51 Shades of Geek

Phaser Patrol

Phaser PatrolThe Game: The war between the humans and the spacefaring enemy Dracons isn’t going well, and you’ve enlisted to join the fight. In the cockpit of your space fighter, you toggle between your flight computer (where you can find and set a course for Dracon attack groups on the map, or helpful starbases where you can replenish and repair your ship) and the direct view ahead when you engage in combat. The Dracons throw a lot of firepower at you, but your own torpedoes have a longer “reach” than their ammo. Your ship can take a pounding in a firefight, gradually eliminating your shields, your targeting ability, and even your weapons. The game is over when you can’t withdraw for repairs and are destroyed by the Dracons. (Arcadia, 1982)

See the videoThe Game: In 1982, an assemblage of former Atari programmers, along with a few hand-picked rookie programmers, started their own third-party video game venture. To be in that market at that time, however, one had to make games for the Atari 2600, and the Arcadia programmers’ game concepts outstripped that machine’s software. Not to be slowed down by that minor problem, Arcadia introduced a new piece of hardware along with its first game. The Supercharger more than doubled the 2600’s RAM, and had the beneficial side effect of allowing Arcadia to avoid the costly practice of having cartridge casings made; instead of cartridges, the Supercharger loaded its enhanced games from cassette tape, usually in under 30 seconds. Continue reading

Suicide Mission

Suicide MissionThe Game: On a somewhat fantastic voyage into the human body, you’re in a tiny ship (presumably with Martin Short along for the ride) on a mission to blast diseased cells out of the bloodstream. Naturally, it’s not as easy a task as it sounds; the cells See the videosplit into smaller cells when you zap them, and you have to clear even the tiniest remnants off the screen before advancing to the next treatment. (Arcadia, 1982)

Memories: As with several of the earliest cassette-based games for the Supercharger add-on, Suicide Mission clearly owes a debt to an existing game that had already been released on the 2600. However, the prognosis is a bit grim here; this is a rare case where the game’s designers should made very sure that their game was an improvement on what came before. As both games suffer from severe sprite flicker, Asteroids comes out as the obvious winner here. Continue reading

The Official Frogger

The Official FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top See the videoof the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Starpath, 1983)

Memories: Making crafty use of a loophole in Parker Bros.’ license for Frogger, which specified that Parkers had permission to market cartridge-based versions of the game, the plucky programmers at Starpath proceeded to make a far superior edition of Frogger for the 2600 and got it on the market by licensing the rights to do a cassette-based version. Continue reading

Rabbit Transit

Rabbit TransitThe Game: Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it? But this bunny needs some help to navigate a garden crawling with other critters to reach his ride to find his family (in this case, on the back of a See the videoturtle). The turtle takes the bunny to a series of platforms. The bunny needs to change the color of every platform – and avoid projectiles being dropped from above – to rescue his fellow bunnies. Once the platform level has been beaten and more bunnies have been led home, the garden level begins again with increased difficulty. (Starpath, 1983)

Memories: No one can deny that Starpath‘s games for the Supercharger add-on were often on a whole different level than the average third-party game (i.e. much of what wasn’t released by the clearly above-average Activision and Imagic). But it’s also hard to deny that Starpath, for some reason, chose to show those capabilities off with game concepts that were derivative. Continue reading

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