Garry Kitchen’s Game Maker

The Game: You decide what the game’s going to be. From creating your own characters, animating them, building their world (and the physical rules that govern it) and setting up the conflicts and limits, you have a powerful game-making tool at your disposal. Use it wisely, make something fun, and learn a little bit about how video games are conceived and programmed. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: Almost a transcendental work of genius, Game Maker is one of those programs that, if you were around (and of a certain age) when it was released, you remember it vividly. This is one of those things that probably changed a few lives. Continue reading

Ghostbusters

GhostbustersSee the videoThe Game: Supernarural, paranormal investigations and eliminations are the order of the day, as you open your own ghost busting franchise. You start with a finite budget and have to make some savvy choices about vehicles and gear; then it’s time to strap on a proton pack, get behind the wheel of the Ectomobile, and cruise around the Big Apple watching for flashing red buildings (telltale signs of a poltergeist party in progress). When you arrive on the scene, a little bit of driving is required, which gives you the chance to mop up a few free-roaming full-torso vaporous apparitions off the streets, Ghostbustersbefore you arrive at your destination and try to trap a ghost without crossing the streams. All the while, supernatural forces are converging on a site formerly known as the temple of Zuul, and when the paranormal powers there reach a critical mass, it’s time for roasted marshmallow – or the end of the world. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: A nice balance of arcade action segments and some resource-management strategy, Ghostbusters manages to capture the inherent humor of the movie (failure to capture a ghost results in one or both of your men getting “slimed”) and yet succeeds as a game too. Continue reading

High Rise

High RiseThe Game: Think of it as the anti-Tetris. Five hoppers dispense geometric shapes on your command. As Barnaby, you move the pieces into place to build the most stable structure you possibly can, and if you manage to build a high enough tower, you climb to the top and advance to the next level. The first level’s shapes are fairly easy, but as you advance through levels, the pieces take on stranger and stranger shapes – and balancing them becomes harder. In later levels, you start rounds with oddball shapes already in place on the playing field, making your task that much harder. The game ends when the timer runs out without the completion of a stable structure. (Micro Learn, 1985)

Memories: Move over, Bob the Builder. This inventive little learning game, designed to teach correlations between shapes, is addictive no matter what your age is – and frankly, I’m disappointed that it hasn’t been reborn as a simple PC game, or perhaps a Game Boy title. Continue reading

Project Space Station

Project Space StationThe Game: You are the administrator of NASA. Your goal? To launch the necessary components of a full-scale space station, assemble them in orbit, and initiate and maintain any number of commercial or medical research projects aboard your orbital laboratory. You will also be in charge of launching satellites for commercial and military clients. As fun as all of these activities may sound, they don’t come without a price tag. The cost for everything from necessary space hardware, to time spent in the planning stages, to launches and landings, to maintaining the bare essentials of survival in orbit, will reach into the billions of dollars…if you’re good at this game. (HESware, 1985)

Memories: An incredibly fun and very complex game, Project Space Station is a SimCity-style simulation with elements that appeal to almost anyone, including arcade-style action screens. But there are also aspects of the game – such as the budgeting screen (left) – that can best be appreciated by older players. Continue reading

RACTER

RACTERThe Game: The player engages in conversation with RACTER (short for raconteur) in normal English sentences via the keyboard. RACTER responds with phrases that may (or may not) be relevant and may (or may not) make sense as part of a cohesive conversation. (Mindscape, 1985)

Memories: RACTER had a build-up of hype like no other non-sequel, non-movie-based program in its day – as well as a set of consumer expecatations that it probably had absolutely no chance whatsoever of meeting. After all, could a program running on a floppy disk on a home computer equipped with 64K of RAM really boast true artificial intelligence? Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Super Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you See the videocan in the meantime. (Sega, 1985)

