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Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid the monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: The early days of the IBM PC – which had, at this point, been on the market for two years – saw numerous software publishers trying to second-guess the PC’s position in the market. IBM’s a tech giant for businesses, but will this thing take off in the consumer market? If so, do we market entertainment software for it? Is it even suited to that sort of thing? And the answer to those questions, in 1983, was…well, maybe? Continue reading

Tetris

TetrisThe Game: Various shapes consisting of four blocks each fall from the top of the screen, giving the player a short time to rotate, move (left or right only), and ultimately drop each piece into place. The goal is to put complementary shapes together, forming a solid line (or several solid lines) and leaving no gaps. Completed horizontal lines disappear from the screen, and the remaining pieces drop to the bottom. Bonus points are awarded for using the tallest piece – four blocks tall – to eliminate four lines at once. Allowing the shapes to pile up until they reach the top of the screen ends the game. (freeware, 1986)

Memories: Created in 1984 while the programming trio of Alexey Pajitnov, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov were working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Tetris was first programmed on a mainframe computer and its commercial potential was immediately recognized. Since it was designed and coded “on the clock” in Soviet government facilities, the government automatically had ownership of the program. The Soviet technology and software export bureau, Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG for short), had never dealt with a computer game, and dropped the ball. The programmers shrugged it off; Gerasimov’s MS-DOS PC port was released into the wild in 1986 with no expectation that anyone involved would ever profit from it, and that was that. Continue reading

Revenge Of Defender

Revenge of DefenderThe Game: Players slide into the cockpit of Defender once again, defending the power generators on the surface of a human space colony from intruding aliens. As usual, the Defender is a versatile, fast-moving attack ship, but the aliens have an advantage in sheer numbers. Vaporizer bombs can clear the screen of attackers, but they’re in short supply. Eliminating all invaders clears the level and starts anew; running out of Defender craft means the aliens win. (Ensign Software, 1989)

Memories: Among the most obscure offshoots of the Defender family tree spawned by the 1980 coin-op, Revenge Of Defender is a dressed-up PC remake of the classic game, trading the complicated control scheme and uncluttered graphics of the original for a easier player controls and background graphics that actually get in the way of the game. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Transinium Challenge

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Transinium ChallengeThe Game: Captain Picard places Commander Riker – that’s you, by the way – in charge of the Enterprise, which is currently on a mission to find out who is launching terrorist attacks on mining stations in the Aquila solar system. Riker can use the Enterprise’s computer to analyze objects and ships, or to look up Federation data files on the various people involved in the growing conflict. And of course, he can call upon the knowledge and experience of his crewmates for advice, or bring them along as he beams down to the various locales on each planet or asteroid in the game. One thing not at Riker’s disposal is time: the attacks continue, and whoever is mounting the attacks is getting bolder with each attempt. And someone in the Aquila system knows more than they’re telling. (Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1989)

Memories: Though it sailed through some troubled creative waters behind the scenes of its first two seasons on television, Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the receiving end of a remarkable amount of patience from its viewers, simply on the strength of its name. With an unprecedented amount of money riding on a series that was sold directly into syndication rather than to a network, Paramount Pictures was eager to cash in as soon as possible. Even so, the first computer or video game to be set aboard the new Enterprise took some time to complete. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Dalek Attack

Doctor Who: Dalek AttackThe Game: As one of three incarnations of the Doctor (only Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy are offered), and with the option of a second playing assuming the role of either Ace or an unnamed (and yet somehow Watch a video of this gamefamiliarly mustachioed) UNIT soldier, you must navigate various environments from the sewers and streets of London to the Dalek-conquered ruins of once-proud cities like Tokyo and New York, defeating the Daleks and their allies to remove the evil scourge from Earth. Ogrons, hideous monsters, Dalek-possessed Robomen and ninjas, and – perhaps most terrifying of all – robo-sumo wrestlers will try to prevent you from completing your mission. (Alternative Software, 1992)

