Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Fast Eddie

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 26, 2016

Fast Eddie (2600) - cover

Fast Eddie is a platformer for the Atari 2600, published in 1982 by Sirius Software. It was programmed by Mark Turmell.

Fast Eddie (2600) - 01

The premise is simple: on each level, guide Eddie to collect prizes (the type of prize changes on each level–on the first level, you collect hearts) while avoiding the enemies (called “Sneakers”).

Fast Eddie (2600) - 02

Once you’ve collected enough prizes, the tall Sneaker (called “High-Top”) on the top floor shrinks down, and Eddie can grab the key and proceed to the next level. You earn one extra life each time you complete a level, and may hold a maximum of three in reserve.

Fast Eddie (2600) - 03

On early levels, some of the Sneakers will be stationary, but on later levels all Sneakers will move, and there may be more of them, in more difficult arrangements.

Though simple in concept, completing each level can be quite challenging. You’ve got to be very cautious if you want to make it through later levels, but you have to think on the move, because the Sneakers move quickly and give you no time to rest. The only reprieve you get is that you’re invulnerable while climbing a ladder. Just be careful not to drop off in front of a Sneaker!

This is a very playable early platformer. Though graphically unimpressive, due to the limitations of the Atari 2600, it has great, responsive controls and quick action, giving the feeling of arcade platformers on a home console. It’s definitely worth a look!

Fast Eddie was also ported to VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit platforms.

Further reading

Posted in 1982, Atari 2600, First Impressions, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Super Scribblenauts Invisiclues

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 24, 2016

In lieu of a game review, I want to mention a little toy I made the other day. Back in the days of Infocom, you could get hints for the games in the form of “InvisiClues“, which were hints written in invisible ink you could reveal with a special marker. This was handy, since it meant you wouldn’t see hints for puzzles you still wanted to solve on your own. The hints were broken up into a series of several individual clues, so you could reveal only the first if you just needed a little help, or reveal them all to see the exact solution to a puzzle.

The days of Infocom games and InvisiClues are behind us, but the format was popular enough that people wrote hints for later games in the same style. The Universal Hint System is a commercial product that provides clues in this style for a large number of games, including quite a variety: there are hints for adventure games like Zork, of course, but also games of other genres, such as Civilization, Super Mario 64, and Dragon Age II.

I happen to like this style of hint, too, so I wrote a bit of javascript and HTML to display hints like this, and adapted my walkthrough of the first constellation of Super Scribblenauts as a demonstration. It uses a feature of HTML that’s not supported by the current version of Firefox (support is scheduled to be added in a few months, and it’s in the nightly versions already), so it won’t display quite correctly for Firefox users, but modern versions of Chrome, Opera, and Safari should have no trouble with it. So, if it sounds interesting, go check it out. Just click on a question to reveal the first clue, and click on the text of a clue to have the next clue in the sequence revealed. It’s not quite the same as invisible ink, but it’s my little tribute to that piece of the past.

Posted in General Commentary | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 23, 2016

Since we’ve most recently looked at a couple of arcade-style single screen platformers, let’s change it up a bit with something a bit more reminiscent of Pitfall!.

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - cover

(cover from MobyGames)

If Pitfall! had Smurfs, anyway.

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - 01

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle (also known as Smurf Rescue) is a 1982 release by Coleco for the Colecovision, also ported to the Atari 2600. The first thing you’ll notice upon starting the game is that, compared to its contemporaries, Smurf Rescue is beautiful. It’s got lovely, colorful, detailed graphics, and the animation is pretty smooth, too. It’s even got some nice background music (from Simple Gifts and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the arrangement of the latter sounding rather like a track from Pokemon, to me).

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - 02

Our hero, called by the manual simply “Smurf”, must jump over fences, tufts of grass, ledges, stalagmites, and other obstacles on his way to Gargamel’s castle, where Smurfette is being held prisoner. Successfully making a jump awards points (helpfully printed on the screen), with more difficult jumps being worth more points.

