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

Archive for the ‘1984’ Category

Ahoy! #1 (January 1984)

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 5, 2013

This is something a little different than my usual fare. Today, we’re going to take a look at the first issue of Ahoy!, dated January 1984.

Ahoy-01-cover
This is a piece of history, for sure, and an important one. Magazines like this related news about the still-developing home computer market, and are a great source of information about the computer world, as it looked in the eighties. More importantly, these magazines introduced countless people to programming; some learned by reading the articles that discussed programming, while others simply picked things up by inputting the type-in games and other programs these magazines usually contained. Their impact cannot be overstated.

Be warned: as the length of this post shows, I go into a fair amount of detail, and quote pretty extensively.

Editorial

Ahoy! #1 begins with an editorial by Ben Bova, “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them”, which opines that we are at the beginning of the microcomputer revolution, and is very wide-eyed and optimistic about the coming days. Not without reason is Bova enthusiastic. As he says, “The child in us, the little kid that’s delighted by Space Invaders or Pac-Man created a market that accounted for nearly $10 billion in sales last year.” And, “Computer technology has advanced with breathtaking speed: if automobiles had improved their efficiency and cost as rapidly as computers have over the past twenty years, a Rolls Royce would be able to get more than a hundred miles per gallon of gas, and would cost less than $100.”

Scuttlebutt

Next is the Scuttlebutt department, featuring news on recent and upcoming hardware and software releases. There’s some great stuff in here, for those interested in the history of computing.

Ahoy-01-Executive 64The first item discussed is the Executive 64, a portable computer. As Ahoy! says: “Commodore has provided one alternative for the growing number of business travelers who find their computers significantly harder to leave behind than their wives. The portable (27.6 pounds), briefcase-sized (5″ x 14.5″ x 14.5″), $995 Executive 64 features an upper and lower case detachable keyboard, 6-inch color monitor, and single floppy disk drive with 179k capacity (second drive capacity).” Interesting what ‘portable’ (though I’ve heard those kind called ‘luggable’) meant, a few decades ago, given that modern portable computers have weights measured in grams and thickness measured in millimeters.

Ahoy-01-RomoxAnother item of interest is Romox Terminals, from Campbell, California based Romox Inc. “The Programming Terminals contain the codes to five hundred or more games in several formats, including those of the Commodore 64 and VIC-20. At the same time, ECPC’s, Romox’s EPROM cartridges, will be made available to the public. One ECPC (edge connector programmable cartridge) can be purchased for fifteen to thirty dollars. If the purchaser doesn’t like the game or grows tired of it, (s)he can take the cartridge to a Romox Programming Terminal and have it reprogrammed with a new game in minutes for a relatively low cost of one to twenty dollars. The cartridges can be reprogrammed many times over.” Nintendo would have a similar feature for the Japan-only Famicom Disk System, a couple of years later.

Notice that this is pretty much an early form of digital distribution (the BBS being the more direct ancestor to Steam et al.), and Ahoy! muses that will be quite a boon to the industry. “This system represents an all new method of game distribution, and the industry will be watching the experiment closely. If the system works, retailers will have much more shelf space available. Software publishers will be provided with an instant glimpse of a new game’s popularity. Smaller, newer game creators will be able to sell their games on a mass market basis without the costs and headache of manufacturing and distribution.”

There’s a long section discussing laserdisc games, like Dragon’s Lair (recently re-released for Windows), and musing on future uses for the technology.

There is an interview with Guy Nouri of Interactive Picture Systems, who says “Our feeling is that the day of Space Invaders is dead. In the future, computer programs will not be so much shoot-em-ups, but activities. Learning software, not educational, but learning.” IPS produced The Movie Maker, “a real-time animation system that requires absolutely no programming.” IPS also has in development “a dance program, one which already contains a library of dance steps from which the users can select to arrange a sequence.” I’m sure that one turned out to be a winner.

Other items featured in the Scuttlebutt section: an EPROM cartridge programmer, printers, two different speech units, Magic Desk (which introduced the desktop metaphor to the home market), various educational software from MECC (at $50 per item–about $110 in 2013 dollars), tax software, accounting software, weather forecasting software (costing $199.95 together with the weather sensor, “supposedly the same one used by sixty countries worldwide”), and lots of upcoming games, including Night Mission Pinball, which I reviewed previously.

The Computer as Communications Device

The next article, “The Computer as Communications Device” by M. David Stone, discusses the practical aspects of using a computer to connect to a BBS, including which modem or terminal software you should purchase, and why, as well as who you can call, once you’ve got them (CIS, Delphi, and The Source are recommended). Since it was about $150 for a terminal emulator and a 300 baud modem, this article would surely have been a worthwhile read.