Memories: The first Doctor Who video game marketed for anything even vaguely resembling a modern PC (though other versions were available for such then-still-common platforms as the Amiga, the Spectrum Holobyte and even the Commodore 64), this straight-shooting scrolling quest game unashamedly goes straight for the classic arcade jugular, with game play and eye candy worthy of such all-time classics as Super Mario Brothers. It also displays a loving reverence for Doctor Who old and new, which is enough to tug at the heartstrings of the most cynical fans. Continue reading

Babylon 5 Interactive Information Kit

Babylon 5 Interactive Information KitThe Game: Log into Babylon 5’s information systems by remote and get a look at various parts of the station, and bios of the ambassadors and station crew. You can even launch a Starfury by remote – which would be about the only way to do that Download this softwarewithout having Ivanova’s hands around your throat within ten minutes. (Warner Bros., 1993 / devloped by Doglight Studios)

Memories: Distributed via floppy disk and the Compuserve and GEnie forums frequented by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, the Babylon 5 Interactive Information Kit (which shall hereafter be referred to as the sanity- and repetitive-motion-conserving acronym B5IIK) was a nice piece of advance publicity for the information age – and one of the first hints that Hollywood was acknowledging the internet as a viable promotional medium. Continue reading

Star Wars Chess

Star Wars ChessOrder this gameThe Game: Choose either the Dark or the Light Side of the Force and battle enemy forces in this galactic version of chess that takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (Software Toolworks, 1993)

Memories: In the late ’80s, Interplay’s Battle Chess reinvented the computer chess genre. In Battle Chess, each chess piece was portrayed by a character on a three dimensional chessboard. The game followed the same rules as the classic board game – the only difference being when one piece captured another, it was visually portrayed on screen through light-hearted animations. Characters clobbered one another in humorous ways throughout the game, and the game’s sense of humor along with its stunning graphics and animation launched an entire wave of similarly styled chess games. Continue reading

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Command & Conquer: Red AlertOrder this gameThe Game: It’s the Cold War all over again – but worse. Tampering with the timeline has wreaked immeasurable damage with the development of technology, and the result is a new wave of deadly weapons, including Tesla tanks and turrets (which discharge immense electrical energy at their opponents) and Chrono-tanks (which can shift their position on the map instantly for a brief time). You must build and protect your base, produce units necessary to defend and attack, and orchestrate an invasion of enemy territory – all while accumulating as few casualties as possible. (Electronic Arts [developed by Westwood Studios], 1996)

Memories: Westwood’s real-time strategy classic is a major evolutionary leap from the original Command & Conquer, with vast improvements in the artificial intelligence used by both your soldiers and by computer controlled enemies. And it’s a tough game! It’s pretty common practice for me, despite a couple of years of playing Dune 2000 (a later Westwood game which is built on the same engine as Red Alert), to build up quite a nice base and then get my ass kicked big time. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors

Doctor Who: Destiny of the DoctorsOrder this gameThe Game: The Master strikes again! The evil Time Lord has trapped the Doctor’s first seven incarnations. You assume the role of the Graak, a telepathic entity created by the Doctor in the event of just such an emergency. You must travel to different time zones to rescue the Doctor’s various incarnations, battling Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians, Sontarans, Yeti, Ice Warriors, Autons, Zygons and more along the way. You may be able to make telepathic contact with the Doctor periodically, or use the time-space telegraph to consult with the Brigadier. In the meantime, the Master challenges you to accomplish various hazardous tasks… (BBC Multimedia, 1997)

Watch a video of this gameMemories: Despite the fact that Destiny of the Doctors is essentially a Doom/Duke Nukem engine with Doctor Who settings, villains and soundbytes, I find this game strangely addictive. Even more than Star Trek, Doctor Who has been a part of my pop culture/sci-fi consciousness since childhood, and there’s something appealing about finally getting to plaster some Daleks for myself rather than watching someone else do it on TV. Continue reading

Dune 2000

Dune 2000Dune 2000Order this gameThe Game: The Padishah Emperor has declared open season on the planet Arrakis – better known as Dune. With no rules and no limits, the Houses of Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos are cordially invited to mine the precious Spice from Dune’s subsurface strata – and smash each other into smithereens with any and all weapons and technologies available. (Electronic Arts [developed by Westwood Studios], 1998)

