51 Shades of Geek

Dig Dug (Apple II)

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, See the videowhich you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: With the license already in-house at Atari (as part of the distribution deal that saw Atari handling the game in the U.S.), Atarisoft began cranking out versions of Dig Dug for competing home computer platforms. As often as not, however, the Apple versions of the games for which Atari had the license were a mixed bag. Continue reading

Frogger

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 of the See the videoscreen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: When I fired up Sierra’s rendition of Frogger for the Apple II for the first time in something like 25 years, old synapses that hadn’t fired in ages suddenly came to life once more. This was the very first game I got with my very first computer, back in the day – back when neither one was anywhere in the same neighborhood as “cheap.” So I have a great sentimental attachment to this version of Frogger. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (M Network [Mattel Electronics], 1983)

Memories: Released early in 1983, this version of Lock ‘N’ Chase further proves my “M Network theory,” which is as follows: somehow, no matter what hardware platform it’s on, an M Network game always winds up somehow looking like it’s a port of an Intellivision game. Not that this detracts from the fun factor of having a decent maze chase game on the Apple II, mind you. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the See the videoholes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat). Continue reading

Mr. Cool

Mr. CoolThe Game: You’re Mr. Cool, an ice cube who chills out while hopping around a pyramid-shaped series of platforms. Fireballs streak across the pyramid from time to time, and they’ll melt you if they touch you. If you can stay cool long See the videoenough, you can advance through the game by changing the color of every platform to your target color by hopping onto each one – though in later levels it’ll take more than one hop, putting you in the path of more fireballs that could cause you to lose your cool. If you have one meltdown too many, the game is over. (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: A classic case of making the best of a system’s limitations (and missing out on the official license for a popular arcade game), Mr. Cool is an unlikely collision of the game mechanics of Q*Bert and Frogger. And yet it works. In the company’s early days, Sierra was great at producing “near beer” games such as Mr. Cool and Crossfire (which approximated the game play of arcade cult classics Targ and Spectar). Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, 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, See the videolarge flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. 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… (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: Atari came by the code for its Apple II version of Pac-Man by the same means used by pirates of the high seas: they vanquished their foes and took their booty. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), indestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning (and the multi-directional weaponry helps too). (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: I loved the arcade version of Robotron. I loved the idea of it, the graphics, the sound effects…but there was one rather major problem between me and this game: I sucked at it. Pure and simple. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, See the videobombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. (Mindscape, 1983)

Memories: In the arcade, Xevious ushered in a whole new genre of vertical-scrolling shooters, a category that would grow to include hits like 1942, Dragon Spirit and Exed Exes – it would actually become a pretty crowded field. But the graphics and sound hardware of the Apple IIe, using a command set grandfathered in from the late ’70s, wasn’t exactly ideal for this new genre. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Datasoft, 1983)

Memories: Probably the best of the early wave of translations of the groundbreaking arcade game, John Garcia’s Apple II edition of Zaxxon successfully boils the game down to its most vital elements: the basics of its graphical look and smooth, fast motion. Continue reading

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

Buckaroo BanzaiThe Game: Players control the actions of rock star brain surgeon (or is that the other way around?) Buckaroo Banzai, who starts the game in Yoyodyne Headquarters and must quickly accumulate the necessary gear to embark on an adventure to fend off the evil Red Lectroid’s latest bid to destroy the Earth. (Adventure International, 1984)

Memories: After virtually starting the home computer adventure gaming craze in the late 1970s, game creator Scott Adams was in a crowded field by 1985. The original Adventure International games – which paired simple graphics with concise, no-nonsense text descriptions – had since been duplicated and surpassed. Sierra On-Line‘s early Hi-Res Adventures were in much the same vein, and Infocom took the text/interactive fiction idea and ran with it sans graphics (at least for a while), but once adventure games were married with real-time action elements (the Ultima series, the Apshai games, King’s Quest, and let’s not forget that whole Zelda thing over on the NES), the days of text-with-illustrations adventures such as those turned out by Scott Adams were numbered. Continue reading

Exodus Construction Set

Exodus Construction SetThe Game: Would-be digital dungeon masters can reshape the world of the most powerful Apple II adventure game of its era – Exodus: Ultima III – in their own image, from changing the coastlines of Sosaria to changing the behavior of its inhabitants. Cities and townes can be completely redrawn, and the deadliest denizens of the world can be unleashed anywhere. (Dan Gartung, 1984)

Memories: With Ultima III acknowledged as the ultimate adventure game for the Apple II by most 8-bit computer RPG enthusiasts, the ultimate challenge was to forge ahead and see the hazardous quest to its completion. And after that? The next challenge was to assume godlike power over the world created by Lord British. Continue reading

