Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Quadradoodle

Shooting GalleryThe Game: The first Channel F “Videocart” packs three games into one bright yellow package. Shooting Gallery is a straightforward target practice game in which players try to draw a bead on a moving target. Tic-Tac-Toe is the timeless game of strategy in small, enclosed spaces, and Quadradoodle is a simple paint program, long, long before its time. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: This is a game that changed everything. For the first time, owners of a home video game console could go into a store, buy something that was less pricey than the console itself, plug it into that console, and play new and different games. Rudimentary games by today’s standards, sure, but in every sense imaginable, Videocart #1 was a game changer. Continue reading

I’ve Got Your Number!

I've Got Your Number!The Game: Two characters take up position on either side of two rotating clusters of numbers and symbols. A simple math problem or algebraic equation (nothing too fancy, usually just involving symbol or shape matching) appears in the bottom center of the screen, and you must guide your character to physically touch the appropriate number or symbol to correctly answer the problem. The first player to answer ten problems correctly wins the game (and, somewhat alarmingly, gets to watch his onscreen icon momentarily balloon to twice its normal size with an odd “explosion” sound). (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: A nice, simple little educational game, this one was a bit “young” for me by the time I got an Odyssey2, but I can see where it would’ve been great for younger kids, and would probably help build a foundation for a better understanding of algebra than I was ever capable of demonstrating on paper. Continue reading

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!The Game: Wow! We must be in the future, for we now have electronic flash cards! This is more or less the function fulfilled by Math-A-Magic, while Echo is a slightly watered down version of the classic See the videoelectronic game Simon. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This may sound a wee bit pretentious, but this “game” – at least the Math-A-Magic! side of things – was instrumental in me getting through some problems comprehending basic math many years ago in grade school. I’m still not a math wizard – I barely passed any applied or theoretical math classes beyond Algebra I in high school and college – but way back when, this actually helped. Who said that video games can’t change anyone’s life for the better? Continue reading

Take The Money And Run!

Take The Money And Run!The Game: Two little white robots represent assorted economic woes, and they drain your cash rapidly if they catch up with you. The object of the game is to come out with the most money left at the end of the two-player game.

You couldn’t really do anything about the robots. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: A bizarre little maze game purporting to be a somewhat educational game about economics, Take The Money And Run! really only managed to be a bit confusing. Sometimes it seemed as though Magnavox’s game group couldn’t really figure out if it wanted to come down on the “edu” or the “tainment” side of edutainment. Continue reading

Keyboard Creations!

Keyboard Creations!The Game: Well, it’s really not much of a game. It’s more like a home simulation of an early-1980s public access cable channel. You can type up crawls that scroll across the screen, as well as setting an on-screen clock. Events can See the videoalso be programmed to trigger special messages either at a pre-set time, or at regular intervals. (Magnavox, 1981)

Memories: Magnavox touted Keyboard Creations! as an essential tool for home videos, or anyone throwing parties, but it turned out more like a home version of that one cable channel that always occupied a slot somewhere in the lower 13, usually right below USA Network – you know, that one that had the time, the temperature, and the city trash pickup schedule. Continue reading

Tranquility Base

Tranquility BaseThe Game: You are go for landing on the moon – only the moon isn’t there to make it easy for you. Craggy mountains and craters make it difficult for you to find one of the few safe landing spots on the surface, and even when you’re See the videoaligned above level ground, your fuel is running out fast. Do you have the right stuff that it’ll take before you can take one giant leap? (Bill Budge, 1981 / re-released by Eduware in 1984)

Memories: This game was one of the earliest efforts by a budding Apple II programmer named Bill Budge, before he achieved fame as the author of Pinball Construction Set. At the time, Budge was experimenting with interchangeable modules that could be slotted into the code of any number of games, including one for smoothly rotating 3-D wireframe objects – well, smoothly where the Apple II was concerned. The result was this unforgiving homage to Atari’s cult coin-op Lunar Lander. Continue reading

Wacko

3-D computer rendering of Wacko game cabinetBuy this gameThe Game: Kozmik Krooz’r is back, floating around a desolate landscape in his tiny saucer and blasting away at the menacing denizens of the planet. By shooting two identical creatures, he can eliminate them; failing to match his first target with his next one will either release both creatures or, in later levels, create mix-and-match mutations that will prove to be even more difficult to get rid of. By eliminating all of See the videothe creatures on the screen, Krooz’r cruises to the next level; if any of the creatures come in contact with him, he loses a life. (Midway, 1982)

Memories: Video game history is rife with specimens of characters who struck somebody as being promising enough that an attempt was made to bring an entire franchise into being on willpower alone. From Exidy’s promise that Venture‘s “Winky” would star in later games (he didn’t) to Midway’s duo of Kozmik Krooz’r games, these also-ran characters are kind of like pixellated reality talent show wanna-bes, strutting their stuff for the arcade’s equivalent of 15 minutes of fame before the gaming public voted with their quarters.

Wacko Wacko

Kozmik Krooz’r appeared in two games released at roughly the same time by Midway: Wacko and the eponymous Kozmik Krooz’r. Both games were built around a gimmick. Kozmik Krooz’r sported a miniature model of a flying saucer above the screen, and the game’s action revolved around that saucer’s presence; Wacko, on the other hand, had one of the most unique cabinets designed for a coin-op to date: the entire cabinet, marquee, control panel and all, was lopsided, sloping downward from left to right. Whether or not gamers got the joke, however, is another thing entirely. (The answer may well lie in the fact that Krooz’r didn’t appear in any further games.)

