51 Shades of Geek

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CartridgeThe Game: Your quest begins as you set out from the safety of home to look for adventure in mountainous caverns. When you wander into the dungeons and caverns, your view zooms in to the maze See the videoyour adventurer is exploring, complete with treasures to collect and deadly dangers to duel. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Combining sword-and-sorcery – traditionally the territory of paper-and-dice role playing games – with video game action has been one of the more inspired mash-ups to come from the golden age of video games. As combinations go, it was almost inevitable – with Dungeons & Dragons being more geeky than mainstream in the 1970s, it was an activity with which game programmers – another geeky crowd – were likely to be acquainted. With all of that crossover going on, it was therefore inevitable that someone, presumably whoever had deep enough pockets to license the title and game elements, would eventually produce an official video game. Continue reading

Adventures Of Tron

Adventure Of TronThe Game: As video warrior Tron, you scale the heights of the MCP’s domain, avoiding Tanks, Recognizers and Grid Bugs, and trying to collect Bits. You can occasionally hitch a brief ride on a perpetually airborne Solar Sailer on one level, allowing you to fly over your opponents’ heads for a few seconds. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Though formatted like one of the numerous platform adventure games that would one day become associated with Mario, Adventures Of Tron, while quite challenging, is frustrating since there seems to be no actual goal to reach. After a few levels, it becomes extremely repetitious. Continue reading

Astrosmash

AstroblastThe Game: Your planet is under siege by an unending hail of asteroids, bombs, and space debris. Your simple mission? Blast all of this stuff, or dodge it. But you’re toast if a bomb hits the ground. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Not one of Mattel’s finest titles for the 2600, Astroblast is a loose adaptation of Astrosmash, a game originally released for Mattel’s Intellivision console. The graphics are clunky even compared to such bottom-of-the-barrel entries like Atari’s Pac-Man and Combat. Continue reading

Attack Of The Timelord!

Attack Of The Timelord!The Game: The game begins as the skull-like face of Spyruss the Deathless (the Timelord of Chaos, no less!) taunts you (well, only if you had the Voice), and then a bunch of pesky spaceships pops out of a vortex to shoot at See the videoyou. They shoot at you rather a lot. Fortunately, you can shoot back with reckless abandon, but their ammunition – as you ascend into the higher levels of the game – can track you and even, if you don’t destroy their shots in mid-air, crawl along the ground briefly while you head for the opposite side of the screen, neatly trapped for their next volley. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: One of the last few games to be made for the Odyssey 2, this gem of addictive shooting-gallery fun is obviously heavily derived from the all-time arcade classic Galaga. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: In a conceptually simple but occasionally very difficult game, you man three fixed artillery batteries defending the advanced underwater city of Atlantis. Alien spaceships pass overhead, and you have to choose your target – and which See the videoBuy this gameof the three guns you’re firing – carefully in order to knock them out. Any ships which survive one pass will drop down one level and make another pass. At the lowest level, the ships will begin bombing the city, knocking out habitation domes, power generators, and even your artillery nests. When the final destruction of Atlantis comes at last, one tiny ship escapes into the sky… (Imagic, 1982)

See the original TV adMemories: A pretty simple variation on the Missile Command format, Atlantis starts out exceedingly simple, luring you into a false sense of security. After a while, the game is just about unbeatable. Second only to Activision in its wonderfully crafted games, Imagic made its games extremely colorful, with distinctive graphics and sounds that became an Imagic signature. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: You man three fixed artillery batteries defending the advanced underwater city of Atlantis. Alien spaceships pass overhead, and you have to choose your target – and which of the three guns you’re firing – carefully in order to knock them out. Any ships which survive one pass will drop down one level and make another pass. At the lowest level, the ships will begin bombing the city, knocking out habitation domes, power generators, and even your artillery nests. When the final destruction of Atlantis comes at last, one tiny ship escapes into the sky… (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Sometimes it just takes a slight advance in hardware to make the same game a whole different game. Atlantis is the proof in the pixellated pudding, for the Intellivision edition not only has you defending the city under the ocean in broad daylight, it demands that you defend it in the dead of night, with only sweeping spotlights panning across the sky to pick out your approaching foes. And that is a whole different game – not being able to see the buggers is tough. Continue reading

