Caverns Of Mars

Caverns Of MarsThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now See the videosharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, the enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Atari wisely realized that some of the best programming talent wasn’t necessarily on its own payroll. With so much of the company’s financial resources devoted to supporting the 2600, this paved the way for the Atari Program Exchange, a program that allowed users to send in their own best work to Atari, who would then list the best of these homebrew games and applications in an official newsletter and handle distribution on cassette and floppy disk. Read More


CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Apple II. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Odessa Software, 1981)

Memories: At the time of its release, Odessa Software’s Apple version of checkers was a reasonably big deal, since it had been given its “smarts” by one of the leading experts in programming computers to play chess and checkers. Read More


JawbreakerThe Game: You’re a mobile set of chattering teeth, gobbling up goodies in a maze as jaw-breaking candies pursue you. If you bite down on one of these killer candies, you’ll rack up quite a dental bill (enough to lose a life). You can snag one of four snacks in the corners of the maze and suddenly the tooth-rotting treats become crunchy and vulnerable. Advance to the next level by clearing the maze of dots. (On-Line Systems, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Atari’s home version of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was like a trail of telltale blood in a tank full of pirhanas. It was quickly apparent that there was one wounded one in the group, and other predators quickly closed in for the kill – or, in the case of Pac-Man, provided games for various platforms that duplicated the Pac-Man experience better than Atari could apparently manage to do. Read More


MouskattackThe Game: Plumber Larry Bain is out to earn his hazard pay, trying to run pipes through a rat-infested maze. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the rats are as big as he is. He can lay a limited number of traps in the maze that will temporarily stop the rats in their tracks so he can double back and eliminate them, but in the end Larry’s best chance of survival is to stay on the run and fill the maze with plumbing. (Sierra On-Line, 1981)

Memories: Cut from the same “let’s do Pac-Man but make it different enough from Pac-Man that we don’t get sued” cloth as his own Jawbreaker, John Harris strikes again with Mouskattack, which was actually advertised as being “by the author of Jawbreaker,” which may be one of the earliest instances of a game being advertised as something that should be bought on the strength of that programmer’s previous works. Read More


SneakersThe Game: Alien invaders are descending on your world, taking on unusual forms in the process: sneaker-clad stomping creatures, roaming eyeballs, “H-wing fighters,” flying saucers and more. Try to use their unusual patterns of See the videomovement against them and keep them from destroying your fighter. (Sirius Software, 1981)

Memories: If this description sounds an awful lot like Activision‘s early hit Megamania!, it’s no coincidence – both games attempted to add a dash of whimsy to the basic game play of the ubiquitous arcade sleeper hit, Astro Blaster. Both Sneakers and Megamania! nearly duplicate the unique meandering movement of Astro Blaster‘s alien invaders. Read More


TaxmanThe Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, and apparently somehow tied to the Internal Revenue Service, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful See the videomonsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and, after spending some noncorporeal time floating around and contemplating taxation without representation, return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (H.A.L. Labs, 1981)

Memories: Alas, the folly of H.A.L. Labs and Taxman. Clearly a copy of Pac-Man – with only the names changed – this game was crippled by keyboard controls that were counterintuitive even back then. The sad thing is, given the graphics and sound limitations of the Apple II, the rest of the game was stellar, a near-perfect port of Pac-Man. Read More

TI Invaders

TI InvadersThe 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 quartet 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 and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth…it’s all over. (Texas Instruments, 1981)

Memories: A straightforward, no-frills take on Space Invaders, TI Invaders trumped just about every other home computer version in terms of faithfulness to the source material. Read More

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. Read More


UltimaThe Game: You set out alone on an adventure spanning countryside, mountains, oceans, towns and dungeons. You can purchase food rations, weapons and armor in the towns, visit Lord British in a castle for his wisdom, maybe a level-up, See the videoand your next assignment, or you can venture forth into the dungeons to test your skill against the denizens of the underworld. (California Pacific Computer, 1981)

Memories: Richard Garriott has said that the first Ultima game – which was originally marketed as Ultimatum – essentially “uses Akalabeth as a subroutine”, and while that may be oversimplifying how much or how little new code Ultima added to the game, it’s essentially true – the dungeons are practically vintage Akalabeth fare, while the towns and the above-ground portions of the game are literally a whole different animal. Read More