Memories: Dune 2000 is an updated version of the Dune 2 computer game that has been around for a few years. I’ll warn you right now, and I’m only doing this See the videobecause I feel it’s a valid warning…Dune 2000 is extremely addictive. It’s right up there with SimCity and the Ultima games – proving that complex computer games can eat up just as much time as any ultra-simple arcade-style action game. Continue reading

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy – Strategic Command

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy - Strategic CommandOrder this gameThe Game: You’ve just embarked on the most challenging field of study at Starfleet Academy: Command College. Your instructor, the recently-promoted Captain Sulu (still two years away from his command of the U.S.S. Excelsior), arrives just a little bit late for his first lecture. Your initial missions include such tasks as destroying minefields, but your assignments soon grow in both complexity and risk. Not only must you battle alien threats in Starfleet’s most advanced simulator, but you must also get your crew to cooperate and learn how to lead them. (Interplay, 1998)

Memories: Though it’s mired in the mid-1990s trend of endless cutscenes and movies, inside Starfleet Academy is actually a fun little game, really more or less a 90s update of the old Star Trek arcade game with much flashier graphics (not the least of which is the full-motion video foreground of your crewmembers at the helm and at other stations) and a slightly different storyline. Continue reading

Star Trek: Starship Creator

Star Trek: Starship CreatorThe Game: Starfleet is looking for a few good Admirals. Despite the fact that these ubiquitous high-ranking officers are peppered liberally throughout the various Trek series, you’ve been recruited as one too – and your job is to be less Order this gameineffectual than most of the TV Admirals! You get to design, outfit and crew Federation starships to your specifications – within, of course, reasonable budgetary limits. Then dispatch your ships – one at a time, or an entire fleet – to do everything from study stellar anomalies to hold the line at the Cardassian border. The equipment you choose, as well as the interactions of the various crew members’ personalities, will play a part in the outcome of your fleet’s assignments. (Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1998)

Star Trek: Starship CreatorMemories: This sim-style game is almost exactly the same basic concept as the classic Apple II game Project Space Station, but in a science fiction setting. That game, too, put you in charge of designing, budgeting, populating and constructing a spacecraft. The only difference is that Starship Creator only allows you to monitor your ship’s activities from afar, not even able to advise. Project Space Station at least featured arcade-style segments in which you pilot space shuttles and construction pods. But if you give it any thought, Starship Creator is true to the Star Trek universe – you, the Admiral, are helpless to do anything but shake your head as those pesky, willful Captains in your fleet do their own creative rewriting of Starfleet regulations. Continue reading

Star Trek: Starfleet Command

Star Trek: Starfleet CommandOrder this gameThe Game: As the captain of one of Starfleet’s ships of the line, your assignments range from routine patrol duty to full-on combat with Klingons, Romulans, Hydrans, Lyrans or Gorn. You may eventually even attain control of a small fleet, issuing orders to each ship in turn to accomplish your mission. Standard 23rd century armaments like phasers and photon torpedoes are at your disposal, as are other offensive measures as sensor decoys and suicide shuttles. But remember, since Starfleet’s the good guys, the enemy will always have more wicked weapons than you. Stay on your toes, Captain. (Interplay, 1999)

Memories: How close did this game come to being classified as a Retro Revival? It’s based on a pencil-paper-and-dice turn-based tactical game that’s older than even Pac-Man. We’re talking, of course, about Star Fleet Battles, which served as the inspiration for this really snazzy bit of Trek gaming. Who doesn’t remember the 20-sided dice, the hex-grid maps, and the starship markers and miniatures with the hexagonal bases? I’d go so far as to say that Star Fleet Battles kept the Trek franchise alive in the minds of fans the same way that Kenner’s action figures kept the faithful adhered to the Star Wars saga, even after the third movie passed with no signs of a seuqel or prequel to come. Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

