Saturday, July 24, 2010

Game of the Week: Action Strategy Baseball for Macintosh

Back in what now seems like the Stone Age of the computer revolution, the early 1990s, video games were just starting to become a strong market for home computers. Of course there had been games for earlier systems, such as the Commodore 64 and TRS-80 computers, but most of those had not sported great graphics.

Unfortunately, in the early '90s there was still a lack of great graphics, though that was slowly changing.

But still, even in black and white and with sub-par graphics, there were plenty of great games that could take up your time.

One such game was Action Strategy Baseball. Written by programmer Cary Torkelson and released as shareware or freeware in the early 1990s, Action Strategy Baseball was for many Apple fans the first chance they got to play a baseball game on a Macintosh.

Yes, the game was black and white only, but many of the Macintoshes back then only had black and white screens anyway, such as the common Macintosh SE. And yes, the graphics were little more than stick figures, but that didn't matter. Why? Because the gaming action was awesome.

You got to hit and run, play the outfield and even jump up to catch balls. You could adjust your speeds and jumping abilities. One feature that was truly fantastic was you could create your own team and play against the computer or friends, and could even build up entire baseball seasons and play against a bunch of people.

Statistics were kept for each of your players, and it was always interesting to see how a player performed over time. And just like in real baseball, the batting lineup for your players was important.

Another interesting feature was the pitchers' statistics. And pitchers actually got tired the longer they were on the mound. After a pitcher had been pitching for 6 or 7 innings, his arm was tired and he couldn't pitch nearly as well as he did earlier in the game. That's when you brought out your relief pitchers. Yes, Action Strategy Baseball even allowed for changing out pitchers.

It was almost like real baseball. Just in black and white.

And it was always fun.

More video game links

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Game of the Week: River Raid for Atari 2600

River Raid

There is little disagreement among fans of the Atari 2600 home video game system that many of the best games made for that system were made by Activision. In the early 1980s, Activision made games with crisp colors, quality graphics and great gameplay. What more could an Atari fan want?

Atari 2600 Video Computer System ConsoleThen 1982 rolls around, and Activision tops itself with the release of a game titled River Raid.

At first glance River Raid seems like any other random scrolling shooter game. But it's not. It's THE random scrolling shooter game for the Atari 2600, and introduced the concept of a scrolling shooter to many home gamers back in the day.

The basics of gameplay are simple. You fly a fighter jet along a river while shooting at enemy planes, helicopters and boats. Every once in a while you have to fly over a fuel depot to add fuel to your jet. If you get shot, you die. If you run out of fuel, you die. If you run into the sides of the riverbanks, you die.

Simple stuff. For about thirty seconds. Then the game gets tough. The riverbanks close in on you, forcing you to fly into tight squeezes. The maze that is the river starts forcing you to speed up or slow down to avoid crashing into things. Then the enemy crafts start coming at you from all kinds of angles. And worst of all, those fuel depots you desperately become more and more rare.

River Raid proved extremely popular, so much so it was eventually ported for tons of other home gaming systems and home computers, including the Intellivision, the Colecovision, the Atari 5200 and more.

There was even a sequel game, River Raid II, that was introduced in the late 1980s, and while it was a quality game, it never achieved the popularity of the original River Raid.

Activision is still around today making newer games, but the company can always be proud of the quality work it did back in the day, especially the work done on River Raid for the Atari 2600.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Game of the Week: One-on-One Basketball for Atari 7800

In 1983, the home video game market bust apart. Customers stopped buying home video game cartridges and systems. Up until that time, Atari had been the leader of the various home video game companies. With the collapse of the market, Atari was stunned and eventually sold off to another company.

Atari 7800 SystemStill, Atari stayed alive. The company's biggest seller had been the Atari 2600 home system, but the Atari 5200 system released in 1982 had been a bust. Consumers had had multiple complaints about the 5200, including the fact it could not play games for the 2600. To cope with these and other complaints, Atari came out with the Atari 7800 home video game system in 1984.

Unfortunately, because Atari as a business was sold during this time period, the 7800 did not gain a national release to stores in the U.S. until early 1986. By then, it was too late for Atari to reign supreme again. Nintendo by this time had cornered the home video game market with its NES, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Still, the Atari 7800 had solid graphics strong enough to appear close to games in the arcades of the time. The 7800 also had decent joysticks and, most importantly, gamers could play all their 2600 cartridges on the 7800 system. On the downside, there were never a lot of games released for the Atari 7800, only about 60 or so.

But some of those games were pretty awesome.

One of my favorite Atari 7800 games was "One-on-One Basketball" starring two of the great basketball stars of the day, Dr. J Erving and Larry Bird. Also known as "One on One" or "One on One: Dr. J. vs. Larry Bird," this game had not been an arcade game but had originally appeared for home computers at the time such as the TRS-80, the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, and other systems. In fact, I'm not sure about this, but I believe the Atari 7800 was the only home video game system which could boast of having this game.

What was so great about "One-on-One Basketball?" First off, the graphics were pretty good. The Dr. J. and Larry Bird characters on the screen appeared a little cartoonish, but that wasn't uncommon for game graphics of the mid-1980s. The colors were awesome, some of the best and brightest of the time.

