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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

Mystery House

Mystery HouseThe Game: You find yourself outside an inviting two-story house, and when you go in, you find several people waiting for you – and that inviting front door suddenly locked behind you. When dead bodies turn up on the second floor and night See the videobegins to fall (hope you found the matches in the cupboard already!), it quickly becomes apparent that among the friendly faces of the first floor is a cold-blooded killer. (On-Line Systems, 1980)

Memories: The very first game released by a new company formed by husband-and-wife team Ken and Roberta Williams, Mystery House is the first in a series of “Hi-Res Adventures” combining simple graphics and text descriptions and actions. The “Hi-Res Adventures” series would grow to include titles licensed from Disney and the Jim Henson Company, and would even survive the Williams’ company’s transformation from On-Line Systems into Sierra On-Line. Continue reading

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Zork I: The Great Underground EmpireThe Game: You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a mailbox here. (Infocom, 1982)

Memories: A direct descendant of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired all-text mainframe adventure games of the 1970s, only with a parser that can pick what it needs out of a sentence typed in plain English. In truth, Zork‘s command structure still utilized the Tarzan-English structure of the 70s game (i.e. “get sword,” “fight monster”), but the parser was there to filter out all of the player’s extraneous parts of speech – anything that wasn’t a noun or a verb, the game had no use for. Many a player just went the “N” (north), “U” (up), “I” (inventory) route anyway. Continue reading

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

Buckaroo BanzaiThe Game: Players control the actions of rock star brain surgeon (or is that the other way around?) Buckaroo Banzai, who starts the game in Yoyodyne Headquarters and must quickly accumulate the necessary gear to embark on an adventure to fend off the evil Red Lectroid’s latest bid to destroy the Earth. (Adventure International, 1984)

Memories: After virtually starting the home computer adventure gaming craze in the late 1970s, game creator Scott Adams was in a crowded field by 1985. The original Adventure International games – which paired simple graphics with concise, no-nonsense text descriptions – had since been duplicated and surpassed. Sierra On-Line‘s early Hi-Res Adventures were in much the same vein, and Infocom took the text/interactive fiction idea and ran with it sans graphics (at least for a while), but once adventure games were married with real-time action elements (the Ultima series, the Apshai games, King’s Quest, and let’s not forget that whole Zelda thing over on the NES), the days of text-with-illustrations adventures such as those turned out by Scott Adams were numbered. Continue reading

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide To The GalaxyThe Game: You’re Arthur Dent, and you’ve woken up with a very bad hangover. Between your state of inebriation and the fact that the Earth will shortly be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, this is an inauspicious start, especially since you must fulfill your destiny as one of the only two human beings left alive in the universe to even begin to get anywhere in this game. (Infocom, 1984)

Memories: Infocom was the pioneering group of brilliant software designers who took the simple Adventure-style game and elevated it to new heights. By combining an easy-to-use and well-designed interface which understood English, with fascinating worlds created by literate designers and writers, Infocom made some of the most engaging computer games in the history of early silicon. Continue reading

Doctor Who and the Warlord

Doctor Who and the WarlordThe Game: You are the Doctor’s companion, separated from the Time Lord during an attempt to save the Doctor’s old friend, King Varangar. When you come to, the Doctor is nowhere around, you’re unarmed, and you’re surrounded by deadly swamps, war zones, and hostile alien soldiers. Your life expectancy away from the TARDIS isn’t looking terribly good – and even if you can reunite with the Doctor, escaping from planet Quantain won’t be easy. (BBC Software, 1985)

Memories: The second official Doctor Who computer game, released during the show’s mid-1980s merchandising heyday, Doctor Who And The Warlord is a decisive step away from the somewhat derivative arcade-inspired game play of Doctor Who: The First Adventure… and a step toward another well-worn style of game: the text adventure. Continue reading

RACTER

RACTERThe Game: The player engages in conversation with RACTER (short for raconteur) in normal English sentences via the keyboard. RACTER responds with phrases that may (or may not) be relevant and may (or may not) make sense as part of a cohesive conversation. (Mindscape, 1985)

Memories: RACTER had a build-up of hype like no other non-sequel, non-movie-based program in its day – as well as a set of consumer expecatations that it probably had absolutely no chance whatsoever of meeting. After all, could a program running on a floppy disk on a home computer equipped with 64K of RAM really boast true artificial intelligence? Continue reading

Oo-Topos (Apple II)

Oo-ToposThe Game: A prisoner awakens in a cell aboard an alien spaceship, parked on an unknown world. with nothing more than the meal that’s been provided and his wits, the prisoner has to escape his cell, overcome guards and automatic defense system , collect items that could help him escape his captors. The guards always seem to be just around the corner, always helpfully prepared to escort you back to your cell to start again… after a little bit of needless brutality, of course. (Polarware, 1987)

Memories: A former Infocom designer and programmer (Infidel, Suspended) who stuck around just long enough after Infocom’s acquisition by Activision to design Tass Times In Tonetown, Michael Berlyn became a freelancer after the slow-motion debacle that was the Activision/Infocom merger. One of his final Apple II games took him to Polarware (which had started out the 1980s as Penguin Software, makers of a nearly-ubiquitous Apple graphics toolkit called Graphics Magician), where he proceeded to remake one of his earliest pre-Infocom games. Continue reading

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