Can the 64 Crack the Peanut?

Steve Springer contributes a 3-page article speculating on whether the Commodore 64 could stand up against IBM’s rumoured ‘Peanut’ computer, supposed to be released sometime between 1983 and 1985. Of course, the ‘Peanut’ turned out the be the PCjr, a dismal failure.

This article is mostly interesting if taken as a cautionary tale against excessive concern for rumour, a lesson that game journalists and others could stand to learn, even today.

Reviews

The reviews section includes fourteen titles: Astroblitz by Creative Software, Fort Apocalypse by Synapse Software, Keyword Cross Reference and Mailing List and Labels by TOTL Software (not games), Moondust by Creative Software, Speed Racer and Candy Bandit by T&F Software, Suspended by Infocom, Hometax by Learning Source Inc. (not a game), Cannonball Blitz by Sierra On-Line, and Snake Byte, The Blade of Blackpoole, Repton and Type Attack by Sirius.

Everything Else

David Ritchie provides a brief, but interesting two-page biography, “John von Neumann: The Genius Behind Computers”.

Pete Lobl gives us “The Interrupt Music Maker/Editor for the Commodore 64”, a type-in music composition program, and “The 64 Graphics System”, a technical discussion of (you guessed it) the 64 graphics system, plus a type-in graphics program, Multi-Draw.

Robert J. Sodaro offers an incredibly positive “Interview with Bill Badser from Protecto Enterprises”, which is followed by no fewer than ten pages of ads for Protecto. One wonders if Protecto offered to buy ten pages of ads on the condition of being given a three-page feature.

Dale W. Rupert writes the “Rupert Report”, titled “Don’t Curse that Cursor! Learn to Put It Where You Want It.”, which discusses cursor positioning.

The “Commodares” section includes a couple of type-in utilities and a few programming puzzles.

Michael Kleinert and David Barron write “A Peek at Memory on the Commodore 64”, which describes exactly what the 64K is used for, and “Programming Sequential Files on Your Disk Drive”, which is just what it sounds like.

At the end of the issue is a glossary of computer terms, which jokes strewn about (“High resolution. High-quality graphics capability when applied to a video terminal. An individual software program may itself contain high-resolution graphics, meaning detailed or colorful graphics. A subjective term and therefore frequently abused (especially on New Years Eve).”)

Posted in 1984, Full Review, Magazine | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Space Lanes

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 6, 2012

Space Lanes is a Commodore 64 and VIC-20 collect ’em up by Robert Alonso.

In the future, Earth is in dire need of fuel, and it’s your job to pilot your spaceship through the space lanes, collecting fuel while avoiding laser fire from the invisible KOPEC robots.

Like Pac-Man, you move around a maze collecting dots for points while avoiding dangers. Unlike Pac-Man, the ‘maze’ is just a grid, and the dangers are lasers that randomly fire across a row of the grid, left to right.

You get five points for each dot you collect, and three lives to collect them in. If you are hit by lasers three times, the game ends.

I’m not sure what happens if you manage to collect all of the dots without losing. I assume that the game will reset, probably with your current score intact, and allow you to continue collecting points.

Unfortunately, I never managed this, because I had great difficulty with the controls. The game is controlled by joystick, and it seemed that occasionally it completely ignored me moving the stick, and other times it’d move the spaceship several times very quickly. This made it very difficult to navigate the maze, since it’s crucial that you not loiter too long in the rows without barriers, lest you be cooked by incoming laser fire.

Incidentally, Space Lanes was a type-in game, published in Ahoy! Issue #03 in March 1984. You may notice that there appears to be some misalignment of the columns at the top of my screenshots. I suspect that the copy of the game I downloaded may have been typed incorrectly. I began to type it in myself to see if this was the case, but when I realized that I’d typed in several lines of the VIC-20 version rather than the C64 version, I rather lost the motivation to find out. Sorry for that.

Space Lanes is fundamentally similar to Pac-Man and a hundred other collect ’em ups, but its poor controls make it far inferior. If you’re looking for a good diversion, I’m afraid Space Lanes just doesn’t measure up.

Posted in 1984, Bad, Collect 'em Up, Commodore 64, Full Review | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hanoin Tornit

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 30, 2012

Hanoin Tornit is a variation on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, published as a type-in game in the March 1984 issue of the Finnish magazine MikroBitti.


