
See the video
Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Crossbow

CrossbowThe Game: Your friends (wait a minute, I’ve never seen these people before in my life!) are venturing through treacherous deserts, unfriendly See the videovillages, and a variety of other inhospitable settings. Armed with a crossbow – controlled with a fancy light gun mounted on the arcade cabinet – your job is to pick off any threats, be they nasty critters, falling projectiles, snipers, or what have you, and allow your friends to pass safely. (Exidy, 1983)

Memories: Y’know, I had to play Crossbow on MAME to remember what the heck the game was about…but once I did, I remembered that it was a very influential game on me at the time it was released. The novel concept of picking which game screen you’d explore next by shooting a representative icon on a menu-style screen was very cool, as was the watered-down, vaguely-D&D-ish atmosphere of the whole thing. Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackBuy this gameThe Game: You are Rebel snowspeeder pilot Luke Skywalker, flying low over the surface of Hoth, prowling for Probots and waging war on AT-ATs and AT-STs. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The description sounds rather glib, but there’s a simple reason for it – this game, based on the 1980 sequel to Star Wars, is – in case you hadn’t guessed it from the screen shots – merely a very thinly-disguised makeover of Atari’s original Star Wars arcade game. Ripped straight out of the second level of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back replaces the towers and bunkers with probe droids and Imperial Walkers, replaces the X-Wing gunsights of the earlier game with two Snowspeeder blasters, and voilà, it’s a new game – almost. Continue reading

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