Arabian

ArabianThe Game: Bring your turban up to speed! As you’re serenaded with a monophonic rendition of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, you climb and jump and kick your way to collecting all the letters on the screen. If you collect them in the See the videocorrect order to spell ARABIAN, you get a bonus before moving on to the next screen. And watch out for the big genie… (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is a rather cute and simplistic game, but it’s not a pushover. I can’t tell you how many quarters Arabian relieved me of. And even while playing it in MAME to grab screen stills for this page, it kicked my scrawny little pixellated butt. Continue reading

Astron Belt

3-D computer rendering of Astron Belt cabinetThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot on patrol in the middle of an intergalactic war. In deep space, on craggy hazardous planet surfaces and at all points in between, you’re a target for enemy forces, and while you can defend yourself, danger See the videocomes from all sides without warning: enemy fire, collisions with the landscape or enemy ships, and that old standby, pilot error. The video footage in the background comes from Toei Studios’ 1979 opus Message From Earth and, somewhat surprisingly, Star Trek II. (Sega / Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: In 1983, several companies seemed to simultaneously roll out arcade games based on the engineering principle that some or all of the game’s graphics would be played by a videodisc player. In the age of videotape, videodisc technology wasn’t perfect, but it presented something that was absolutely vital for bringing pre-recorded video to a game environment: random access. Without that, any game using pre-recorded video would’ve been forced to show the same sequence of visuals no matter what the player did. Continue reading

The Activision Decathlon

The Activision DecathlonBuy this gameThe Game: Let the games begin! The Activision Decathlon puts players in the middle of ten summer Olympic events, each of which requires fast and furious joystick action, and careful timing on the fire button, to measure the player’s physical prowess. Events include 100 and 400 meter dashes, long jump, discus, shot put, high jump and more. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Olympic-themed video games began to pile on pretty thick starting with Track & Field in the arcade, and Activision was ahead of the curve as well, getting See the videoThe Activision Decathlon on the market a year before the 1984 games. Like Track & Field, Decathlon made use of a unique control scheme that brought some real physicality to the game, requiring players to work up at least a little bit of a sweat. It also cost many an otherwise well-constructed controller its life. Continue reading

Air Raid

Air RaidThe Game: Players fly a fighter jet that can somehow maintain perfect altitude and lateral control despite constantly flying with its nose pointed straight up. Oncoming invaders, resembling UFOs, upside-down houses, upside-down stick figures (presumably the residents of the upside-down houses) and other airplanes appear; the player can either shoot them down, let them pass (with no apparent damage to the structures that the player’s jet is apparently protecting) or be blown to bits. (Men-A-Vision, 1983)

Memories: This game is not renowned for its compelling, must-hit-the-reset-switch-and-do-it-all-again game play. It’s not memorable for its searingly colorful graphics or amazing, how-did-they-get-that-sound-out-of-that-chip audio. Air Raid has none of these things. What Air Raid does have, however, is the dubious distinction of being the rarest commercially released game made for the Atari VCS, while simultaneously being one of the worst. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: Hostile spacecraft are bombing the underwater paradise of Atlantis from above. Manning two cannons, you can knock the attacking ships out of the sky – or try to hit them at close range if they dive to bombing See the videoaltitutde. When all of Atlantis’ landmarks have been wiped out, the game is over. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Once again, Imagic turned out a superb port of their already well-known Atari 2600 and Intellivision chestnut for the underserved Odyssey 2. Of Imagic’s two games for the Odyssey, Atlantis is the better title, though both were excellent games. Continue reading

