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Space Chaser

Space ChaserBuy this gameThe Game: It’s got dots and a maze, but this is no Pac-Man. You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with an enemy homing missile, and the maze is littered with rows of dots. You must maneuver your ship over these dots to collect them, while avoiding any collision with the missile. If the missile locks on to you from the other end of a long corridor, it will speed up drastically and hit you (unless you can round a corner first). You have no defense against the missile – just avoid it. If you survive long enough to clear the maze of dots, you get to try again – only this time with an additional missile (later screens add even more enemies for you to avoid). You can give your ship a boost by activating your engines, but such speed changes are both short-lived and very costly to your already-dwindling fuel supply. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: It seems like around 1980, everyone had a variation on a similar idea. Somewhat resembling Targ and Spectar in the basic tenet of its ships-chasing-each-other-in-a-maze premise, Space Chaser is perhaps the most challenging of its genre for giving the player no option except to flee. Continue reading

Space Panic

Space PanicThe Game: An astronaut is trapped in an enclosed, vertical space with aliens who have a taste for human flesh. With his oxygen supply running out, he must dig holes in the floors of the multi-level structure and lure the aliens into those holes, which gives him mere seconds to dispose of the trapped aliens by filling the holes in. Clearing a level of aliens replenishes the oxygen tank and deposits the player on a new screen full of aliens, some of whom require extra effort – namely, the carefully-planned digging of an entire vertical shaft to fall through – to kill. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: A fiendishly hard and oft-copied game (particularly in the home computer arena, where it inspired such games as Apple Panic and Lode Runner), Space Panic may well be the first game of its kind: a game in which the player controls someone climbing up and down vertical levels on the screen. Continue reading

Targ

Targ - photo courtesy Tim SniderThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (Exidy, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those games that’s just emblematic of what was great about the early 80s heyday of the arcade – the graphics did what was required without a lot of embellishment, and the emphasis was on the breakneck speed of the thing. And Targ moved fast. Really fast. 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

“Popeye” Pac-Man

Popeye Pac-ManThe Game: As a yellow sailor man consisting of a head and nothing else (jaundice was really bad in those days), you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (unknown bootleg manufacturer, 1980)

Memories: When Pac-Man took off into the stratosphere, there were two ways that everyone who happened to not be licensed to distribute Pac-Man coped: they made games that played, if not looked, very similar (Lock ‘n’ Chase, Thief, Mouse Trap), or they just flat out copied Pac-Man, making ridiculously insignificant cosmetic changes (Hangly Man, Piranha, and this game). The bootleggers of the latter category, in skipping that pesky development and R&D process involved in creating something original, cashed in by getting their games on the street first. Continue reading

Adventure

AdventureBuy this gameThe Game: As a bold adventurer trespassing a mighty castle in search of treasure, you face a twisty maze of chambers, dead ends aplenty, and colorful, hungry, and suspiciously duck-shaped dragons. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: The first game of its kind to hit the Atari VCS, Adventure scores a first in video game history – and not just because of its huge, sprawling maze.

Programmer Warren Robinett was a little disgruntled during his stint at Atari. He watched as his fellow programmers jumped ship, formed companies like Imagic and Activision, and struck it rich as the third-party software industry took off. Continue reading

Alien Invaders – Plus!

Alien Invaders - Plus! The Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields and a quick trigger finger. If your cannon is See the videodestroyed, its pilot must run for cover; each of the three shields contains an extra cannon. When all three shields are gone, the alien commander – a kind of spaceborne crab – will descend to nearly ground level and hunt the helpless pilot down. Ten rounds of this decide the outcome of the war. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Alien Invaders – Plus! was the first Odyssey 2 game I got hooked on, and my mother just thought it was riotously funny, especially the bit where the giant space squid floats down from the top of the screen to chase your unprotected gunner around when all of your defenses have been depleted. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1980)

See the original TV adMemories: This better-than-average translation of Atari’s own arcade smash-hit (in every sense of the term) probably has a lot to do with the game’s enduring popularity. Continue reading

Blockout! / Breakdown!