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - 03

The game features several different types of terrain. On the way to the castle, you’ll pass through several screens of a type, and then enter another. You’ve got an energy meter which is constantly decreasing, but it is refilled when you encounter a new type of terrain.

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - 04

When you finally reach the castle, and leap to Smurfette by way of a skull, you’re awarded a large bonus and the game starts over. You keep your points, though, so you could keep playing to see how high a score you can achieve before running out of lives.

Smurf Rescue (colecovision) - 05

That’s all on Skill 1, though. On the higher skill levels, there are enemies to avoid, as well. The hawks shown above will swoop around and chase you, so you’ve got to duck or otherwise dodge them. The game is much harder when you’ve got to contend with enemies, rather than just worry about making the jumps, and on higher levels there are more screens between you and the castle, and your energy depletes more quickly, too. For something that seems a cutesy kids’ game, Smurf Rescue can definitely provide a challenge.

The game’s weakest point is its control scheme. You’d think, given that the Colecovision’s controller had an astounding fourteen buttons, they could have spared one for jumping, but, alas, it was not to be. You jump by pushing the joystick up. Furthermore, you can jump at two different heights, but to make a higher jump you must jump twice in quick succession, rather than something sensible like holding up on the joystick longer. When you’ve got to dodge enemies while carefully judging the right place to jump, this control scheme is a real pain.

Let me direct your attention to a solicitation for the game from a catalog:

Smurf Rescue (catalog entry)

There are a few things of note, here. First, “All screens shown in CBS Colecovision format.” it proudly declares. The screenshot on the back of the game box is similar. But you’ll notice that it doesn’t match my screenshots above. I imagine the promotional shots were taken while the game was still in development, so we’re getting a look at what might have been. The artwork differs a little from the box art, too.

Second, I don’t believe it is possible to have 3570 points on the first screen. Maybe if you backtracked.

Third, the description states “And, to maintain his strength, he must eat hard-to-reach berries.” There aren’t any berries in this game. That’s just an outright lie. Was there a feature like that at the time the promotional shots were taken, and the ad copy was written? It’s hard to imagine that feature being removed at such a late stage, but it’s possible. Or perhaps there was some miscommunication, or the ad copy was based on outdated design documents. I always wonder, when the advertising doesn’t match the reality, exactly what caused it.

There were several different clones released on the Commodore 64: Smurfs by Carl Muller, Smurf Rescue (which had a followup, Smurf 2: The Revenge) by Courbois Software, and Smurfen by C.A.W. Brand and M. Brand (which features a rather cool rendition of “Billie Jean”). There have been more recent projects based on this, too, such as this neat little thing made in MIT’s Scratch language, and this Amiga game by Mikael Persson, which unfortunately encountered legal trouble.

It’s worth giving this game a try, just for a bit of variety. If you don’t mind the controls, it’s pretty fun.

Posted in 1982, ColecoVision, Decent, Full Review, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ape Craze

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 16, 2016

I said in my review of Miner 2049er that clones were the order of the day in the early eighties. For proof, one need look no further than Ape Craze, a 1982 release for Commodore 64 by Mike Blackman, published by Comm*Data.

Ape Craze - title

What kind of game would you guess this to be? Does the name seem to hint at anything?

Ape Craze - 01

That’s not a trick question. It’s a Donkey Kong clone, though it does change things up a bit. In the first level, you begin at the bottom left, and must reach the exit at the top right. To hinder you, the ape constantly throws bombs across the top of the screen which drop and roll down to the bottom. If you’re feeling brave, you can collect the… barrels?… objects scattered around the level for extra points. I do not recommend that you do this, however, because the game is very hard. Let’s examine why.

