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Stellar Track

Stellar TrackBuy this gameThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating alien incursions without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Atari [Sears exclusive], 1978)

Memories: Quite a bit more rare than the VCS edition of Sega’s Star Trek arcade game is this Sears exclusive – and, unless you’re trying to put together an insanely complete collection of 2600 cartridges, don’t sweat it if the rarity of this game prevents you from ever getting your hands on it. Stellar Track sucks like a hull breach. Continue reading

Lunar Lander

Lunar LanderBuy this gameThe Game: Gene Kranz isn’t around to give you a go/no-go for landing – in Lunar Lander, you’re on your own, trying to use the least fuel to bring your lander down for a soft touchdown on the safest target area available. You can always scrub the landing by pulling the ABORT handle, or you can opt for nerves of steel and try to keep your ship – valued at 100 megabucks, incidentally – in one piece. Failure, as some associated with the moon program have been known to say, is not an option for making that one small step…but if you do litter your landing pod across the lunar landscape so many times that you run out of fuel, you can always try to salvage the space program’s integrity for another quarter. (Atari, 1979)

See the videoMemories: Atari’s first foray into vector graphics was old news by computer mainframe standards. The basic premise of Lunar Lander had been around as a text-only game, blasting craters into college students’ productivity and computer lab time, for years. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
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Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion PictureThe Game: You’re at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise – that’s the cool part. The not-so-cool part? You’re in disputed territory – and the Klingons are bringing the fight to you en masse, attacking both the Enterprise and local Starbases, which you have the defend (lest you be left with no place to refuel). Use your phasers, photon torpedoes and shields judiciously – and do whatever it takes to halt the Klingon advance before they overrun Federation space. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: When the Enterprise returned by way of movie screens around the world in 1979, the sets and other visual details depicting the ship were brought right up to date to withstand big-screen scrutiny (and anticipated repeat viewing – though probably not even the movie’s makers knew to what degree that would be the case). The Enterprise’s onboard computers were shown to display, among other things, vector-graphics-style tactical displays – a fact not lost on the makers of the Vectrex console. Marrying the two was only – dare I say it? – logical. Continue reading

Star Raiders

Kneel to the awesome power of the mighty Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad!Star RaidersBuy this gameThe Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more damage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: See the TV addestroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. Continue reading

Taipan!

Taipan!The Game: The coast of 19th century China could be a dangerous place – pirates lay in wait for passing (and relatively defenseless) ships, and that’s just the obvious danger. The buyer’s and seller’s markets in dry goods, weapons, silk and opium could pose just as much of a hazard to an independent trader’s finances. And then See the videothere’s Li Yuen’s protection racket… (Avalanche Productions [designed by Art Canfil], 1982)

Memories: One of the first trading strategy games I ever encountered, Taipan! has been a favorite of mine for something like 20 years. When I played it as just one of many games in an all-day weekend screen grab-o-rama, I found myself playing the thing for hours. Continue reading

Gravitar

GravitarThe Game: Various worlds lie near a powerful gravitational vortex. From the moment you leave your launch pad, you’re in trouble – the vortex will draw you in if you don’t act quickly and fire your thrusters to take you to one of the planets. On each planet, you arrive in a deadly free-fall, requiring you to point your ship Buy this gameupward and fire retro-thrust, all the while turning to blast cannons which are attempting to shoot you down. Your fuel supply is also dwindling all this time, requiring you to find enemy fuel depots and siphon energy away from them. If you succeed in destroying all enemy installations on one world, there are several other planets waiting – with the deadly gravity vortex in the middle the whole time. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Damn, but this is a tough game! Tough but fun. It’s pretty embarrassing to get oneself iced on what basically amounts to the menu screen. Sheesh. Not that I’m saying that’s happened to me lately, of course. Continue reading

The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt

The Great Wall Street Fortune HuntThe Game: Feel like literally “playing” the stock market? This game allows you to do so with varying degrees of accuracy, ranging from level one – simple trading – to level four, which allows buying on margins, prime rate interest calculations, and numerous other complications. A ticker across the top of the screen gives the current values of several stocks and commodities, while a ticker running across the center of the screen gives the latest news updates. The nature of that news can have drastic effects on the stocks available for trade, ranging from the sometimes silly (“electronic foot massager increases worker productivity”) to the frighteningly prophetic (“war threat in the Middle East”). (North American Phillips, 1983)

Memories: An interesting idea for a console game (whereas this sort of thing would usually be found only on computers, especially back then), The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt was the third and final Master Strategy Series game released for the Odyssey2. Continue reading