Memories: Just as Super Zaxxon in the arcades was merely a rewrite of the code for the original Zaxxon, it’s somehow fitting that the same is true for Super Zaxxon on the Apple II. But while it may have saved Sega some development time to reuse the code from Datamost’s version of Zaxxon for the Apple, it didn’t exactly result in a satisfying gaming experience. Continue reading

Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar

Ultima IV: Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (Origin Systems, 1986)

Memories: Richard Garriott’s fourth classic role-playing installment was one of the most addictive games I ever played on the Apple II computer. I kid you not, I spent hours playing Ultima IV. Then, and I’m sure you know this story, I moved a few times, lost track of my original floppies, and missed the game terribly the next time it crossed my mind to play it. I shall now spend hours waxing rhapsodic about why this is still my favorite computer RPG of all time. Continue reading

The Halley Project

The Halley ProjectThe Game: Your sleek spacecraft is launched from a base installation on Halley’s Comet (!). Your mission is to scout various bodies in the solar system – both planets and moons – which meet strictly defined criteria as dispensed by the computer. In some cases you must land, in others you must simply achieve orbit. You must learn to navigate the solar system using the constellations of the Zodiac, and learn to judge distance so you won’t overshoot your target (and therefore exceed your allotted mission time) with brief bursts of your faster-than- light drive. You climb in the ranks as you complete more missions. (Interscope, 1986)

Memories: As a life-long space buff, I adored this game. I was always a big fan of such interplanetary missions as the Vikings, Voyagers, Pioneers and Mariners launched by NASA (and, for the most part, overseen by JPL, though to give credit where it’s due, the Pioneers were an Ames project). This game put me into the role of a surrogate space probe, navigating planets and their moons and generally exploring the solar system. Continue reading

Oo-Topos (Apple II)

Oo-ToposThe Game: A prisoner awakens in a cell aboard an alien spaceship, parked on an unknown world. with nothing more than the meal that’s been provided and his wits, the prisoner has to escape his cell, overcome guards and automatic defense system , collect items that could help him escape his captors. The guards always seem to be just around the corner, always helpfully prepared to escort you back to your cell to start again… after a little bit of needless brutality, of course. (Polarware, 1987)

Memories: A former Infocom designer and programmer (Infidel, Suspended) who stuck around just long enough after Infocom’s acquisition by Activision to design Tass Times In Tonetown, Michael Berlyn became a freelancer after the slow-motion debacle that was the Activision/Infocom merger. One of his final Apple II games took him to Polarware (which had started out the 1980s as Penguin Software, makers of a nearly-ubiquitous Apple graphics toolkit called Graphics Magician), where he proceeded to remake one of his earliest pre-Infocom games. Continue reading

Ultima V: Warriors Of Destiny

Ultima V: Warriors Of DestinyThe Game: Darkness has fallen upon the land of Britannia. Lord Blackthorn, with the help and manipulation of the evil Shadowlords, has taken over, banishing Lord British from his own kingdom and ruling over the world with an iron first. Having settled into a little house in the woods after your ascension to Avatar, you are called upon once more to set things right. An underground resistance movement is quietly biding its time, waiting for Lord British to return, and hailing you and your friends as its heroes. But there are also many who have fallen in line behind Blackthorn and his dark masters – and would be happy to dispose of the Avatar for him. (Origin Systems, 1988)

Memories: A true sequel to Ultima IV, Ultima V is deeper, more realistic, and more challenging by far. Possibly the biggest change between the two games is literally the difference between day and night. Continue reading

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space TelescopeThe Game: Well, it’s not really a game. A NASA-published electronic press kit walks you through the basics of the then-upcoming Hubble Space Telescope, from its impending launch aboard the Space Shuttle to how it collects and transmits images. Thanks to a problem with its optics, it would be a few years before the Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990, would begin to fulfill the hype surrounding it. (NASA, 1989)

Memories: Created and published in 1989, months before the Shuttle mission that lifted Hubble into orbit, this interactive guide to the next big thing in astronomy made the rounds. Continue reading

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