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Category: Game Systems

Tennis / Hockey

TennisThe Game: Activated by leaving a cartridge out of the slot, powering the system up and pressing one of the selector keys, Tennis and Hockey are built into the system. Timed games can be selected, and the traditional rules of each sport apply. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: An interesting indicator of how new the idea of interchangeable cartridges were, Channel F featured two built-in games as well. If a Channel F owner bought the machine but never bothered with any of the game cartridges, he could still enjoy the console. It’s really no surprise, then, that Fairchild fell back on some standard-issue video game ideas – nothing obscure for Channel F’s built-in games. (more…)

Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Quadradoodle

Shooting GalleryThe Game: The first Channel F “Videocart” packs three games into one bright yellow package. Shooting Gallery is a straightforward target practice game in which players try to draw a bead on a moving target. Tic-Tac-Toe is the timeless game of strategy in small, enclosed spaces, and Quadradoodle is a simple paint program, long, long before its time. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: This is a game that changed everything. For the first time, owners of a home video game console could go into a store, buy something that was less pricey than the console itself, plug it into that console, and play new and different games. Rudimentary games by today’s standards, sure, but in every sense imaginable, Videocart #1 was a game changer. (more…)

Baseball

BaseballThe Game: It’s a day at the digital ballpark for two players; the game is very simple – players control the timing of pitches and batting, which will determine how the game unfolds. The highest score at the end of nine innings wins. See the video(RCA, 1977)

Memories: I’m all for a simple game of video baseball. When it got to the point that baseball video games were keeping track of batting averages and other stats, that knocked the genre out of the park for me – I was more than happy to stick to baseball on the Odyssey2 and the Game Boy (the two best video versions of the sport for my money). However, it is possible – even for someone with simple tastes like mine – to go too far in the opposite direction: too basic. RCA’s Baseball for the Studio II goes over that line. (more…)

Combat

CombatThe Game: Two players each control a fearsome armored fighting vehicle on a field of battle littered with obstacles (or not, depending upon the agreed-upon game variation). The two tanks pursue each other around the screen, trying to Buy this gameline up the perfect shot without also presenting a perfect target if they miss. In accordance with the laws of ballistics and mass in the universe of Saturday morning cartoons, a tank hit by enemy fire is bounced across the screen – sometimes right off the egde of the screen and into a corresponding position on the opposite side of the field – spinning at a very silly velocity, and battle begins anew. Other variations include biplane and jet fighter dogfights. (Atari, 1977)

Memories: Chances are, anyone who’s my age who is asked to remember their first video game console will tell you it was the Atari VCS – and their first game? Naturally, the one that came with the VCS: Combat, based on the 1974 arcade hit Tank! by Kee Games.

Kee Games? (more…)

Surround

SurroundBuy this gameThe Game: You and your opponent face off in an enclosed arena, controlling “leader blocks” which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with your opponent’s block, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other player, or the computer-controlled block within your solid wake (or their own). (Atari, 1977)

Memories: Any Tron fan worth his weight in bits will know what part of that 1982 game (and movie) was inspired by Atari‘s Surround and other games of its ilk which had been in the arcade for some time. But if anything, the Light Cycle scenes and game stages that came down the pike later simplified the game to its core, for Surround actually has more twists – literally. (more…)

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe

3-D Tic-Tac-ToeBuy this gameThe Game: If you’re not quite up to the challenge of playing 3-D chess with Mr. Spock, you can always try playing 3-D tic-tac-toe against the Atari 2600. Using your joystick, you position your pieces in an ongoing battle with the computer. But be careful – the machine is very wily about placing its pieces, and can often force you to head it off at one pass, only to leave yourself wide open for a complete vertical row. This game is much more challenging than it looks, despite the age of the technology involved. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Clever little game, this, and among the earliest batch of Atari cartridges released. And considering that its contemporaries in that batch included such titles as Breakout, Space War and Combat, 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe is probably the most graphically refined of the early VCS games. (more…)

Pinball

Odyssey2 Pinball cartridge signed by Ralph BaerThe Game: A virtual pinball machine is presented, complete with flippers, bumpers, and the ability to physically “bump” the table to influence the motion of the ball. Per standard pinball rules, the See the videoobject of the game is to keep the ball in play as long as possible. (Ralph Baer, 1978 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Ralph Baer’s Pinball, released to the public on cartridge at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, was never intended to be a commercially released title. Instead, it’s a tech demo of sorts, a “rough sketch” example of what kind of games Magnavox’s still-in-development Odyssey2 system would be capable of. There are no special graphics to represent the various elements of the game; the bumpers are simply the letter O, and the flippers are forward and backward slashes. (more…)

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!The Game: War is pixellated, blocky hell on the Odyssey2! In Armored Encounter, two combatants in tanks circumnavigate a maze peppered with land mines, searching for the optimum spot from which to blow each other to kingdom come. In Sub Chase, a bomber plane and a submarine, both maneuverable in their own way, try to take each other out without blasting any non-combatant boats routinely running between them (darn that civilian shipping!). In both games, the timer is counting down for both sides to blow each other straight to hell. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Armored Encounter! is a somewhat standard-issue variation on Atari’s Tank coin-op (which that company later used to launch the Atari VCS under the name of Combat), only with a vastly simpified map. (more…)

Basketball

BasketballSee the videoThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: If you need a “before” and “after” picture to see how far video basketball has come, Atari’s Basketball – one of the earliest games published for the VCS – is an effective “before” snapshot. Atari had previously included a Pong-style basketball game as one of the selections on its dedicated Video Pinball console, and compared to that, Basketball is a quantum leap forward: the players are now represented by stick figures, not paddles, and there’s a very early attempt at an isometric 3-D representation of the court, possibly one of the very earliest 3-D perspectives attempted in home video games. (more…)

Baseball!

