Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Games You Should Have Played - 1982

[Computer Gaming]

Fear not for the unholy speed at which I'm concocting these posts, dread readers. There's going to be some kind of compilation post in the works sometime soon, which will ensconce this entire project neatly within my sidebar to ensure its continued consumption down through the ages. So you won't miss a year of the fun, no matter how hard you try.

This time around, we're navigating our way to the year 1982, wherein popcorn grows on trees and puppies and kittens run wild in the streets. The Smurfs formed a hit wig band, Winston Churchill's corpse was made the star of its own reality TV show, the Colecovision and the Atari 5200 hit store shelves, and somewhere in the stars intelligences greater than man's and yet mortal as his own regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly but surely drew their plans against us.

As with most of the 80s, the big news in gaming was the arcade hits coming home to the average lounge room, but in amongst all the console-porting madness some genuine pearls of gaming were cast before the swine. Let's take a look at someof them now....

1) Q*Bert (Arcade)
It's just startling how few games today get away with having an asterisk as a crucial element of their name. Q*Bert, however, pulls it off with flair. He's a little orange furball, and I have to say I hate the little tyke with a passion. But look at what he accomplished - making real-time puzzle/action gaming a viable arcade genre. He jumped around a bunch of cubes, trying to get them to change to the same colour (they change whenever he jumps on them), while avoiding a collection of nasty opponents and other dangers. If you look back at the other "Arcade" titles I've talked about in the last couple of years, you'll see that this is taking the basic Pac-Man formula... and moving it into a whole new and unique realm. It's one of those titles I can simultaneously appreciate the genius of while absolutely detesting the act of playing it.

2) Dig Dug (Arcade)
Help! Monsters! Underground monsters! .... I'm really not sure how to make this funny, right now. You dig tunnels on a 2-D plane representing the underground, and inflate monsters till they pop or drop rocks on their heads. Another example of the Pac-Man formula mutating into puzzle/action gaming. It's a bit of theme for 1982, I guess. This, by the way, is the forerunner of the series that you'll occasionally see today under the name Mr Driller.

3) Pitfall (Atari 2600)
You know what the wonderful thing about Pitfall was? You'd start a game... and then 20 minutes later, it was over. 20 minutes. That's the maximum time the entire game took. You'd say, "20 minutes? No way!" and the game would say "Yes way!", and display this clock counting down the 20 minutes up in the corner. You had only 20 minutes to finish the entire game. And you know what you had to do in that 20 minutes? Find 32 treasures! In this crazy jungle maze full of alligators and... pits.... and stuff. 20 minutes. That's focused gaming. Blizzard, take some notes, dammit.

4) E.T: The Game (Atari 2600)
Ha! No, just kidding you, you don't have to play this game. It's mostly just leading E.T. round in circles so he doesn't fall into pits. Awful doesn't even begin to describe it. But the game has what you might call historical value, mostly as the game which murdered Atari. Would you believe Atari manufactured more copies of this game than there were people who owned the Atatri 2600? That's right, Atari were apparently expecting that every last 2600 owner would buy a copy, and some of them would buy two for no reason whatsoever. This in an era when the words "successful game on home system" meant more or less the same thing as "ported from the successful arcade cabinet" and no one had ever even played this train wreck before. To the say that the game was unsuccessful would be like saying the Gizmondo was mildly unprofitable. Check out more over at Snopes.

5) Joust (Arcade)
Flying. Jousting. Together at last.

6) David's Midnight Magic (Apple II)
I'm not really sure that this game was hugely influential, but hey, I owned a copy and played it to death. Lots of fond memories here. Basically, it's a pinball simulator. Sure, back in the 80s you could walk down to a strange little place called an "arcade" and play a machine that actually had real pinballs and was operated mechanically, but for the terminally lazy you could buy a copy of this game and have all the fun on your home workstation. It started a fine tradition of simulating gaming systems on other gaming systems, which continues today... emulation, anyone?

7) Choplifter (Apple II)
Hey! I owned this one, too! Faced with the choice between firing this up or taking another round on Dave's Midnight Magic... I'd play Ultima. (Stay tuned for real historical footage of me having sex with the Ultima packaging.) But, you know, this wasn't bad for a third choice. You're a helicopter pilot, tasked with rescuing people from prisoner of war camps. There's tanks and stuff. Whatever.

8) Tron Deadly Discs (Intellivision)
At pretty much the same time that Tron Deadly Discs was appearing on the Intellivision, the Tron arcade game was hitting the public. They're both pretty interesting games, but I'm going to go with the home version featuring the discs game, mostly because it's the version that people still seem to have the visual images of today. Another *cough* "triumph" of vector graphics. Watch out or your head may a splode.

9) Pole Position (Arcade)
Here it is, people - the dawn of the racing game. And... it's functionally identical to every other racing game, ever. You have to achieve a certain lap time, and then beat other cars in a race. No other genre has come such a short distance in the last two decades. And I still don't like playing the damn things.

10) The Hobbit (Sinclair ZX Spectrum)
Actually more widely known on the Commodore 64, but as the C64 wouldn't be released until 1983 for now you'll have to make do with the Spectrum. Look, it was tough to pick a candidate for position 10, but I'm going to go with the Hobbit text-adventure, because a) it implemented a really good parser, b) it had a dynamic world filled with characters with their own agendas whose behaviours could not be predicted, and c) it had items that had "real-world" properties like weight, durability, and size. And the whole thing was written and published by Australians.

Alright, I'm done. That's 10, and I could probably have gone to 15. 1983 is a year full of quality games, so it's just a shame that it's also the year that the whole industry burst in flames and began running around like a horrible flaming corpse that doesn't know it's dead yet. Thanks for that, Atari - I blame you. (Spoiler warning: The industry later recovered.)

Honorable mentions: Sinistar (for the cool voice effects), Zaxxon (first isometric viewpoint), River Raid (quality top scrolling shooter, female developer), Xevious (even better top scrolling shooter), Ultima II (bug-ridden and confusing and yet still the best RPG franchise around), and Robotron: 2084 (twin joystick two-player madness).

That's it, web-enabled rodents, it's over for today. Check back soon for the 1983 edition, in which I vent about how much I hate Mappy.

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