Apple Cider Spider

Apple Cider SpiderThe Game: You control a spider, wandering though a factory that makes cider, and to survive this trip you better be a good hider, for the spider can’t survive with any apples that might collide ‘er. The spider can become a rider on conveyor belts, but she can also fall off if the spider tries to jump over something wider than she can navigate. See the videoThe goal is to help your spider reach home despite all the perils that would divide ‘er. (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: A cute game requiring heaps of good timing, Ivan Strand’s Apple Cider Spider takes some staples of the platform/climbing genre, adds a few twists, and pours on the cute for good measure. It’s a delightful game that’s funny because nothing really violent can happen here, aside from stumbling into a few grisly ways to die here and there. (Well, grisly if you’re a spider.) Continue reading

Archon

ArchonThe Game: What if chess pieces were living creatures, each with its own unique abilities? And what if, every time to pieces met on the board, they had to fight amongst themselves to occupy the square in question? That’s Archon in a nutshell. (Electronic Arts, 1983)

Memories: Whoever came up with this game is a total genius. This is the sort of game that won lots of fans in the early days who may not have necessarily been computer or video game afficionados – a modern variation on the game of chess, with arcade-flavored action segments to determine control of contested territories. Continue reading

Attack Of The Timelord! (Terrahawks+)

Attack Of The Timelord!The Game: The game begins as the skull-like face of Spyruss the Deathless (the Timelord of Chaos, no less!) taunts you (well, only if you had the Voice), and then a bunch of pesky spaceships pops out of a vortex to shoot at See the videoyou. They shoot at you rather a lot. Fortunately, you can shoot back with reckless abandon, but their ammunition – as you ascend into the higher levels of the game – can track you and even, if you don’t destroy their shots in mid-air, crawl along the ground briefly while you head for the opposite side of the screen, neatly trapped for their next volley. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: Known as Attack Of The Timelord outside of Europe and the U.K., this game was released abroard as Terrahawks+ for the Philips G7400+ console. It’s essentially the same game, except with a relatively elaborate background graphic of the Earth and moon (complete with the man in the moon, no less). 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

Adventure Construction Set

The Game: Digital dungeon masters never had it so good. From the design of tiles and characters to the basic rules governing the player’s interactions with his world, it’s all up for grabs. Items can be placed, their abilities defined, and enemies can be generated. Let the games begin…but is it more fun to create them or play them? (Electronic Arts, 1985)

Memories: Offering everything from pre-built elements to user-defined items and characters from scratch, Adventure Construction Set was a revelation. Where Garry Kitchen‘s Game Maker from Activision allowed budding game designers to create their own arcade-style games, EA‘s Adventure Construction Set gave them control of a top-down, tile-based 2-D adventure game. Those familiar with the Ultima series or Questron would instantly be within their element. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into See the videoBuy this gamelittle chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: So you thought Asteroids didn’t become a creature of slick full-color graphics until the Playstation era, eh? Or maybe you didn’t think that. First off, Atari rehashed the game in colorful raster form as Blasteroids in the arcades, and then it included a copy of this rendition of Asteroids with every Atari 7800 console it sold. Continue reading

Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Williams Collection

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Williams CollectionBuy this gameThe Game: Visit a shrine to the greatest hits of Williams Electronics’ spectacularly successful arcade manufacturing venture of the early 80s. Spawned almost solely by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, Williams’ arcade division spawned some of the most memorable hits of the golden age of video games – and these are just a few of them. (Williams/Midway [developed by Digital Eclipse], 1995)

Memories: One of the earliest classic arcade emulation collections for the Playstation, The Williams Collection was Williams Electronics‘ (now owned by Midway) answer to Namco‘s series of Namco Museum games, chronicling the greatest arcade hits of one of Williams’ biggest rivals in the early 80s. And for my money, The Williams Collection is better – no cheesy, unintelligibly bit-mapped photos of printed circuit boards here, kids; Williams brings you full-length video interviews with Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, the game designers/programmers behind such hits as Defender and Robotron: 2084, as well as the minds behind such other games as Joust and Bubbles. Continue reading

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