Hanoin Tornit is a little different from the usual Tower of Hanoi puzzle. It’s got an additional restriction: the discs may only be moved to adjacent stacks. This makes the solution much more drawn out; thankfully, the game only has four discs.

As usual with these early games, there’s no sound nor animation. Unusually, it is possible to ask the game to show you the correct solution, a good addition. There is only one solution, though, up to reversible mistakes, so there’s not much else to do, once you’ve seen it.

Since this review is working out to be quite short, let’s see how many steps it takes to solve this variation. To solve the puzzle with n discs:

  1. Solve the (n-1)-disc puzzle with all but the largest disc.
  2. Move the largest disc to the center.
  3. Solve the (n-1)-disc puzzle in reverse.
  4. Move the largest disc to the right.
  5. Finally, solve the (n-1)-disc puzzle again.

Adding these moves up, that means that if Hanoin(n) is the number of moves required to solve the n disc puzzle in this variation, then Hanoin(n) = 3*Hanoin(n-1) + 2. Clearly, it takes 2 moves to solve the 1-disc puzzle. So, applying a little math, we find H(4) = 80, quite a few more moves than the 15 required by the traditional Tower of Hanoi puzzle. In general, Hanoin(n) = 3^n – 1, while Hanoi(n) = 2^n – 1–quite a huge difference. In fact, solving Hanoin Tornit requires you to move the discs through every possible position–it couldn’t possibly take any longer to solve.

Since the math was more fun than the game, I’d recommend against playing this one.

Posted in 1984, Bad, Commodore 64, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Hanoi (1984)

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 30, 2012

In 1984, a final (to my knowledge) update to Glen Fisher’s Hanoi was released, also called Hanoi.


The gameplay is identical to its predecessors from 1978 and 1980. The only difference is that this 1984 version includes color–quite a bit more than the 1980 version, and in contrast to the monochromatic 1978 version.


I suppose that this version is the best of this lineage, which isn’t really saying much. Of course, for a Tower of Hanoi game, there isn’t much to say.

This version was released as a type-in game in Commodore 64 Fun and Games by Jeffries, Fisher, and Sawyer.

Posted in 1984, Commodore 64, Decent, Full Review, Tower of Hanoi | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Excitebike

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 30, 2009

Excitebike, released by Nintendo in November 1984 in Japan, and October 1985 in the US, is a classic racing game for the NES.

Two modes are available, Selection A and Selection B. In Selection A, you race against the clock, alone on any of five tracks.

You play the red motorcyclist, and must pass the required number of laps on each obstacle-strewn track before time runs out. If you fail to beat the third place time, you lose. Since you can select which track you want to play on, this isn’t such a big deal,though, and the early tracks are pretty easy.

The track consists of four lanes, which you can switch among with the up and down buttons. In addition to changing lanes, you have the choice of the slower or faster gear for your bike. The faster gear has an obvious advantage, but also a disadvantage: as you use the faster gear, your bike heats up, and if you keep it up too long, your bike will overheat, forcing you to wait on the sidelines until it cools off again. Using the slower gear will allow your bike to cool, as will running over arrows that appear on the track. As a result, much of the strategy involves knowing when to use the faster gear and when to take it slower. Use the right gear and avoid or manage the obstacles, and you shouldn’t have much trouble until the last two tracks.

In Selection B, you still must beat the clock but there’s an additional difficulty: other racers appear on the track.

The other racers don’t seem to be intelligent–they don’t seem to try to block you intentionally, but they do get in the way, and running into them can cause a crash, costing you precious seconds. This mode is a little more interesting than Selection A, because of the added difficulty, but play is basically the same. I’d suggest playing Selection A if you’re trying to get the best possible times, and Selection B if you just want to race.

In addition to the two play modes, there’s a design mode, which lets you select from the available obstacles to make your own track.

You can try to make some interesting tracks this way, and it’s a little amusing, but the inability to save means that it’s a bit of a waste to spend much time trying to make a really good track, since it’ll be gone when you power off the console. It’s not that there isn’t a save option–it’s right there on the menu, and will happily spend a few minutes claiming to save, but it’s intended for use with the Famicom Data Recorder, a cassette attachment which was never released outside of Japan. The rest of us are out of luck.