Star Trek: Voyager - Elite ForceOrder this gameThe Game: As Ensign Alexander (or Alexandria) Munro of the elite Hazard Team of the U.S.S. Voyager, you take the missions that no one else wants. You have a phaser rifle in your hand, your teammates at your side, and Captain Janeway counting on you to get the job done. Now go forth and show that alien scum exactly what Hazard Team’s Prime Directive is! (Activision, 2000)

Memories: Here’s a game that I’m sure all true Star Trek fans have been waiting for with bated breath: a first-person shooter in the grand traditions of Doom and Quake set in the Star Trek universe. Elite Force fulfills that desire quite admirably. Continue reading

Star Wars: Force Commander

Star Wars: Force CommanderOrder this gameThe Game: Brenn Tannor, Imperial Army officer, is in command of the might of the Empire, enforcing the Emperor’s will across the galaxy. From the safety of his Battlefield Control Holographic Interface, Tannor directs Stormtroopers, mighty walkers, and other exotic weaponry into battle. But as he becomes aware of the true nature of the evil Empire, Tannor struggles with a decision that could land him in the camp of the Empire’s most hated enemy, the Rebel Alliance. Will Tannor help the Empire enslave the galaxy…or help the Rebel Alliance free it? (LucasArts, 2000)

Memories: The long-anticipated real-time strategy game set in the Star Wars universe is finally here. After three years in development, Force Commander is on the shelf and armchair Imperial Warlords and Rebel Generals everywhere finally have the chance to see what they’re made of. Continue reading

Tron 2.0

Tron 2.0The Game: By passing up a lucrative programming job within ENCOM, Alan “Jet” Bradley Jr. has earned the disdain of his father, the creator of the Tron security program. But when Jet’s father disappears under mysterious circumstances, Jet See the videogoes to the lab and discovers that his father’s most trusted program, Ma3a, has instructions to digitize Jet into ENCOM’s mainframe – a process not unlike the one Kevin Flynn endured 20 years before. Once inside the computer world, Jet trains for a mission to free the system from the spreading corruption of Thorne, another digitized user whose botched entry into the computer world left him twisted and evil – and along the way, Jet hopes to discover how he can help free his father as well. (Buena Vista Interactive, 2003)

Memories: For anyone who’s ever dreamed of being zapped into the computer by the MCP, this is as close as you’re going to get. I don’t have a problem with that, though: Tron 2.0 is a gorgeous game, capturing the feel of the pioneering 1982 computer-animated movie better than I would’ve thought possible. The look and the sounds of the game go a long way toward immersing you in that world. Normally I’m not big on first-person explore-and-fight games, but this one I’ll make an exception for. Continue reading

Taito Legends

Taito LegendsBuy this gameThe Game: Taito, the developer behind classics games such as Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble, is the latest videogame developer to release a retro arcade compilation. Taito Legends brings 29 classic videogames direct from the arcade to your Xbox, PS2 and PC. (Taito, 2005, for Xbox, Playstation 2 and PC)

Memories: While skimming the list of games included in Taito Legends, I realized that I have memories associated with almost half of them. I remember playing Rastan at the local bowling alley, Operation Wolf at the skating rink (while wearing roller skates, no less), Bubble Bobble at the corner convenience store and Space Invaders at Photon, our local laser tag arena back in the 80’s. There’s no denying that Taito has been a driving force in the arcade industry since its inception. Throughout the 1950s and 60s Taito produced pinball machines, arcade cranes, and jukeboxes, but it wasn’t until the release of Space Invaders in 1978 (released in the US by Midway) that the company became a blip on America’s radar. Continue reading

Star Wars Battlefront II

Star Wars Battlefront IIOrder this gameThe Game: Fight on the front lines of the Star Wars galaxy’s biggest battles. Choose your weapons or take control of a battle-ready vehicle. Battle across the ice fields of Hoth, the forests of Endor, the swamps of Dagobah, the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, the searing lava flows of Mustafar, and in the vastness of space. Play as a Clone Trooper, a Super Battle Droid, a Stormtrooper, a Rebel Soldier, a Jedi, and more. (Lucasarts, 2005)

Memories: This sequel to last year’s Battlefront promised a lot of improvements over that first game and whole new elements. The game delivers admirably on both accounts. Continue reading

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