Blockout! / Breakdown!The Game: In this bizarre and uniquely Odyssey2 take on Atari’s Breakout, you battle either the computer or a second player in your attempts to blast through a wall – or repair it. You take alternating turns with your opponent; See the videoone round, you’re playing the game the more traditional way and controlling the paddle at the bottom of the screen, trying to bounce the ball toward four layers of colorful blocks. But in the next round, you’re controlling the four androids within those layers of blocks whose duty is to repair damage done by your opponent’s paddle. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those examples of a well-worn arcade theme given a new twist by the Odyssey2 game designers. Some of you reading this are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “There they go, ripping off Atari again,” but the repair ‘droids make this a whole new game. Continue reading

Boxing

BoxingBuy this gameThe Game: The sweet science of bruising is brought down to the pixellated level, as one or two players take control of a boxer seen from a view directly above the ring. The object is simple: knock your opponent out without letting him do the same to you. (Activision, 1980)

Memories: One of a handful of Activision‘s first releases, Boxing was one of those early sports video games that raised the bar on that entire genre by looking reasonably See the videolike the sport it was portraying, rather than something which could be described as an abstract representation at best. It also had the knack of being very easy to pick up and learn – there are no complicated combo moves here. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Atari VCS. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Activision, 1980, for Atari 2600)

Memories: Programmed at roughly the same time as Atari’s consumer division was working on Video Checkers, Checkers was one of the first four games released by third-party software upstart Activision – the first company to focus solely on making software for other companies’ hardware. Continue reading

Cosmic Conflict!

Cosmic Conflict!The Game: This is a very simple first-person space game in which you watch various and sundry harmless space freighters waft lazily past your screen, punctuated at regular intervals by TIE-fighter-like attackers which do pose a moderate See the videothreat to you (but not much of a moderate threat). (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: It’s a simple game – it’s not inconceivable that one could beat it on the first try. Continue reading

Conquest Of The World

Conquest Of The WorldThe Game: In probably the weakest of the Master Series games – Odyssey games which included overcomplicated board game elements, a la Quest For The Rings – you control one of the world’s superpowers, attempting to gain as much influence as possible through political and economic means and, where necessary, warfare. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Well, that’s what the blurb on the box said. When you ditched the magnetic world map and markers and the colorful chips representing your nation’s influence and power, Conquest Of The World‘s video game component was, essentially, little more than an elaborate Odyssey2 version of the Atari 2600 Combat game, with added terrain and vehicular options and fewer goofy options like bouncing artillery. Continue reading

Golf

GolfBuy this gameThe Game: Rouse your caddy, grab your golf bags, and get ready to hit the digital green. A series of crafty virtual courses awaits, with trees, sand traps and water hazards standing between you and the hole. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Whoa now, what’s this then? Foreshadowing a trend that would characterize Atari’s sports game output for the rest of the 2600’s life span, a game that had already been issued on the VCS was revisited, with better graphics and game play. Atari already had Miniature Golf on the market, but it was golf-by-way-of-squares-and-rectangles, not something that a casual observer would look at and say, without prompting, that it resembled golf in any way. (I’d say it was subpar, but let’s not putter around.) Continue reading

Haunted House

Haunted HouseBuy this gameThe Game: Old Man Graves may be dead, but his ghost still haunts his spacious mansion, tormenting any treasure hunters bold enough to trespass in search of his fortune. The loot is said to be hidden in a golden urn, and while that seems like a conspicuous enough object to find, beware: bats and spiders will attack any who intrude on their terrifying territory. And even if you light your way with a candle, Old Man Graves may make a return (as in “from the dead”) appearance. If you survive long enough, you may make your money the old-fashioned way – you’ll urn it. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: An early experiment in expanding the horizons of games on the Atari VCS, Haunted House is among the best-remembered original games on the system, right up there with Adventure and Yars’ Revenge. Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

Monkeyshines!

Monkeyshines!The Game: An elaborate game of tag, only the simian players have an advantage; human players, when tagged, must be “un-tagged” by the other player to return to the game. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This was the first attempt to mine the “ladder-climbing” style of games – i.e. Donkey Kong for the Odyssey2, and it wasn’t all that successful. Oh, it had levels you could jump up or down on, and it had monkeys, but it wasn’t quite in the same genre. Continue reading

Pocket Billiards!

Pocket Billiards!The Game: You’ve gotta have balls if you’re going to play this game – lots of ’em. Multicolored ones too. The game is pool, and you use the joystick to rotate your stick around the cue ball, trying to angle for the perfect shot. Whatever you do, See the videodon’t sink the cue ball! (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Sometimes I feel the same way about simulating pool in a video game as I feel about trying to simulate pinball in a video game. The physics aren’t impossible to simulate, but there’s something about them here that just isn’t right – be prepared for some randomness as you watch your balls go careening around the table (that doesn’t sound right either, come to think of it). Continue reading

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