51 Shades of Geek

Tron

TronThe Game: Up to two players control light cycles that leave a solid light trail in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other player by surrounding them with a light trail that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to run into their own trail. Coming into contact with a light trail, either yours or the other player’s, collapses your own trail and ends your turn. The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (“Ivan”, circa 1982)

Memories: The Apple II software library is as huge as it is because of games like this. It’s a safe bet that “Ivan” didn’t charge for his simple tribute to Tron‘s light cycle scenes; if anyone did charge for it, “Ivan” – whoever he was – probably didn’t see a dime of that. (And even if “Ivan” did try to sell his game, it was probably on such a local basis that Disney never heard of it.) Tron is a homebrew, from an age when nearly every Apple user’s library had at least a few homebrews in it. 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

Amok!

Amok!The Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when SmileyBot, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (John Dondzila Classic Gaming Creations, 1998)

Memories: One day, an avid programmer named John Dondzila decided to program a new game for the Odyssey – or, more precisely, for the Odyssey2 Emulator created by Dan Boris. The game turned out well, and Dondzila offered the game for sale in cartridge form through his web site. The result was the first new game cartridge for the Odyssey 2 since the mid 1980s. Continue reading

Haunted House II 3D

Haunted House II 3DThe Game: As with the original Atari 2600 game, you’re exploring a dark haunted house populated by ghosts, spiders, and even a few walking skeletons. Your task is to track down all the treasures hidden in the maze-like rooms of the house without allowing any of these creatures to touch you. If they get hold of you three times, game over. And if you find all the treasure before that happens? Well…you’ll just have to find out. (Mean Hamster Software, 2002; written by John Swiderski)

Memories: One of 2002’s bumper crop of homebrew Atari 5200 releases, Haunted House II 3D is a sequel to a favorite among many 2600 owners. But is it radically different from the original? No – and that’s a huge part of the game’s charm. Continue reading

Ultima III: Exodus

Ultima IIIThe 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. (Sven Carlberg, 2002)

Memories: Programmed as a homebrew project, this unofficial version of Ultima III ports the massive home computer RPG to the Game Boy Color. If even half of the game survives that translation intact, that’s a stupendous achievement. But how does it play? Continue reading

Game Pack #1

Game Pack #1The Game: Remember those BASIC programming how-to books in the 70s and 80s with the do-it-yourself minigames you could type in and run? They’re back. Daniel Bienvenu’s tribute to those classic games has a twist though: it’s running Buy this gameon the ColecoVision. 14 maddeningly addictive and yet simple games are crammed into a single cartridge, with extras like a program to test the console’s musical ability. (Good Deal Games, 2003)

Memories: Debuted at Classic Gaming Expo 2003, ColecoVision Game Pack #1 is a nifty little collection of games like the ones we all used to type in from a book, minus that syntax error I’d always typo into existence somewhere around line 300. Continue reading

Skeleton+

Skeleton+Buy this gameThe Game: You’re wandering through a dark, twisty maze. So are the dead, apparently, and these reanimated skeletons have a bone to pick with you. You have a single weapon with which to protect yourself, as well as a sensor that picks up on the proximity of nearby skeletons. Using the hints provided by that sensor, you must track down the living dead and dispatch them yet again – and hope they don’t get you first. (Eric Ball, 2003)

Memories: This fun little number is yet another of the current crop of newly-prorammed homebrew games by hobbyist authors. In this case, Eric Ball has brought the first-person shooter genre to the Atari 2600 with surprising success. Now, sure, it’s a first-person shooter by way of a Hunt The Wumpus-style game mechanic, but that makes it no less impressive. Continue reading

Star Fire

Star FireBuy this gameThe Game: This may sound awfully familiar, but you’re the lone surviving pilot of a space squadron decimated by enemy attacks. The enemy’s bow-tie-shaped fighters are closing in on you from all sides, and you must keep an eye on your own fighter’s shields and weapon temperature (overheated lasers don’t like to fire anymore), all while trying to draw a bead on those pesky enemy ships. You’re also very much on your own – nobody’s going to show up and tell you you’re all clear, kid. (Xype/AtariAge.com, 2003)

Star FireMemories: A nifty after-the-fact version of an oft-imitated arcade classic, Star Fire isn’t undiscovered 80s vaporware, but was rather programmed from the ground up by Manuel Polik, paying homage to and slightly expanding on the original game. Continue reading

Kill The Attacking Aliens

Kill The Attacking AliensAliens are attacking several idyllic locales on Earth, and it’s your job to fend off the attack. Not only are you charged with blasting the aliens themselves out of the sky, but you must intercept as much of their incoming fire as possible before it hits targets on the See the videoground. If you save the various trees and cars and castles and trains and boats and whatnot, not only have you earned the gratitude of the human race, you get big bonus points too, and we all know which is more important. Your highly maneuverable ship is equipped with shields which allow you to absorb the impact of collisions with the alien ships, as well as protecting you from direct hits from their weapons. But each hit and collision takes a significant chunk out of your shields. You can replenish them with power-ups left behind by fallen aliens, but when your shields run out and your ship takes another hit, your alien-killing days are over. (Soren Gust [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

Memories: Let me go back and read that again. Shields and power-ups and scores into the thousands? Did I just write that about an Odyssey2 game? Yes. Yes, I did. Five years in the making, Kill The Attacking Aliens (a.k.a. KTAA) is one of those projects that demonstrates everything that is good about homebrew games for classic consoles. Continue reading

Planet Lander!

