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Avalanche

AvalancheThe Game: Watch for falling rocks – because it’s your job to catch them. You control a series of containers arranged in a vertical row, and your task is to catch all of the rocks, without fail, not letting a single one of them hit the ground. The more rocks you catch, the more containers you’ll fill, and you’ll be left with fewer, and See the videosmaller, containers. If you let a rock through your defenses too many times, the game’s over. And you’ll probably be hit in the head with a lot of rocks. Neither outcome is really a good thing. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Avalanche is a relic of the early days of videogaming, where no idea was left untried. It’s a fiendishly simple and surprisingly tense little number for what appears to be such a simple game. Continue reading

Blasto

BlastoThe Game: Piloting a mobile cannon around a cluttered playfield, you have but one task: clear the screen of mines, without blowing yourself up, in the time allotted. If you don’t clear the screen, or you manage to detonate a mine so See the videoclose to yourself that it takes you out, the game is over. If you do clear all the mines, you get a free chance to try it again. Two players can also try to clear the minefield simultaneously. (Gremlin, 1978)

Memories: It may not look terribly entertaining if you’re accustomed to graphics even on the Atari 2600’s level, but Blasto is quite addictively entertaining when you get right down to it, and its decidedly lo-fi graphics are just part of its charm. Continue reading

Football

FootballThe Game: Trade those pads in for pixels and get ready to hit the gridiron. Each player controls a football team represented by Xs or Os, and uses a keypad to select offensive and defensive maneuvers – and the trakball to tear across the turf as fast as the player can move it. Additional quarters buy additional playing time (each quarter gets two minutes of play). Whoever has the highest score at the end of the game is the winner; later four-player variations sported additional trakballs so the offensive player could control his team’s quarterback and another could control the receiver for passing plays, while there were now two independent players on the defensive team. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The only serious rival for Space Invaders‘ arcade affection in 1978, Atari’s Football almost beat those crafty aliens to the punch by a couple of years. Continue reading

Frogs

FrogsThe Game: Long before Frogger and Frog Bog, there were simply Frogs, the original arcade amphibians. One or two frogs hop along a lily pad at the bottom of the screen, scoping out tasty flies to eat. When you’ve got a See the videomorsel in your frog’s reach, jump and try to activate your frog’s tongue at just the right time. (You’ll know if you’ve snared a meal because your frog will seem to ascend the screen in heavenly bliss.) Whoever has the most points at the end of the timed game is the supreme frog. (Gremlin, 1978)

Memories: Though the game concept would be more widely popularized by Frog Bog several years later on the Intellivision, this is where the two-frogs-catching-flies game began. If you’re wowed by the amazing graphics on this early game, don’t be – the colorful background was a piece of artwork set into the arcade cabinet, onto which the game’s graphics were “projected” by laying the monitor flat on its back and reflecting the computer-generated graphics of the frogs and flies toward the player via a mirror at a 45-degree angle. (The game’s graphics were actually generated and shown backward, so the mirror reflection would show letters and numbers properly.) Continue reading

Gee Bee

Gee BeeThe Game: It’s like pinball, but not quite. Not only are the bouncing-ball physics and bumpers of pinball present, but so are walls of bricks which, when destroyed, add to your score and sometimes redirect your ball in unpredictable directions. Pinball meets Breakout. (Namco, 1978)

Memories: If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember this game, don’t spend too much time – not that many gamers actually got to play it first-hand. It is, in fact, only in retrospect that Gee Bee‘s true historical significance has been revealed. Continue reading

Space Wars

Space WarsThe Game: Two ships are locked in deadly deep-space combat, firing interplanetary ordnance at each other. Some variations include a sun whose gravity well will draw the immobile or the unwary to their destruction, or a roaming asteroid which can be a handy shield one moment and a killer obstacle the next. Whoever survives the most confrontations within a set amount of time is the victor. (Cinematronics, 1978)

Memories: Packaged in a mammoth, industrial-fridge-sized cabinet, Space Wars may be imposing, but it’s hardly original. Larry Rosenthal, creator of the so-called “Vectorbeam” technology, picked a well-worn computer gaming icon that was fun, strategic…and in the public domain. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster See the videoand more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Midway [under license from Taito], 1978)

Memories: Three buttons, three colors (if one includes black), all for 25 cents. And thus began the video game boom that made Taito a major manufacturer, with dozens of other companies – Atari, Bally/Midway, Namco, Nintendo, Sega, you name it – riding the large wave launched by Space Invaders. There was indeed an invasion underway…but it didn’t originate from space. It was launched from Japan and Silicon Valley, and for a while…it did take over the world. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super Breakout4 quarters!The Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean See the videoyou’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The sequel to Atari’s original Breakout coin-op, which actually enjoyed greater success at home on the Atari VCS than in the arcades, Super Breakout added some minor innovations to the original game, including the cavities (and their rogue balls) and the double-paddle (and the paddle length shortening by half when you knock a ball into the top of the playing field). Still fundamentally a black & white game, Super Breakout’s colorful bricks were achieved the old Magnavox Odyssey way: colored overlays on the screen itself. Continue reading