First, there are a lot of bombs on the screen at once, leaving you with very limited options for reaching the top. Your best bet is to stand atop a raised section of girder, where the bombs can’t reach, wait for a gap between bombs, and then jump to another safe spot. If you just brush a bomb from the side as it falls, it’s game over. You can actually land on bombs safely (or stand atop the exit without the level ending) since it seems collisions are only checked from the side, but this is still quite difficult, because…

Second, the jump behaves very inconsistently. Sometimes, you’ll jump up a full level. Others, you’ll just make a short hop. Yet other times, you’ll seem to catch an edge on the way up, and sail right on up another level. This doesn’t seem to depend on how long you hold the button in (or, indeed, whether you hold it in at all or merely tap it). Considering that you’ve got to make precise jumps so as to dodge between waves of bombs, this is a pretty crippling flaw. And when you do jump, you’d better be very sure of your landing because…

Third, falling too far kills you. And the maximum safe height is only just greater than a single level, so if you jump, but miss and fall down a level, you die. Combine this with the unreliability of jumps and you’ll be doing a lot of dying. Oh, and…

Fourth, you only get one life, and when you restart, the level is randomized slightly. That’s actually a point in the game’s favor, but it does mean that you can’t plan out and perfect a route in advance–you’ve got to plan on the fly, every time.

Ape Craze - 02

If you do reach the exit on the first level, you’re presented with this obvious copy of the rivet stage of Donkey Kong. Walk over the… bananas?… objects to make the girders collapse and complete the level. Since you mostly climb rather than jump on this level, it’s actually much easier than the first (and a good thing it is, given the one-life-only situation).

Ape Craze - end

Beat the second stage as well, and you get… the first stage, again. Actually, the US version of Donkey Kong did this as well, adding the remaining stages as you looped the game, but I believe these two stages are all Ape Craze has to offer..

Ape Craze is not a shining example of C64 gaming. I’d say it’s a tolerable substitute for Donkey Kong, but the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision ports of DK were released the same year (and perhaps they were released before this game), so there were better options available.

The contemporary reactions to the game were entertainingly varied. From Steven Darnold:

The game itself is interesting, but poorly implemented. The graphics are relatively primitive, there are only two different game sets, and a player has only one life.

The Midnite Software Gazette #13 had four reviews of this game. Selections:

Very nice music. Particularly clever synchronization between music and screen while changing to second screen. Recommended.–LW

Very hard to jump and only one try per game. Catchy, but tedious tune. Frustrating; not recommended.–Roy Wagner

Favorite at our house [. . .] Music is catchy and enjoyable [. . .] Highly recommended.–NR

The excellent use of music in the background of play still would not entice me to purchase the game.–JO

Count my vote for Roy Wagner. This isn’t a game anyone is likely to want to revisit, unless they’ve viewing it through nostalgia-tinted lenses.

Mike Blackman programmed three other titles released by Comm*Data (Escape MCP, Pegasus Odyssey, and Sketch & Paint), but that seems to have been the extent of his contributions to gaming–if I read his LinkedIn profile correctly, his further programming endeavours were restricted to more ‘serious’ software.

This is far from the last Donkey Kong clone I’ll be looking at, I’m afraid. Perhaps the next one will be better.

Posted in 1982, Bad, Commodore 64, Full Review, Platformer | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Super Mario Advance

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 15, 2016

A break from game reviews to look at a curio from 2001: Super Mario Advance. Wait, isn’t that a game? Well…

Super Mario Advance (book) - cover

This is Super Mario Advance by Craig Wessel (perhaps the same as the author of A Parent’s Guide to Computer Games?), a choose your own adventure book based on Super Mario Advance the game (the GBA version of Super Mario USA). Hints for secrets in the game are scattered throughout the story, and it includes a tiny (seven page) game guide at the end.

The book entices the reader, in its introduction, with “This special book is more than just one story about Mario and his friends — it’s a choose-your-own-adventure book. You get to decide what happens every time you read this book!” Exciting! This freedom of choice, Wessel promises, is “the best part — there are several endings to this book! Some are good, but some of them are bad. Every time you read it, you can make a different set of choices and read a brand-new story.”

I’ve probably given away already by writing this that the book doesn’t quite live up to its promises. As I read it, I found that I was doing a lot of flipping through the book without too many choices, and some of the choices didn’t seem to have much impact. Well, I’m a suspicious sort.

