Frogger II: Threeedeep!

Frogger II: Threeedeeep!The Game: Frogger’s back, and he needs your help to do so much more than just cross the road. First, help Frogger navigate an assortment of underwater dangers to reach the safety of a log at the water’s surface, and See the videothen help him hop across the backs of various animals and objects to cross the river. Once this is accomplished, you help Frogger ascend to heaven…and then the whole process starts once more. (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: Officially authorized by Sega (while Sega was still authorized by Konami as the American distributor of the original Frogger), Frogger II: Threeedeep! is a sequel to the hit arcade game – a sequel that never made it into the arcades itself. Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

Park Patrol

Park PatrolThe Game: Swimmers and snakes and turtles, oh my! Help patrol your beach by picking up litter and saving drowning swimmers while avoiding snakes, sharp sticks, and other obstacles. You’ll need to be quick on your feet (and in your innertube) to succeed! (Activision, 1984)

Memories: In Activision’s Park Patrol, you play the role of a litter-collecting park ranger. Your goal is to keep your lakefront property clean by picking up litter (cans and bottles). To do that you’ll need to use your handy-dandy motorized raft to pick up the trash floating in the lake, and run as quickly as possible to clean up debris lying on the shore itself. Read More

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. Read More

Star Wars

Star WarsThe Game: You’re an intrepid X-Wing pilot participating in the last-ditch Rebel attempt to destroy the Death Star – before it destroys the Rebel base on Yavin IV. TIE Fighters try to intercept you, but you can destroy them (as well as See the videouse your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out of the sky). Then you move in to attack the Death Star itself, with its incredibly hazardous system of gunnery towers and bunkers. Once you’ve gotten past the surface defenses, you dive into the trench that will lead you to an exhaust port which is the only means of destroying the Death Star – but there are defenses in the trench as well, and your deflector shields can only take so much… (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: In fairness, at the time Parker Brothers snagged the lucrative home video game license for Star Wars, home computers with 64K were still not quite a household fixture (though the Commodore 64 was in the process of changing that). The guts of Atari’s slightly lower-powered home computers were originally designed by the company’s engineers to be their next generation game machine, and the XL series of atari computers was only just being phased in. Faced with these obstacles, Parker Brothers toned down its home computer version of the ambitious Star Wars arcade game, slimming it down to a cartridge with just 17K of code. Read More

Star Maze

Star MazeThe Game: Poor Thid. He’s lost in space, a long way from home, and he’ll need all of Earth’s intellectual and technological resources to get him home. Or, actually, since he’s on a budget, any old kid with an Atari home computer will do. See the videoSolve division problems of varying degrees of difficulty to help Thid return to his home planet, and keep in mind, time is limited for both equation solving and maneuvering. Even if you get your numbers right, Thid can accidentally run into “Badid Stars” that will explode, sending him plummeting into a different part of the star maze. You win the game by returning Thid to his home planet at the bottom of the screen, though if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can take a detour for double points along the way. (Roklan, 1984)

Memories: A clever little educational game for the Atari home computers, Roklan’s Star Maze probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s list except as an Atari completist’s collectible. I’m certainly no big fan of math games, but for some reason I like Star Maze. It’s a nice balance between the educational remit of the software and the board-game-like fun stuff in between the math problems. Read More

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). Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

Doctor Who and the Warlord

Doctor Who and the WarlordThe Game: You are the Doctor’s companion, separated from the Time Lord during an attempt to save the Doctor’s old friend, King Varangar. When you come to, the Doctor is nowhere around, you’re unarmed, and you’re surrounded by deadly swamps, war zones, and hostile alien soldiers. Your life expectancy away from the TARDIS isn’t looking terribly good – and even if you can reunite with the Doctor, escaping from planet Quantain won’t be easy. (BBC Software, 1985)

Memories: The second official Doctor Who computer game, released during the show’s mid-1980s merchandising heyday, Doctor Who And The Warlord is a decisive step away from the somewhat derivative arcade-inspired game play of Doctor Who: The First Adventure… and a step toward another well-worn style of game: the text adventure. Read More

Friday The 13th

Friday The 13thThe Game: Find Jason Voorhees and destroy him before he slaughters your friends in this game based on the popular horror movie franchise. People will definitely die; the only questions are who, when, and by whom. (Dormark, 1985)

Memories: I can still remember the night I got Friday The 13th for my Commodore 64. My friends and I were big fans of all the big ’80s horror icons such as Jason (Friday The 13th), Freddy (Nightmare On Elm Street), and Michael Myers (Halloween). The thought of playing a videogame based off of one of those movies at that time was both exciting and a little scary for us young’uns. Fortunately for our young minds, the scariest thing about Friday The 13th for the Commodore 64 was the actual gameplay. Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

Little Computer People

Little Computer PeopleThe Game: Does it ever seem like your computer has a mind of its own? Maybe it does! Activision’s Little Computer People provides computer owners with a virtual three-story house, designed to lure the computer people out of your wiring and into a hospitable habitat. Once a little person has moved into his new home he can be studied and observed, but this is no hands-off experiment. You’ll need to keep your new friend happy and fed to maintain a healthy relationship. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: When Little Computer People first came out, it was difficult to explain just what kind of program it was to your friends. These days, it’s much easier – I’d simply say the game was like The Sims, but with only one sim and one location. To anyone familiar with the SimCity/SimAnt/SimEarth series of games, I’d describe it as a “SimHouse”. I might even compare the game to one of those popular “virtual pet” programs. But Little Computer People came out in 1985, prior to any of those games. Back then we lacked the vocabulary to describe (much less categorize) the game. Little Computer People was first released for the Commodore 64, quickly ported to the Apple II, and eventually found its way to Atari, Amiga, Amstrad and Sinclair computers. The game was never ported to the PC. Read More

Mail Order Monsters

Mail Order MonstersThe Game: Put your money where your fangs are in this monster mash-up that pits twelve different types of creatures against each other in the ultimate battle for survival. Arm your creature with the best weapons and armor to prepare him for games of Capture the Flag, Tournament-Style Battles, or an all out invasion. (Electronic Arts, 1985)

Memories: In the fall of 1985, my parents opened Yukon Software, a computer store specializing in PC, Apple and Commodore software. Every week I drooled over the stacks of brand new games my parents received to stock their shelves with. Occasionally I’d talk my dad into letting me open a game to demo it on one of our in-store computers. Mail Order Monsters was one of those games. The thought of building and battling monsters really appealed to me as a young teenager, a fantasy Mail Order Monsters delivered. Read More