With the dark look of the classic arcade of the 1970s giving way to Chuck E. Cheese-inspired day-glo friendliness in the ’80s, Midway was simiarly aiming to make a relatively friendly game with Wacko, and it’s an interesting twitch-gaming experience grafted onto an almost educational 4 quarters!concept (shape/pattern matching). As interesting as the “wack”-ed out cabinet was, one wonders if it actually lured enough gamers in to make the break with tradition worthwhile…or if it hurt Wacko‘s chances instead.

Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixBuy this gameThe Game: This race is a numbers game. For each turn, players have to decide how many spaces they want to move (overdoing it can result in going off-track and crashing), and then have to answer a math question (math functions and difficulty depend on game settings). Answering correctly will allow the player to move forward the desired number of spaces. A few spots on the track offer the chance to pick a random number for an additional jump forward in the race. (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Few equations have proven as impossible in the video game industry as the still-ongoing quest to make educational games not just fun, but something that anyone would actually want to fork over money for and play. Hint: Math Gran Prix, despite its noble intentions, did not solve that equation. Continue reading

Nimble Numbers NED!

Nimble Numbers NED!The Game: You are NED, hopping over boulders and, with each obstacle overcome, tackling progressively more difficult math questions and pattern-matching exercises. You can select what kind of math you need to work on See the video(addition, subtraction, etc.), and if you don’t solve a problem correctly the first time, it’s broken down into smaller parts to help you work out how it all goes together. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: This game was originally going to be called Math Potatoes! – and as inauspicious a title as Nimble Numbers NED! may be, you have to admit that Math Potatoes! probably would’ve been too bizarre to entice parents looking for suitable educational software for their kids. Continue reading

SID The Spellbinder!

SID The Spellbinder!The Game: What happens when the Dreaded Dratapillar Of Venus makes a guest appearance? It means that a spelling bee is imminent! A friendly voice warns you to look out for a “monster attack,” and after dispatching all of the segments of the worm-like invader, you’re asked to correctly spell three words using the Odyssey2 keyboard. Once you’ve correctly spelled those three words, another monster attack occurs, with the Dratapillar moving faster in each successive level; the game continues until it descends far enough down the screen to reach your cannon. (North American Philips, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Programmed by Sam Overton, SID The Spellbinder! was one of the first two – and, as it so happened, only two – educational launch titles made available specifically for the then-new Voice Of Odyssey speech synthesizer. Continue reading

Type & Tell

Type & TellThe Game: You type! It talks! And occasionally you have to throw the damnedest misspellings at it to get it to say the simplest words. And despite the back of the box claiming that it “plays fun games,” it’s much more likely that it’ll just make some fun (and weird) sounds. (Magnavox, 1982)

Memories: A pack-in cartridge included with the Voice of Odyssey 2, Type & Tell is actually a barely-glorified Odyssey version of Speak ‘n’ Spell, except everything it says is in a monotone robotic voice which one of the video game magazines of the time once described as “Darth Vader on quaaludes.” (One of these days, remind me to tell you about my mother’s reaction when I asked her, after reading that review, what quaaludes were.) Continue reading

Rocky’s Boots

Rocky's BootsThe Game: Rocky is trying to build machines to kick stuff. He provides players with a number of connectors and components, and shows them how they can be used to achieve See the video!different tasks. (The Learning Company, 1982)

Memories: Fresh from leaving Atari and then taking a vacation, game designer and programmer Warren Robinett was ready to get back into the game, literally. But he had languished in anonymity at Atari as one of the last holdouts at a time when many of the company’s original pool of programming talent was defecting to Activision and Imagic; when Robinett returned to game making, he’d do it on his own terms. Continue reading

Glib

GlibThe Game: Think of it as Scrabble without the board. A random selection of letters flashes past (or marches past, depending on your chosen game variation), leaving it up to you to press the fire button and stop them in your tracks. At that moment, you have a limited amount of time to fashion a word from as many of the letters on screen as See the videopossible; scoring depends on the standard Scrabble value of each letter. You can either pass on doing anything with the selection of letters you end up with (resulting in no points), or you can enter your word, which gives you (or another player) a chance to approve or disqualify the word depending on whether or not it’s a real word according to the dictionary. (Selchow & Righter, 1983)

Memories: One of the rarest cartridges in the Atari 2600’s library, Glib is one of those oddities from the tail end of the era when anyone and everyone was turning out Atari games – even outfits like Purina which arguably had no business trying to break into the home video game arena. But surely Selchow & Righter, the folks who had invented Scrabble, had a better game-design pedigree than a dog food company…right? Continue reading

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Orbit

Space ShuttleBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of the space shuttle. And the mission specialist too, apparently. (Hey, everyone’s making staffing cutbacks these days.) You must keep the orbiter on target during launch, not allowing it to drift off course, and then you must retrieve, repair and re-deploy a satellite. Then augur the shuttle in for a smooth landing – and then get in line for your next mission, which begins almost immediately after your previous one. (Did we mention that, in this game’s universe, you’re NASA’s only shuttle pilot and mission specialist?) (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Activision‘s excessively cool shuttle flight sim piqued my interest just as a later Apple II resource-management game, Project Space Station, did. I’ve always liked the idea of a modern-day (or five-minutes-into-the-future, as was the case with Project) space sim that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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