Gameplay was solid, too. You could play by yourself against the computer or with a friend, you controlling either Bird or Dr. J. on a half-court basketball game. If you wanted to play regular basketball, this game wasn't for you, but if you wanted to play something different in basketball this was your game. You could do the typical jumping and shooting, but you could also do some fancy moves such as spinning or stealing the ball. You could even do a slam dunk and shatter the backboard, and afterward a janitor would come out on the screen to clean up the broken glass.

All in all, "One-on-One Basketball" was an excellent game and the Atari 7800 was an excellent system. Too bad both are rarely remembered today by home video game fans.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Game of the Week: Pac-Man for Atari 2600

Atari 2600 System - Video Game ConsoleIn the early 1980s, the arcade game Pac-Man was taking the world by storm. People were lining up at arcades and malls and pizza joints to play this popular game. So when Atari let it be known a home port of Pac-Man would be released for the Atari 2600, the most popular home video game system of the time, consumers and game fanatics were chomping at the bit to get this home version of the ever-popular game.

Then 1982 came around. Pac-Man was released for the Atari 2600. It immediately became the best-selling Atari 2600 cartridge of all time. But there was one big problem.

Consumers hated it. Even the critics hated it. Everyone seemed to hate Pac-Man for the Atari 2600.


Pac-Man for AtariFirst off, when the game popped up on television screens the first thing the player notices is lots of orange. Orange? There was no orange in the arcade version of Pac-Man, except maybe for one of the ghosts and that seemed more like a peach color. Speaking of the ghosts, they were pink for the Atari 2600 version of the game, and the ghosts flickered a lot. That too was nothing like the steady, multi-colored ghosts from the original Pac-Man. And then there was the fact the maze in the Atari 2600 version lo Cooked nothing like the arcade version.

The game tanked. No one else was buying the game. Some consumers were even returning the game to stores and asking for refunds. It was a nightmare for Atari. Stocks plummeted and the first dark age for home video games began. Consumers not only stopped buying Pac-Man games for the Atari 2600, but they stopped buying home video cartridges and systems of all kinds. While the great downfall of early video games can't totally be blamed upon the Atari 2600 Pac-Man, this trend of lousy home video game sales would continue for several years until the Nintendo Entertainment System came along.

But was all the ire this game garnished fully deserved? Perhaps, perhaps not. It's true the graphics were not all that great and the game looked next to nothing like the arcade version. But still, Pac-man for the Atari 2600 was a fun game in its own right. You still had a maze, you still had Pac-Man (even if it didn't look exactly like the arcade Pac-Man), there were still pills to eat and there were still monsters from which to flee.

I've always felt that if this game had been released under any other name than Pac-man, it might have sold decently. Sure, it would have been called a Pac-Man rip-off, but at least it wouldn't have drawn quite so much anger and frustration from the video game crowds of the day.

Nearly 30 years later, I'm proud to say I actually liked the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man even if it wasn't like the arcade game. I had fun with it, which is the best any video game enthusiast can ask for. Right?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Game of the Week: Pick Axe Pete for Odyssey 2

Odyssey 2 Video GameThe Magnavox Odyssey 2 was never the most popular of home video game systems back when it was being sold in stores during the late 1970s and 1980s. Okay, scratch that. Actually, the system was extremely popular, just not in the United States. In Europe the same gaming system was known as the Philips Videopac G700 and was quite popular. Under other names, the Odyssey 2 was also a bit hit in countries such as Japan and Brazil.

Released to consumers in 1978, the Odyssey 2 was meant to be competition for the Atari 2600. The Odyssey 2 never quite reached those heights, but it did fairly well. And why shouldn't it? While its colors were limited, those colors were often stronger and brighter than those of the 2600 and other systems of the times, such as the Intellivsion. Also, in the opinion of many young gamers back in the day, the joysticks for the Odyssey 2 were preferable than those of the Atari 2600 because the Odyssey 2 joysticks didn't stick as much and had more of an "arcade" feel to them.

The Odyssey 2 had its faults, however. The system never had very many games, not even a hundred total. Also, the graphics for the Odyssey 2 weren't predictable. Some games had strong graphics, compatible with those of the Intellivision, while others games were little more than colored squares and lines on a screen, often as bad or worse than the ugliest games for the Atari 2600.

Still, there were a handful of excellent games for the Odyssey 2. One of those games, perhaps the most popular of the lot, was Pick Axe Pete.

Pick Axe Pete was sort of a climbing game, somewhat similar to the more popular arcade game Donkey Kong, where you climb up and down ladders between levels on the screen while trying to collect keys to unlock and go through doors for points. You had to avoid boulders while doing this, and you had some trusty help from a constantly-swinging pick axe which could destroy the boulders. It sounds easy, but it wasn't. Going through one of the doors advanced your character to the next screen, which was faster and more difficult. Every once in a while rolling boulders will leave behind items that can be worth points or even another pick axe, which is often needed as the pick axes tend to wear out after a while. But don't fret if your pick axe is gone! You can still jump or duck your way around those boulders.

One interesting aspect about Pick Axe Pete was that you don't have to leave the very first screen if you don't want to. Just skip collecting those keys and going through doorways and you can stay on the first level forever while collecting tons of points. The big drawback however is that the game will still get faster and faster and faster.