I made a chart.

Super Mario Advance (book) - graph

As I suspected, Super Mario Advance is as on-rails as RollerCoaster Tycoon. There aren’t some good endings, there’s one, plus one bad ending per character, and the whole thing is very linear, with each route joining up in the middle. Depending on your choices, Luigi’s individual story is the shortest, lasting for only five pages, while Mario’s could be up to fourteen pages before everyone joins up on page 50. Poor Luigi is always getting the short end of the stick.

I was pretty excited when the book promised to be a combination CYOA and strategy guide, neatly combining my interests, but this book doesn’t deliver on either. The story isn’t particularly good, nor is it a good example of CYOA, and the guide is fairly useless, being limited to very brief descriptions of the characters, items, and enemies. I suppose it’s not surprising when an adaptation of a video game is subpar, but it’s still a shame.

Posted in 2001, Book | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Miner 2049er

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 14, 2016

In the eighties, if any arcade game achieved success, there were sure to be dozens of home computer games ‘inspired by’ it released in short order1. Beginning in 1980, the California-based Big Five Software released nine games for the TRS-80, mostly very straightforward clones of arcade games (including three games based on Space Invaders). These achieved some success, but nothing compared to founder Bill Hogue’s first game for Atari home computers, Miner 2049er, released in 19822.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - cover

The game’s manual lays out the gripping story: you play the role of Bounty Bob, “the most loyal, heroic, and charismatic mounty … ever known”, who has been sent to capture Yukon Yohan, a fur trapper wanted for murder. Bob chased Yohan all the way to a uranium mine once owned by Nuclear Ned, and an explosion has trapped both Bob and Yohan within. The radiation in the mine has turned the creatures within into deadly mutants. Helpfully, however: “Scattered throughout the mine are various articles that have been lost by previous miners. Capture them by touching them and you will be awarded points. Additionally, the mutants will turn into green happy creatures that are now edible.”

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 01

The goal of the game is to walk over every section of the platforms. Doing so fills the section in, and once every section is filled in, you’re awarded points depending on how much time remains on the timer, and the next station begins.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 02

There are ten stations in total, and a number of difficulty settings which increase the speed at which the enemies move.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 03

Later stations feature a variety of extra obstacles: beginning with station 2, there are slides which you slide down when you walk over them; station 3 has transporters you may operate to move between sections; station 5 has moving platforms; station 8 has a lift you can use to reach high places; station 9 features that staple of platformers, the ‘pulverizers’ which descend to crush you; finally, stage 10 has a cannon which you must load up with TNT to blast yourself to higher platforms.

Miner was ported to more or less every game platform and released in many countries. Reviews praise its originality, though it clearly shows the influence of both Donkey Kong, with its platforms and ladders, and Pac-Man, with its powerups that allow the player to eat otherwise-fatal enemies. In its turn, Miner influenced later games, such as City Connection, which lifts the painting-every-square mechanic directly from Miner. Originality aside, it’s obvious why Miner was such a success; it’s fun, challenging, and has good, smooth controls.

A sequel to the game, Bounty Bob Strikes Back!, was released in 1984. A free Windows emulated version of both games is available from Big Five Software’s website3.