Baseball!The Game: In Baseball!, you are, quite simply, one of two teams playing the great American game. If you’re up at bat, your joystick and button control the man at the plate and any players on base. If you’re pitching, your button and joystick control how wild or straight your pitches are, and you also control the outfielders – you can catch a ball on the fly, or pick it up and try to catch the other player away from his bases. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Why exactly do I like the Odyssey2 baseball game? What the hell do I care for this stripped-down, ultra-simple, painfully two-dimensional version of baseball? Precisely because it is simple. Modern computer sports games are just too damned complex. Baseball! didn’t force you to pick existing players based on their RBI or average score per game, nor did it make you struggle to make sense of a vaguely three-dimensional display trying to ape ESPN game coverage. (more…)

Bowling! / Basketball!

Bowling! / Basketball!The Game: Hit the hardwood in one of two sports. Roll your big shiny one down the lanes and try to knock down all the pins in Bowling!, or go for a basket in Basketball! Not possible in Odyssey2 Basketball!: fouls, three-point shots, free throws, most steals… (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, neither the bowling nor basketball games for the Atari VCS which competed for shelf space with this two-in-one Odyssey2 title were significantly better, but they would’ve been hard pressed to turn out significantly worse. (more…)

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! (more…)

Casino Slot Machine!

Casino Slot Machine!The Game: You pays your money, you takes your chances. Pull the lever (or, in this case, the joystick) and try to get the fruit to line up. If you succeed, you’re in good shape; if you don’t, well, you’re out some more change. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: While I actually rather enjoyed the Odyssey2 Las Vegas Blackjack! cartridge, I have a hard time gleaning even the slightest measure of enjoyment from Casino Slot Machine!. (more…)

Computer Golf!

Computer Golf!The Game: As man eked out his existence in the dark ages with only his animal cunning and the brutal power of the club, so do you in this golf See the videosimulation, in which you putter around nine different courses in an attempt to make a hole in one – or simply to stay under par. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Though Baseball! was a better-playing game, Computer Golf! must be, quite simply, the most memorable Odyssey2 sports game there was. (more…)

Dodge It

Dodge ItThe Game: Trapped in a square or rectangular arena, the player is represented by a mobile square. Another projectile punches its way into the arena and begins ricocheting around; points accumulate rapidly the longer the player’s See the videosquare avoids contact with the projectile, but starting at 200 points, an additional projectile is added every 100 points, each on its own chaotic, bouncing path. The game ends when the player inevitably collides with one of these projectiles. (Fairchild, 1978)

Memories: Nearly every system, no matter how obscure, has at least one unique game that’s worth seeking out both hardware and software, just to try it out and see how much fun it is. Some systems, like the Atari VCS and the Intellivision, have something like half a dozen “killer apps”. When I played Dodge It on the Fairchild Channel F, it was one of those occasions where I looked up at the clock, and realized two things: it was an hour later, and I was still playing Dodge It. It’s a unique concept that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, maddeningly simple and insanely addictive. Dodge It made it worth my while to have a Channel F hooked up in my game room. (more…)

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. (more…)

Home Run

Home RunBuy this gameThe Game: From the great American pastime to the great Atari pastime, the sport of baseball is boiled down to its bare essence in this early game for the Atari VCS. One or two players can play. In a one-player game, players start as the pitcher/outfielders (selecting different game variations will provide a different number of outfielders; the default is a single pitcher/outfielder), while the second player starts as the batter in two-player games. The rules are simple: three strikes mean you’re out, three outs mean it’s time to change sides, the player who gets more little digital dudes across home plate wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: In the context of RCA‘s Studio II Baseball cartridge, Home Run is actually quite the improvement. Rather than abstract rectangles and squares, Home Run‘s baseball players actually look, well, humanoid. But much like its predecessor, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Home Run wasn’t that much of a home run. (more…)

Las Vegas Blackjack!

Las Vegas Blackjack!The Game: Place your bets, ditch some cards, or play with the ones you’ve got. The computer offers the usual enticements – double down and insurance – but the odds are firmly in favor of the house. There’s no limit on how big your bet is, so you’re even free to bet an ante that’ll have you screaming “uncle!” if you lose. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: I’m not a big fan of card games. In fact, when I got hold of this rather common cartridge recently, the lovely Mrs. PDF actually had to teach me how to play blackjack. I was hopeless. But it’s grown on me. I’ve now had the opportunity to play both this Odyssey 2 version and a Game Boy Color edition which is part of a card game cartridge called Las Vegas Cool Hand. And I have to say I like the Odyssey version better. (more…)

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