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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Project Space Station

Project Space StationThe Game: You are the administrator of NASA. Your goal? To launch the necessary components of a full-scale space station, assemble them in orbit, and initiate and maintain any number of commercial or medical research projects aboard your orbital laboratory. You will also be in charge of launching satellites for commercial and military clients. As fun as all of these activities may sound, they don’t come without a price tag. The cost for everything from necessary space hardware, to time spent in the planning stages, to launches and landings, to maintaining the bare essentials of survival in orbit, will reach into the billions of dollars…if you’re good at this game. (HESware, 1985)

Memories: An incredibly fun and very complex game, Project Space Station is a SimCity-style simulation with elements that appeal to almost anyone, including arcade-style action screens. But there are also aspects of the game – such as the budgeting screen (left) – that can best be appreciated by older players. Continue reading

The Halley Project

The Halley ProjectThe Game: Your sleek spacecraft is launched from a base installation on Halley’s Comet (!). Your mission is to scout various bodies in the solar system – both planets and moons – which meet strictly defined criteria as dispensed by the computer. In some cases you must land, in others you must simply achieve orbit. You must learn to navigate the solar system using the constellations of the Zodiac, and learn to judge distance so you won’t overshoot your target (and therefore exceed your allotted mission time) with brief bursts of your faster-than- light drive. You climb in the ranks as you complete more missions. (Interscope, 1986)

Memories: As a life-long space buff, I adored this game. I was always a big fan of such interplanetary missions as the Vikings, Voyagers, Pioneers and Mariners launched by NASA (and, for the most part, overseen by JPL, though to give credit where it’s due, the Pioneers were an Ames project). This game put me into the role of a surrogate space probe, navigating planets and their moons and generally exploring the solar system. 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

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

Celestia

CelestiaThe Game: Not a game, but a powerful (and free) space simulator, Celestia lets you pick what celestial bodies you observe, from any distance or close-up. You can tell Celestia to put convenient labels on any or all of the heavenly objects, or none of them, and even pick a minimum magnitude for background stars. But they’re not just wallpaper – you can click on and travel to any one of them, and you can follow them in a variety of ways. Add-on packages offer everything from updated imagery and orbital information for real planets, moons, comets and vehicles, as well as fictional add-ons for those who are feeling a bit fanciful. (Celestia Development Group, 2006)

See the videoDownload this gameMemories: When I was a teenager, at the height of the Halley’s Comet craze in 1985, the top notch solar system simulation on a home computer was a simple game called The Halley Project, released for the Apple II and Commodore 64. Now, some 22 years later, though, instead of having to navigate 12 whole constellations to find my way to large white featureless blobs that have a handful of smaller featureless blobs orbiting them, an open-source PC solar system simulator called Celestia has finally delivered the space exploration program I’ve always wanted – for free, no less. Continue reading

Wii Play

Wii PlayThe Game: Wii Play gathers a collection of mini-games in one place, from fishing, billiards and target shooting to a futuristic hockey game and tank battles, each showcasing different ways that the Wii remote controls Buy this gamecan be used. (Nintendo, 2007)

Memories: As with Wii Sports, Wii Play is an easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down grouping of fairly simple minigames. Some of the games in Wii Play simulate real sports, while others delve into more abstract areas of game play. That’s the good news, and the even better news is that just about all of them are fun, making this another all-in-one first-party home run for Nintendo – if anyone knows a dozen different ways to use the Wii controllers, it should be the folks who made the things. Continue reading

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