Bibliography and further reading

[Anderson1983]
John J. Anderson, Mastering Miner 2049er, Creative Computer Video & Arcade Games 1, 2 (1983-12), 103–108.
A detailed strategy guide with routes for each of the game’s ten stages.
[ConsumerGuide1983]
The Editors of Consumer Guide, Personal Computers & Games. (Beekman House, 1983).
A general overview of the computer systems available, short guides to a few games, and brief reviews of several more.
Miner 2049er is featured as ‘The Best Theme Game’ and a guide to the first five stages is given on pages 55-57.
[ElectronicGames1983]
The Editors of Electronic Games, The Miner 2049er Story, Electronic Games 2, 6 (1983-08), 26–42.
[MarentesFriedman2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Barry Friedman, Interview with Barry Friedman, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-06).
[MarentesKunkel2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Bill Kunkel, Interview with Bill Kunkel, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-04).
[MarentesLivesay2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Mike Livesay, Interview with Mike Livesay, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-04).
[MarentesRoss2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Scott Ross, Interview with Scott Ross, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-05).
[ReedHogue2008]
Matthew Reed & Bill Hogue, An Interview with Bill Hogue, TRS-80.org (2008-10-29).
Miner 2049er is mentioned briefly.
[SavetzHogue2015]
Kevin Savetz & Bill Hogue, ANTIC Interview 94 – Bill Hogue, Miner 2049er, (2015-10-29).
A somewhat directionless interview reminiscing about Hogue’s work on games, and particularly Miner 2049er and its sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back.

  1. As [ElectronicGames1983] says, Miner 2049er “is as important for what it isn’t as for what it is”. In particular, it’s not an arcade conversion nor based on an existing license. Noteworthy, as “until the recent crack-down on infringers by the coin-op manufacturers, all too many computer games were little more than knock-offs of pay-for-play machines. No one will ever know how many computer games came into being as a result of ‘fact-finding’ trips by designers to their local family amusement centers. More than one programmer has returned from the arcade after pumping a few tokens into a promising game, with the outlines of something awfully similar already percolating in his head.” 
  2. But you don’t have to take my word for it. According to [ElectronicGames1983]: “The phenomenon — and make no mistake about it, Miner’s publication is perhaps the most significant software event of this year…” 
  3. Hogue recalled in [SavetzHogue2015] that when producing the emulated version, he had to spend some hours or days cracking his own anti-piracy measures–he never imagined that the person he’d be protecting his game from would be himself! 

Posted in 1982, Atari 8-bit, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Pitfall!

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 9, 2016

Since we’re done with Space Panic and Donkey Kong (for now, though it has many, many ports, clones, and variants), we’ve come to the earliest platformer that I really enjoy: Pitfall! for Atari 2600, released by Activision in 19821.

Pitfall! cover

Of course, one cannot talk of an Activision game without mentioning the game’s designer. Pitfall! was created by David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of numerous other worthy games, including Little Computer People and A Boy and His Blob.

The creation of Pitfall! is what you might term a deliberate accident. Crane did not set out to create a platform game about a man in a jungle. He had been planning a sports game (later released as The Activision Decathlon) which he shelved because he felt he couldn’t do it justice. He had, however created a subroutine to animate a running man, which he wanted to use somehow. So he started to build a game around it2:

OK, there he is, running across the screen. What now? So I might as well put him on a path. Jungles have paths — better throw in a few trees — always bearing in mind that I’d want to be able to do this for other machines. Basically, if you can do it on the VCS, you can do at least a shadow of it on other systems.

So anyway, what use is a jungle path unless it leads somewhere? So I pencilled in a few objects. How about some places to fall? A few holes. He’s got to land somewhere — I had to put in an underground level. Then I spent the next two months defining the game, saying where do I put the treasure, what kind of monsters lurk? Scorpions look pretty good. I thought I might have ghosts and skeletons in the tunnel — none of them looked good, so they didn’t get in. We drew a lot of these beforehand on squared paper, colouring them in and so on. But it never looks the same on the screen as it does on paper — never.

That game, called Jungle Runner during development, became Pitfall!, went on to sell over 4 million copies on the 26003 (spending 64 weeks as the #1 best selling game), and was the progenitor of the smooth running and jumping that would be seen in the Super Mario Bros. series and many other, later platformers.

Pitfall! 01

When the game begins, you have 2000 points and two extra lives (which the manual calls ‘replacement Harrys’). The first screen is a gentle introduction: a single pit with a ladder and a stationary log are the only obstacles present. Falling into one of these pits (rather than climbing down a ladder) will cost you 100 points, while hitting a log will cost you some points over time as you remain in contact with it.