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe

3-D Tic-Tac-ToeBuy this gameThe Game: If you’re not quite up to the challenge of playing 3-D chess with Mr. Spock, you can always try playing 3-D tic-tac-toe against the Atari 2600. Using your joystick, you position your pieces in an ongoing battle with the computer. But be careful – the machine is very wily about placing its pieces, and can often force you to head it off at one pass, only to leave yourself wide open for a complete vertical row. This game is much more challenging than it looks, despite the age of the technology involved. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Clever little game, this, and among the earliest batch of Atari cartridges released. And considering that its contemporaries in that batch included such titles as Breakout, Space War and Combat, 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe is probably the most graphically refined of the early VCS games. Continue reading

Pinball

Odyssey2 Pinball cartridge signed by Ralph BaerThe Game: A virtual pinball machine is presented, complete with flippers, bumpers, and the ability to physically “bump” the table to influence the motion of the ball. Per standard pinball rules, the See the videoobject of the game is to keep the ball in play as long as possible. (Ralph Baer, 1978 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Ralph Baer’s Pinball, released to the public on cartridge at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, was never intended to be a commercially released title. Instead, it’s a tech demo of sorts, a “rough sketch” example of what kind of games Magnavox’s still-in-development Odyssey2 system would be capable of. There are no special graphics to represent the various elements of the game; the bumpers are simply the letter O, and the flippers are forward and backward slashes. Continue reading

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!The Game: War is pixellated, blocky hell on the Odyssey2! In Armored Encounter, two combatants in tanks circumnavigate a maze peppered with land mines, searching for the optimum spot from which to blow each other to kingdom come. In Sub Chase, a bomber plane and a submarine, both maneuverable in their own way, try to take each other out without blasting any non-combatant boats routinely running between them (darn that civilian shipping!). In both games, the timer is counting down for both sides to blow each other straight to hell. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Armored Encounter! is a somewhat standard-issue variation on Atari’s Tank coin-op (which that company later used to launch the Atari VCS under the name of Combat), only with a vastly simpified map. Continue reading

Basketball

BasketballSee the videoThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: If you need a “before” and “after” picture to see how far video basketball has come, Atari’s Basketball – one of the earliest games published for the VCS – is an effective “before” snapshot. Atari had previously included a Pong-style basketball game as one of the selections on its dedicated Video Pinball console, and compared to that, Basketball is a quantum leap forward: the players are now represented by stick figures, not paddles, and there’s a very early attempt at an isometric 3-D representation of the court, possibly one of the very earliest 3-D perspectives attempted in home video games. Continue reading

Baseball!

Baseball!The Game: In Baseball!, you are, quite simply, one of two teams playing the great American game. If you’re up at bat, your joystick and button control the man at the plate and any players on base. If you’re pitching, your button and joystick control how wild or straight your pitches are, and you also control the outfielders – you can catch a ball on the fly, or pick it up and try to catch the other player away from his bases. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Why exactly do I like the Odyssey2 baseball game? What the hell do I care for this stripped-down, ultra-simple, painfully two-dimensional version of baseball? Precisely because it is simple. Modern computer sports games are just too damned complex. Baseball! didn’t force you to pick existing players based on their RBI or average score per game, nor did it make you struggle to make sense of a vaguely three-dimensional display trying to ape ESPN game coverage. Continue reading

Bowling! / Basketball!

Bowling! / Basketball!The Game: Hit the hardwood in one of two sports. Roll your big shiny one down the lanes and try to knock down all the pins in Bowling!, or go for a basket in Basketball! Not possible in Odyssey2 Basketball!: fouls, three-point shots, free throws, most steals… (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, neither the bowling nor basketball games for the Atari VCS which competed for shelf space with this two-in-one Odyssey2 title were significantly better, but they would’ve been hard pressed to turn out significantly worse. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! Continue reading

Casino Slot Machine!

Casino Slot Machine!The Game: You pays your money, you takes your chances. Pull the lever (or, in this case, the joystick) and try to get the fruit to line up. If you succeed, you’re in good shape; if you don’t, well, you’re out some more change. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: While I actually rather enjoyed the Odyssey2 Las Vegas Blackjack! cartridge, I have a hard time gleaning even the slightest measure of enjoyment from Casino Slot Machine!. Continue reading

Computer Golf!

Computer Golf!The Game: As man eked out his existence in the dark ages with only his animal cunning and the brutal power of the club, so do you in this golf See the videosimulation, in which you putter around nine different courses in an attempt to make a hole in one – or simply to stay under par. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Though Baseball! was a better-playing game, Computer Golf! must be, quite simply, the most memorable Odyssey2 sports game there was. Continue reading

Dodge It

Dodge ItThe Game: Trapped in a square or rectangular arena, the player is represented by a mobile square. Another projectile punches its way into the arena and begins ricocheting around; points accumulate rapidly the longer the player’s See the videosquare avoids contact with the projectile, but starting at 200 points, an additional projectile is added every 100 points, each on its own chaotic, bouncing path. The game ends when the player inevitably collides with one of these projectiles. (Fairchild, 1978)

Memories: Nearly every system, no matter how obscure, has at least one unique game that’s worth seeking out both hardware and software, just to try it out and see how much fun it is. Some systems, like the Atari VCS and the Intellivision, have something like half a dozen “killer apps”. When I played Dodge It on the Fairchild Channel F, it was one of those occasions where I looked up at the clock, and realized two things: it was an hour later, and I was still playing Dodge It. It’s a unique concept that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, maddeningly simple and insanely addictive. Dodge It made it worth my while to have a Channel F hooked up in my game room. Continue reading

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