Planet Lander!Buy this gameThe Game: Your spaceship falls toward a forbidden, craggy landscape where there’s only one safe landing spot. Using your ship’s landing engine, you have to guide it down to the surface for a picture-perfect landing – not too fast, not at an angle, and without running out of fuel in the process. After each successful landing, you move on to another world, and another spaceship in need of your piloting skills. (Ted Sczcypiorski [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

See the videoMemories: So, another iteration of Lunar Lander for my amusement. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m already trying not to crash-land my ship in Out Of This World!, so why would I want to do the same here?” The answer is simple – where the aforementioned classic Odyssey2 spaceship-landing title gives you control of nothing but thrust, Planet Lander gives you the whole crap-your-pants-and-hold-your-breath-while-you-look-for-a-place-to-set-down-in-the-Sea-of-Tranquility shebang. So to speak. It’s on a par with Lunar Lander for replay value, and boasts unusually intricate graphics for an Odyssey2 game, homebrew or otherwise. Continue reading

Pong For Odyssey2!

Pong For Odyssey2!Travel back in time to the dawn of interactive electronic games. Pong For Odyssey2 offers a standard two-player version of the classic video table tennis game, as well as electronic recreations of the analog version of the game available on the first home game See the videoBuy this gamesystem, the Magnavox Odyssey. (Renè Van Den Enden [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

Memories: Odyssey2 homebrews are a lovely thing to behold, and this is a game that you’d think would have been done sooner on this machine – especially with Magnavox’s claim to fame as the first company to manufacture and distribute a home video game system in the United States (or anywhere else for that matter). In the end, it took 25 years to get a Pong game on this console. 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

Conquest Of Mars

Conquest Of MarsBuy this gameThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now sharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, See the videothe enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (John Champeau / AtariAge.com, 2006)

Memories: As much as Caverns Of Mars caught fire on the Atari home computers, you’d think it would’ve been a shoo-in for the company’s consoles. Now, at least, 2600 owners who resisted stepping up to the mighty Atari 8-bit computers can reap the reward for 20+ years of patience. John Champeau, the programmer who finally made good on Coleco’s unfulfilled promise to bring the arcade sleeper hit Ladybug to the 2600, has struck again. Continue reading

Mr. Roboto!

Mr. Roboto!Buy this gameThe Game: Robots, commanded by the CPU which is in turn commanded by you, take up positions on a battlefield grid. The two opposing armies converge, and if two robots lae square, the action zooms in on that portion of the battlefield so the two can fight it out. When one robot’s energy is exhausted by the other’s attacks or by coming into contact with energy pulses bouncing around the arena, that robot is forfeited and the action returns to the grid. The CPUs can transmit viruses to any enemy robot on the grid, stealing half of that robot’s speed or hit points, or halting it altogether. Robots can attack the enemy CPU, but the CPU has a more robust defensive mechanism at its disposal than the average robot… (Ted Sczcypiorski [published by Packrat Video Games], 2006)

See the videoMemories: Yet another Odyssey2 homebrew is charting impressive new territory for a classic console that many consider to be underpowered. And yet, what we have here in Mr. Roboto! is essentially Archon – a classic computer game that didn’t appear on a console until the NES. And yet here it is running on one of the 8-bit era’s underdogs, and running quite nicely, thank you very much. Continue reading

Puzzle Piece Panic

Puzzle Piece Panic!The Game: Interconnecting puzzle pieces are spewed out of the sky by the Tetrad Ejection Device (T.E.D.) and drift down the screen in a pre-defined area. You can rotate them for better placement (or at least rotate them to achieve the least worst effect); filling an See the videoBuy this gameentire horizontal line clears that line and lowers the amount of clutter left on the screen. As more lines are cleared, the pieces fall faster – and it doesn’t get any easier for you to catch up. (Ted Szczypiorski / PackratVG.com, 2007)

Memories: It doesn’t take a master’s degree to see that this game is clearly a version of Tetris for the almost 30-year-old Odyssey2 console, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Puzzle Piece Panic is a combination of a great game with a fond tribute to the finest Magnavox/Philips tradition of changing the name and some minor details to create a “near-beer” version of a popular title. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to having had a hand in some of these homages to the hyperbolic Magnavox marketing style, including the game’s name.) Continue reading

Lead (Atari 2600)

Order this gameThe Game: Players pilot a ship barrelling relentlessly down an enclosed tunnel. Turning around simply isn’t an option, and through various stages the player has to blast away at everything in sight, avoid everything in sight, and catch objects without blasting them. This all probably sounds easy, but the tunnels are rather twisty, and the ship is picking up speed constantly.

Memories: Bearing some resemblance to certain stages of games like Vanguard, Lead may not be the most original shoot-’em-up, but it’s one of the most addictive. With the See the videoVanguard-inspired ability to keep exploring once the game has ended (at, naturally, the cost of zeroing out your score), Lead certainly has depth. But, strange as it may sound, the game’s audio makes it a whole different beast. An organically evolving techno beat pulses in the background, its rhythm and melody influenced by the player’s actions and performance. Continue reading

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