From the beginning, and at any point during the game, you can go either to the right or the left (unless there’s a wall in the way).

Pitfall! 02

The screen immediately to the right is more challenging: it contains three pits, only one ladder, and two logs rolling toward you. We can see immediately why (as the manual suggests) it is easier to go to the left–the logs always roll from right to left, so by moving in the same direction as the logs, you never have to worry about jumping over them. But where’s the fun in that? Onward to the right!

Pitfall! 03

More obstacles. This time, the rolling logs are joined by a wide pit–falling in this kind of pit means losing a life. Fortunately, there’s a vine above the pit you can use to swing across, so it’s merely a matter of timing the jump correctly to grab onto the vine, and then dropping off on the other side. In later screens, these pits will sometimes open and close, so you’ve got to be careful–a screen that seems safe may turn out to have a pit that opens under your feet, if you just run across incautiously.

Pitfall! 04

In this image we can see the remaining (major) obstacles in the game: crocodiles4 and scorpions. The crocodiles periodically open and close their mouths. When the mouths are closed, you can jump on them to get across the pool of water. When the mouths are open, you can only stand on th far right side of the crocodiles’ heads, behind the jaw, or you’ll be eaten. The scorpions merely move from left to right in the underground section, but they’re very wide, so precise jumps are necessary to make it over them.

So, if those are the main obstacles… what’s the point of this game?

Pitfall! 05

Collecting treasure for points, of course! The gold bar you see above is worth 4000 points. Silver bars are worth 3000, money bags are worth 2000, and diamond rings are worth a whopping 5000 points each. There are eight of each type of treasure, for a total of 32 treasures worth 112,000 points. A perfect game would end with 114,000 points (all the points for the treasures, plus the 2000 you started with, and no points lost to mistakes).

The game would be difficult, but manageable if you could just take your time with each screen. You might lose a few points to logs and other hazards, but with enough care around the deadly obstacles, collecting all 32 treasures would just be a matter of time. But time isn’t something you have to spare: there are 20 minutes on the clock when you start, and that’s all you get. It might sound like a pretty long time, but there are 255 screens in Pitfall!, leaving you with less than five seconds per screen, if you must visit them all.

How ever could you succeed with such a tight time limit? That’s where a clever mechanic comes into play. You’ve seen that each screen has an aboveground and underground part, the latter reach by either falling down a pit or climbing down a ladder. Every screen that you cross in the underground section is equivalent to three screens crossed in the aboveground section. Of course, you could skip right over a screen with a treasure on it, if you take the underground shortcuts through the whole game. So what are you to do? The manual suggests making a map5.

Pitfall! 06

You don’t have to get every treasure, of course. I was pretty happy getting just under 32,000 points, after a few tries. Back when the game was released, Activision offered to send an Explorers’ Club patch to anyone who got at least 20,000 points and sent in a picture of the TV screen to prove it.

Pitfall! is a great early platform game, and its sequel Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was if anything even more impressive and ahead of its time. Anyone curious about where platformers came from should absolutely give it a try. And even if you’re not a game historian, it’s a fun game well worth playing.

Edited 2016-02-23 to replace links referring to my internal database. Whoops.

Further reading


  1. The date of April 20 is given by allgame, though I know not on strength of what evidence. In an interview I see the release dated to September. The year, at least, is correct. 
  2. This excerpt is from an interview in Big K #1 (April 1984). 
  3. This sales figure is given by IGN
  4. The crocodiles were inspired by the introduction to The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show
  5. Of course, if you don’t want to make your own, you can use someone else’s. This map by Ben Valdes not only shows the contents of the rooms, but also suggests the best route to take. 

Posted in 1982, Action, Atari 2600, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Naughty Mouse

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 8, 2016

Naughty Mouse is a 1981 collect-em-up by Amenip.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - title

First, a point of contention: Arcade-History describes this game as a platformer, and mentions that “The player has a single button with which to make Naughty Mouse jump over [enemies].” In truth, the game is no platformer, and, as far as I can tell, has no buttons. Okay, enough about what it isn’t. What is Naughty Mouse?