Laser Gates

Laser GatesThe Game: You’re piloting the Dante Dart through the innards of an enormous sentient computer. The computer was originally constructed to defend the galaxy, but now it’s gone haywire and is planning to destroy the galaxy instead. There’s only one problem with such a massive defense computer: its own internal defense See the videomechanisms. Blast through densepack columns and laser gates as they try to fry your ship, and watch out for laser turrets, “byte bats” and other menaces which will pursue you. Your Energy meter is depleted by constant firing, so make every shot count. And your Shield meter drops as you take hits from enemy fire or crash through the defenses with your ship – something you don’t want to do too much of, lest your mission end prematurely and fatally. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: The scrolling sub-genre of flying through an enclosed space is hardly anything new for the 2600 (witness Atari’s own decent Vanguard translation, Super Cobra, Fantastic Voyage, etc.), but Laser Gates takes this task from a raw “try-not-to-get-killed” level to a puzzle of resource management and timing. Huge stretches of this game will go by where you don’t need to fire a single shot or do a lot of moving around. Continue reading

Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerBuy this gameThe Game: The orders are flying fast and furious. The customers are waiting. The clock is ticking. And you’re the only short-order cook in the kitchen. Your job is simple: arrange a series of hamburgers with ingredients indicated by the symbols at the bottom of the screen. Don’t waste any condiments if you can help it, and whatever you do, don’t make a burger with toppings and condiments and then drop it into the wrong delivery chute. If you fill all the orders correctly in the time allotted, you might just get promoted to manager…but chances are, you’ll have to do it all again, only faster this time. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This jewel of a game was the second Activision release for Garry Kitchen, who would later bring himself – and Activision – acclaim for a computer program called Game Maker. But for now, Kitchen had recently signed up, along with his brother, as the east coast branch of a company who – along with any other video game company that expected to stay in business – was decidedly located on the west coast. He already had a solid pedigree in the form of a slightly obscure shoot-’em-up, Space Jockey, published by Vidtec (later known as U.S. Games), and a little best-seller called Donkey Kong. He had also been one of the engineers responsible for the very popular miniature electronic pinball game, Wildfire. 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

Shuttle Orbiter

Shuttle OrbiterSee the videoThe Game: Piloting the space shuttle, you must navigate your way from a low orbit to a high one, stopping at a refueling satellite and ferrying modules to a space station under construction. While gaining altitude, you may run through fields of space debris; allowing them to hit the shuttle costs you precious fuel. (Avalon Hill, 1983)

Memories: Ah…simpler times. Truth be told, I love space exploration games – no alien encounters, no blasting doomsday asteroids out of a collision course with Earth, none of that. Just get the job done and get home safely. Continue reading

Star Trek

Star TrekThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Sega‘s own adaptation of its arcade game wasn’t bad. Though the Atari VCS, by its very nature, tends to force programmers to make trade-offs for game play that rob arcade adaptations of some of their luster, this one actually came out okay. If anything, this version of Star Trek was simpler than its arcade forebear – and since “bear” is the operative word for the coin-op, for once this isn’t a bad thing. Continue reading

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

It's Only Rock 'N' RollThe Game: You control the destiny of a pixellated rock band. A menu presents you with options to write songs, play concerts, go on tour, or even sign witha record company if you’ve racked up the money and the popularity (and the band still has the energy and drive to work a crowd). You can ask your manager to try to See the videowork out some special deals for you, but even success has its dark side – and what’s worse, now the dark side of stardom is randomly generated! (Xonox / K-Tel, 1984)

Memories: This game isn’t Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper. This game isn’t even up to Dr. Demento standards. This game isn’t even “Achy Breaky Heart” and it’s not even the Macarena. Because at least those flash-in-the-pan hits were catchy and compelling on some level, and people came back to them again and again for a feel-good fix. I can’t say the same for It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll for the Colecovision. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1984)

Memories: Some of the games ported to the Atari 5200 are a bit perplexing when they’re hardly a step above the same title as released for the Atari 2600. Sega’s 5200 edition of its own arcade game doesn’t improve much on the graphics of the 2600 version, and doesn’t even take advantage of the 5200’s controller keypad to control things like shields and warp power (that’s actually a bit disappointing there). Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Welcome aboard, Captain. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into See the videoFederation space without getting your Constitution-class starship and her crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power. Periodically you’ll even have to navigate a minefield laid by the murderous Nomad probe while trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of Nomad itself so you can destroy it. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1984)

Memories: One of the better home versions of Sega’s vector arcade game, the ColecoVision edition of Strategic Operations Simulator pulls off the neat trick of very nearly delivering more authentic Star Trek atmosphere than its inspiration. Each game kicks off with the familiar strains of Alexander Courage’s opening fanfare for the Enterprise (replacing the rather non-specific opening music of the arcade game), and even the game-ending “simulation complete” message is accompanied by another passage from the Star Trek theme. 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

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