Computer Space

Computer SpaceThe Game: Two ships are locked in deadly deep-space combat, firing interplanetary ordnance at each other. Whoever survives the most confrontations within a set amount of time is the victor. In the game’s one-player variation, See the videothe machine controls one ship, and a two-player version was also made. (Nutting & Associates, 1971)

Memories: To go all the way back to the beginning of video games in the arcade is to go back to Computer Space – which is also arguably the first arcade flop.

The idea behind the game wasn’t exactly new – it was almost a decade old, in fact. Steve Russell’s college mainframe favorite Spacewar! had captured the attention of a college student named Nolan Bushnell. Having served his own apprenticeship as a carnival barker in his younger years, Bushnell was sure he could sell anyone on entertainment, and he knew a potentially exciting new medium for that entertainment when he saw one. Continue reading

Odyssey 500

Odyssey 500With the same trio of games as the Odyssey 400 – Tennis, Hockey/Soccer and Smash – the Odyssey 500, released in 1976 by Magnavox, would appear See the videoto not be much of an upgrade, but in fact, it’s an absolutely critical turning point for home video games: the Odyssey 500 did away with squares and rectangles to represent the player, and introduced character sprites – hardware-generated characters that roughly mimicked the shape of a human being. Continue reading

Atari Video Music

Atari Video MusicSee the videoBack in the heady days of Nolan Bushnell-managed Atari, when the home versions of games like Pong and Stunt Cycle were making decent money, and the sky seemed to be the limit, and the 2600 was nothing more than a promising idea on the horizon, anything could’ve been the next big thing. And not even necessarily anything that was a video game. Despite all of the legendary stories of executive meetings in hot tubs, on-the-job marijuana use, and blue-jeans-as-businesswear, it may just be that nothing provides as much concrete evidence of the heady, psychedelic early days of Atari as one of their most obscure products: Atari Video Music. Continue reading

Odyssey 4000

Odyssey 4000The final member of the Odyssey stand-alone console family tree, the Odyssey 4000 boasts more games than any of its predecessors since Ralph Baer’s original Odyssey, and was only the second of the dedicated Odyssey consoles to feature color (after the experimental Odyssey 500). And for those who have ever held the joystick of a Magnavox Odyssey2 in their hands, the Odyssey 4000 offers another familiar element – its joysticks are exactly the same mold as those of the Odyssey2, only rotated 90 degrees, and sporting some major differences in internal mechanisms. Though multidirectional, the joysticks are designed to favor vertical movement and offer some resistance to horizontal movement. Continue reading

Bradley Trainer (a.k.a. “Military Battlezone”)

Atari Bradley TrainerThe Game: As the pilot of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and helictopers without accidentally firing on your own allies. (Atari, under special contract for the United States Army, 1981)

Memories: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the arcade business who’d complain that a game was too good. But Ed Rotberg, designer of Atari’s original 3-D vector graphics tank hit Battlezone, would be the exception. His revolutionary first-person fighting game was impressive enough to attract the attention of the United States Army, and this landed him a very special job he did not want: retooling the game to the Army’s exacting specifications to turn it into a real training simulation. 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

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

Calculator!

Calculator!The Game: The Odyssey2’s keyboard and processing power are at your disposal for any number of mathematical tasks. If you can do it on an adding machine or a low-end handheld scientific calculator, you can do it on Calculator! See the videoBuy this gametoo. (PackratVG.com / Rene Van Den Enden, 2006)

Memories: It’s difficult to really “review” this cartridge, as it’s not a game, and unlike, say, Type & Tell, it can’t even be twisted into one. So you’ll have to forgive me for forgoing the usual “X out of 5” rating system for this homebrew release. Continue reading

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