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 01

It’s a collect-em-up, like Pac-Man (and, apparently, runs on the same hardware). The player controls the titular mouse and must touch the eggs on each of the houses while avoiding the birds in order to complete the level, racing against the timer. When touching an egg, the player scores the number of points remaining on the countdown timer. When the timer reaches zero, or when the player touches an enemy, a life is lost and the level is reset.

In the first level, there are five eggs to touch and two enemies.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 02

In the second level, there are three enemies, instead.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 03

The second level is as far as I got, though. I was never very good at Pac-Man, and this game seems a bit more difficult to me. Also, I don’t really enjoy this kind of game, so I’m going to call 11,810 points good enough.

Amenip also released a very similar variation of this game called Woodpecker.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Arcade, Bad, Collect 'em Up | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Brickout!

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 3, 2016

Nearly ten years ago, now, I wrote a ‘first impressions’ review of Brickout! for the Intellivision; as it happens, it’s the only Intellivision game I’ve ever reviewed here. I was pretty hard on the game, and I’ve learned some things in the years since that review, so in the interest of fairness, I’d like to take another quick look at it.

The story of Brickout! starts with another cartridge, Triple Action, a multi-game compilation programmed by Rich O’Keefe, containing games inspired by Atari products, developed under the working title Some of Theirs. Originally conceived as containing six, and later five, games, in the final cut two more games were removed as being too similar to Atari games (thus inviting legal trouble), one a Pong clone, and the other–Brickout!.1

Unlike the Pong clone, which to my knowledge does not survive, the excised Breakout clone found its way onto the 1998 Windows and Mac compilation Intellivision Lives!, along with about fifty other games and numerous extras.2 It has since been included in other products such as the Intellivision Flashback reproduction console.

So, does this history lesson change my opinion of the game? Not really. The ball is still tiny, the collision detection is still bad, and the lack of a paddle controller is still disappointing. It’s more forgivable in an unreleased prototype, though. The video game market was already well on its way to the surfeit of low-quality clones that preceded the great video game crash, so it’s in some ways comforting that this game was kept back, even if it was for pragmatic rather than artistic reasons.

So, my prior recommendation stands: if you want to play a Breakout clone, Arkanoid is a much better choice. But, maybe, if you’re in an academic mood, it wouldn’t hurt to take a glance at Brickout!, too.


  1. This history is thanks to Intellivision Productions
  2. Which is still available for purchase in an updated edition, and which was also ported to PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. There was a compilation under the same title for the Nintendo DS, though I believe it included only games, and no historical extras. 

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Gender and video games: How is female gender generally represented in various genres of video games? by Xeniya Kondrat

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 8, 2015

I’ve written about game-related academic papers a couple of times in the past. I think that the general gaming public would benefit by being more aware of the academic research, and the research would benefit if it received some scrutiny and discussion from the public. If I can ever arrange my schedule to suit, I’d like to do an ongoing series looking at some of these in detail (as with my previous posts) and giving briefer commentary on others (as this post will be).

Enough navel-gazing. Today, we’re taking a brief look at a recent paper in the Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology (Compaso) by Xeniya Kondrat, titled “Gender and video games: How is female gender generally represented in various genres of video games?”. The abstract:

Gender representation in video games is a current sensitive topic in entertainment media.
Gender studies in video games look at the difference between the portrayal of female and
male characters. Most video games tend to over-represent stereotypes and in general use
extensive violence and cruelty (Maietti, 2008). Some video games use wrong, disrespectful
and sometimes even violent representations of both genders. This research paper focuses
on the current representation of female gender in video games and how they are
represented, stereotyped and used as characters in games. Results show that there is a
difference between portraying women in the past and present. This research paper is
based on previous academic research and results which were achieved with online
questionnaire among game players and two interviews with professionals in the field of
game design. The results show that there is still negative stereotyping of female gender.
However, at the same time, the answers of the respondents show that the target audience
of video games desires improvements in presentation of female gender as well as male.

