Starhawk

StarhawkThe Game: The player pilots a space fighter into an endless dogfight above a space station trench. Enemy ships attack from all directions, and even zip See the videodown the trench; and and all of these can be blasted into bits for points. Beware the fastest of these enemy fighters, which will appear with very little notice and fire directly at the player’s score, relieving it of points every time the fighter is successful with its attack! (Cinematronics, 1979)

Memories: 1979 is the year that trench warfare – i.e. the Death Star trench – hit arcades and consoles alike. With the premiere of Star Wars in May 1977, game designers everywhere seemed to home in on the movie’s climactic flight through the Death Star trench as obvious video game material, and with good reason: the enclosed space offered plenty of hazards and limited room to maneuver, as well as the illusion of 3-D depth. As long as the hardware for a given project could handle the display requirements, the game play was a no-brainer – it had already been dictated by George Lucas and ILM. The only thing that kept the earliest variations on the Death Star trench theme from appearing immediately after the movie was the turnaround time for development, programming and manufacturing. Continue reading

Warrior

WarriorThe Game: Two armored knights coalesce out of thin air in an enclosed arena, swords at the ready. Before they can do battle, there’s the matter of simply navigating the arena’s geography: a pair of bottomless pits can lead either knight to his death, and each pit is surrounded on two sides by a staircase than can make for a handy resting place – or an even deadlier place to duel. There’s also a narrow catwalk between the pits. If the knights can stay on firm ground, the sword-swinging begins; when a knight is vanquished, he re-forms in the corner where he first appeared and can charge into battle again until he has lost all of his lives. Whoever’s still standing at the end of the game wins. (Cinematronics/Vectorbeam, 1979)

See the videoMemories: A great example of how new everything was in the early days of video games, Warrior is the first head-to-head fighting game, allowing two players to bash each other to bits (or stumble into the pits); there was no single-player mode. Graphically, the game is incredibly simple: the black & white vector graphics are responsible for nothing but the knights (nicely drawn and animated for the late 70s) and their respective scores. Everything else is a fluorescent-lit overhead view of the arena. That artwork could be seen through a half-silvered mirror, while the monitor itself actually displayed the graphics backwards so the mirror would show the knights over the playing field. This was a common trick of the day to achieve graphics that there simply wasn’t enough computer power to draw, but it was incredibly effective – and, at the time, it was all so new. Continue reading

Armor Attack

The Game: One or two players are at the controls of speedy ground assault vehicles which can zip around an enclosed maze of open areas and buildings with almost mouse-like speed. Heavy tanks and armed helicopters routinely appear in this maze, attempting to shoot any player vehicles they spot; the player(s) can, in turn, fire back at both of these vehicles. Caution: a damaged tank may still be able to draw a bead, so it’s best to keep firing until the tanks are completely destroyed. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: However popular Atari’s vector graphics games were, the real rock-solid workhorse of that genre of gaming was the comparitively small Cinematronics. Armor Attack (whose marquee cryptically punctuates the title as “Armor… …Attack“) was no household name like Asteroids, and it may have been a mere sleeper without being a sleeper hit; the game play, for the most part, dated back to Kee Games’ Tank! from several years earlier. But it’s fondly remembered today – and made enough of a mark for a unique home version. Continue reading

Star Castle

Star CastleThe Game: You control a lone space fighter in the immediate vicinity of the nearly-impenetrable Star Castle. Its three layers of shields rotate, but those layers aren’t solid, so you might be able to get a shot in and destroy the alien craft at its center – but it’s also just as likely that the alien will get a clear shot at you…and its firepower is far greater. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: Tim Skelly’s all-time arcade classic managed to get a cult following despite being eclipsed technologically by some of its contemporaries. In order to get its three rotating shield rings to be multicolored, Star Castle relied on transparent overlays on the monitor – not unlike the TV screen overlays of the original Magnavox Odyssey home video game console – to provide that color. Continue reading

War Of The Worlds

War Of The WorldsThe Game: The Martians are coming! And they’re coming in colorful vector graphics! The tripod-like Martian War Machines land, extend their legs, and begin marching inexorably toward your cannon, pausing momentarily to sweep the bottom of the screen with their deadly heat rays, or hurling spirals of energy your way to slow down See the videoyour cannon. You have a shield that can offer you mere moments of protection, but if it wears out or you find yourself in the Martians’ sights, your spiky-headed cannon operator is fried, and the cannon is promptly manned by another spiky-headed gunner. When your spiky-headed infantry is exhausted, the Martian invasion continues… (Cinematronics, 1981)

Memories: An entertaining variation on the basic game concept of Space Invaders, War Of The Worlds is quite a tricky game. From a visual standpoint, for line art, the Martian War Machines are menacing foes, and it could be that this is their best moving-image representation, possibly even better than Pal or Spielberg managed. (The rotating “Cylon eye” effect adds a lot of frisson, especially when the heat ray unexpectedly shoots out of it and blasts you!) Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of See the videofive rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Gottlieb, 1982)

Memories: A decidedly weird but incredibly addictive game. You may find yourself spending ages on it before you know it, and getting better and better at the game. This is a game which would probably be a hit in a graphically updated edition – providing the game play was left as is. Then again, adding detailed graphics would probably rob Reactor of a lot of its mystique. Continue reading

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