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide To The GalaxyThe Game: You’re Arthur Dent, and you’ve woken up with a very bad hangover. Between your state of inebriation and the fact that the Earth will shortly be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, this is an inauspicious start, especially since you must fulfill your destiny as one of the only two human beings left alive in the universe to even begin to get anywhere in this game. (Infocom, 1984)

Memories: Infocom was the pioneering group of brilliant software designers who took the simple Adventure-style game and elevated it to new heights. By combining an easy-to-use and well-designed interface which understood English, with fascinating worlds created by literate designers and writers, Infocom made some of the most engaging computer games in the history of early silicon. Continue reading

Music Construction Set

Music Construction SetThe Game: If you’re a music lover of any kind, from student level upward, Music Construction Set guarantees that you can make music with the Apple II right out of the box, even with the machine’s puny built-in speaker. A drag-and-drop interface – best used with a mouse and sometimes tiringly clunky with a joystick – allows you to piece together your own music, save it, load it and tweak it later. Several built-in tunes illustrate how to do this. A sound card is almost required, but even with the tinny sound of the Apple II’s built-in speaker the results are surprisingly good. (Electronic Arts, 1984)

Memories: What I was doing with this, I’ve never quite figured out – I compose in my head and can’t even read sheet music. But it’s still an intensely interesting little program. I never had a sound card for my Apple-compatible machines, but I was still stunned at how good it all sounded coming out of the machine’s native speaker – real live polyphony, it just about knocked my socks off. Continue reading

The Newsroom

The NewsroomThe Game: Not really a game at all, The Newsroom is a primitive – and yet very flexible – example of early desktop publishing. Clip art can be added, or imported from hi-res graphics files. Headline banners and other specialized items can be added as well. (Springboard Software, 1984)

Memories: I know this one really stretches the envelope – after all, Phosphor Dot Fossils is supposed to be about games, isn’t it? – but to me, The Newsroom was the source of so much fun (not to mention instigating some critical early career interests in my teenage life) that it’d be hard for me to not talk about it here. Continue reading

Skyfox

SkyfoxThe Game: The invasion is on, and as usual, you’re the only thing standing between Earth and alien domination. (Ever wonder why no one else is answering their pagers at times like these when the call goes out?) Fortunately, your aircraft is See the videoa kick-ass piece of military hardware, capable everything from breaking the sound barrier to hovering, helicopter-like, over a friendly installation to defend from an onslaught of enemy tanks. But the enemy makes up for its occasionally lackluster hardware with impressive numbers – and whether the hail of gunfire is coming from their tanks, their jets, or their motherships (which look suspiciously like little Comet Empires from Star Blazers), you can rack up a fatal amount of damage pretty quickly. (Electronic Arts, 1984)

Memories: To my day, Skyfox is still my favorite combat flight sim. Actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite flight sims, combat or otherwise. Continue reading

Ultima III: Exodus

Ultima III: ExodusThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Sosaria, and Lord British calls for your service again. You set out with four adventurers on a quest to gain the experience that will be necessary to survive the long voyage to a volcanic island where the source of all the evil plaguing the world is said to be. (Origin Systems, 1984)

Memories: The third game in Richard Garriott’s Ultima cycle, Ultima III was the tops in computer RPGs for ages (at least until Ultima IV came along). Ultima III was the first game in the series to track the movements of the two moons, and the first to feature a part of multiple player characters (as well as parties of evil beings to fight them). Continue reading

Adventure Construction Set

The Game: Digital dungeon masters never had it so good. From the design of tiles and characters to the basic rules governing the player’s interactions with his world, it’s all up for grabs. Items can be placed, their abilities defined, and enemies can be generated. Let the games begin…but is it more fun to create them or play them? (Electronic Arts, 1985)

Memories: Offering everything from pre-built elements to user-defined items and characters from scratch, Adventure Construction Set was a revelation. Where Garry Kitchen‘s Game Maker from Activision allowed budding game designers to create their own arcade-style games, EA‘s Adventure Construction Set gave them control of a top-down, tile-based 2-D adventure game. Those familiar with the Ultima series or Questron would instantly be within their element. Continue reading

Create With Garfield!

Create With Garfield!The Game: Using a simple drag-and-drop system (controlled by keyboard, mouse or joystick), put the elements of an original Garfield comic into place, including everyone’s favorite big orange cat, Odie, Jon, Nermal and all the fixtures and fittings of home (including a big burger and some lasagna). Then position speech balloons in the appropriate place, containing either signature Garfield catchphrases or your own words. Print and/or save to disk, repeat ad nauseum, and avoid Jim Davis’s lawyers thereafter! (Developmental Learning Materials, 1985)

Memories: This nifty bit of creative software used to keep me entertained for hours on end. With a bit of advanced option tweaking, it was even possible to import standard hi-res images to use as the background for a scene, so it wasn’t impossible to, say, drop Odie into the middle of a saved image of an Ultima IV meleè. Not that I’d do such a thing, of course. Continue reading

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