On accuracy

A study on the changing portrayal of female gender in video games is right up my alley, but this one sets off red flags from the word go. Compaso claims to be a peer-reviewed journal, but the “Introduction and background” section contains some errors that even the most passing familiarity with games (or the most cursory examination of the paper’s sources) would reveal.

I’ll look at just the first paragraph, sentence by sentence. Since Compaso is an open access journal (for which I am grateful, even if I’m being harsh on the paper), feel free to follow along with me, here.

Video game history started in 1940 when Edward Condon designed a computer that could play a game called “Nim” with one player (Video Game History Timeline).

That’s an odd place to begin. If you’re going to include simple games like Nim, you might as well include other electromechanical games of the era. I found a patent for an electrical shooting gallery with a lightgun that was filed in 1936, for example.

I won’t split hairs, though. You can choose whatever starting point suits you–there’s not one right answer. The reason the author chose this particular starting point, I believe, was that her sole source for information on the history of video games was the Video Game History Timeline cited, and it begins there.

The first home video game, “Space Odyssey”, was created in 1972.

I don’t know what to say about this one. I can’t find any game from that year with that title. I think Kondrat is confusing Spacewar! (released in 1962), one of the earliest computer games, with the Magnavox Odyssey (patented in 1968 and first sold in 1972), the first home game console.

In 1993, a release of “Mortal Kombat” forced the US government to start rating the games based on their violence level (Video Game History Timeline).

Again, this is just not right. The ESRB was established shortly after the release of Mortal Kombat (though the way I heard it, Night Trap was more responsible for its formation), but the ESRB is not part of the US government (which isn’t in the business of rating video games, or movies or anything else, for that matter), and games had been rated prior to its establishment, though not in so organized a fashion.

The first game with a female protagonist appeared in 1996: “Tomb Raider”.

Now this is just a whopper. Not only is it incredibly false, missing even hugely popular games like Metroid (and MobyGames lists at least 400 other, earlier games with female protagonists), it even contradicts the Video Game History Timeline that Kondrat has relied upon.

For 1996, the VGHT says “Lara Croft debuts as the star of Eidos’s adventure game Tomb Raider. Players love her, but critics charge that she’s an example of sexism in video games.” No mention of ‘first game with a female protagonist.’

On the other hand, the VGHT’s entry for 1980 mentions that “Two years later [than the release of Pac-Man], Ms. Pac-Man strikes a blow for gender equality by becoming the best-selling arcade game of all time.”

It became one of the most popular games in video game history.

No complaint, Tomb Raider really was popular.

Afterwards, Will Wrights created a game called “The Sims” in 2000 which became the most popular game amongst female players.

First, the man’s name is ‘Wright’. Second, this is just repeating part of an entry on the VGHT: “Will Wright’s The Sims models real life. It is not the first simulation game . . . but it becomes the best-selling computer game ever and the most popular game with female players.”

Further comments

When I first read this paper’s abstract, I’d hoped to be able to write a post reporting on some interesting results, but the sheer density of factual errors in the introduction has quite put me off this paper.

Frankly, my skimming of the rest of the paper has left me shocked that a publication that purports to be a serious, peer-reviewed journal would print it. This paper “was a part of
[Kondrat’s] graduation project for her undergraduate study in International Communication and Media at the HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.” Formatting or language issues I forgive easily, but the factual errors and lack of clarity and organization is more what I would expect from a high school student’s rushed term paper than a postgraduate student’s paper submitted for publication.

I’d rather build up than tear down, but it’s my policy that if I decide to review something, I follow through on negative as well as positive reviews. In the interest of fairness to the journal: it appears, from a brief look, that other articles published in that issue, if not excellent, are of far higher quality. Some, indeed, look quite interesting.

Bibliography

[Kondrat2015]
Xeniya Kondrat, Gender and video games: How is female gender generally represented in various genres of video games?, Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology 6, 1 (2015), 171–193.

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