AI: 6/10
The computer-controlled racers provide a little extra challenge, and a little extra scenery, but it would have been nice if they were aggressive and tried to keep you from passing.
Gameplay: 8/10
The game controls smoothly, and it’s really quite fun. If it had more tracks and supported two players, it might get a perfect score. Even without these, Excitebike is an excellent racing game.
Graphics: 8/10
Ordinarily, I say you should never to anything 3D on the NES, but Excitebike pulls off the 3D obstacles very well–it’s easy to see how tall they are and what slope they’re at, which is the most important thing for this game. I can’t score this any higher, though, because the tracks are pretty bland, and the most variation we get on different tracks is a palette swap. Not bad, but they might have done a little more.
Sound: 4/5
I’m only counting this half since there’s no background music during the races, just sound effects. That said, what sound exists is not bad, but a little repetitive. Like Indy 500, the main sound we hear during the race is the constant roar of the engine. Unlike Indy 500, that is actually useful since you can tell how hot your bike is by the sound of the engine. It still gets a little old, but at least it’s functional.
Personal Slant: 10/10
Whatever shortcomings Excitebike has, it’s still quite a fun old game, and I have very fond memories of it. Especially given it’s age (it was one of the first NES games, 25 years ago), I can’t really find fault with it.
Total: 8/10
Fun fact: Excitebike fit on only 24K of ROM. By comparison, this review, together with the five screenshots it contains, takes up about 23K–just about the same size as the game that is its subject! There’s certainly a lot of excellent gaming packed in such a small size. This is one game that’s absolutely worth playing, and since I understand that it’s available on the Wii virtual console we all have the good fortune to be able to play it, even if we can’t find a working NES.

Posted in 1984, Driving, Full Review, Good, NES | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Pinball

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 27, 2008

Pinball was released by Nintendo in February 1984 in Japan and October 1985 in the US, and, as the name suggests, is a simple pinball game.

Pinball features two pinball screens and a bonus screen. An extra ball is awarded for every 50,000 points, and the flipper becomes invisible while your score is between 100,000 and 150,000 points. Each screen has a way to place a block post between the flippers to prevent your ball from falling, and several special ways to get large amounts of points.

After releasing the plunger, the ball goes to the top screen, and falls through one of the three lanes to score 500 or 1,000 points.

Putting the ball through the green lane on the right causes the penguins in the center to act like a slot machine, and hitting the moving pink slot target will cause them to stop on either 3, 7, or a penguin. Matching them scores points and causes a block post to appear between the flippers.

Putting the ball through the upper left lane causes the seals to bounce balls on their noses, activating the 100 point bumper in the middle. Between this and the dots filling that lane, this scores 2,800 points.

The counter at the upper left awards the shown number of points when it is hit, increasing each time by 100 points, up to a maximum of 1,000 points. It resets when you put the ball through the left lane.

The four targets on the left award a 1,000 point bonus when you hit them all. The hole on the lower right only kicks the ball back if you fall in it; the ball exits from that hole when leaving the bonus screen.

Falling from the top screen doesn’t lose the ball, but rather drops it to the bottom screen.

On the bottom screen, there are a few features of note. Passing through the lanes at the top flips over the cards. When all the cards are flipped, a 5,000 point bonus is awarded, and a block post appears between the flippers.

Hitting all seven of the targets on the left awards a 1,000 point bonus, and removes the pink bars on the right, allowing you to relaunch the ball.

The three eggs above the flippers hatch when hit once, disappear when hit again, and turn back to eggs when you pass over them a third time. Causing all three eggs to be hatched at the same time adds stoppers to the outlanes. Between this and the cards, it is possible to keep the ball quite safe, though these stoppers do disappear once they are hit once.

Finally, the hole in the upper right leads to the bonus stage.

In the bonus stage, you control Mario. You’re supposed to run beneath the ball to bounce it back up, rather like breakout. Unlike breakout, though, the floor beneath the girl shrinks when the column of lights beneath it are turned the same color. The colors change whenever the ball rolls over them. When the floor disappears, the girl falls, and you must catch her and allow her to walk off to the left or right. Doing so awards you 10,000 points and restarts the bonus level. The level ends if the ball falls to the sides, which causes it to pop out of the hole on the top screen, or the girl falls without you catching her, which will cost you your ball.

That’s the whole game! The difference between the A and B games is that the ball is heavier in the B games, making them more challenging. It’s a fairly simple game, but it’s pretty well done. The controls are pretty good and the graphics aren’t bad. There’s no music in the game, but the sound effects are nice. I’d say that if you like pinball games, this one is worth a try. It lacks the accurate physics and detail of later pinball games, but it’s still a fun diversion.

Gameplay: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound/Music: 6/10
Personal Slant: 8/10
Overall: 7.25/10

(An FAQ by Luke Jozwiak provided the details on the point values.)

Posted in 1984, Full Review, Good, NES, Pinball | Tagged: | 1 Comment »