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

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

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

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


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

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