Category Archives: Uncategorized

Image of the Atari Lynx handheld game unit, 1989

Reason for Failure of Atari Lynx Handheld #469

“You steal my guitar? I shoot you in the crotch! Wait, forgot my gun.”

Outside of the obligatory (and quite good) official Atari arcade ports to the Lynx, one struggles to think of a reason for gamers of the 90’s to have picked one up. It’s certainly not for the mostly bizarre third-party games that remain. Take, for example, this one from Telegames. I can’t imagine people being enticed by such a confusing and inscrutable box cover, saddled with the title Fat Bobby. I have a hard time just picking out the protagonist. Guitar guy is more prominently placed, but then again the other guy seems more relevant to the title…. which I always read as ‘Fat Boobie’ for some reason. Maybe it’s the font.

Fat Bobbie, a video game for the Atari Lynx handheld console

Guitaratica!

To read more about the Atari Lynx and the great computer game developer Epyx that created it, consult my article on the whole works, here.

 

Journey Escape, a video game for the Atari 2600 video game console

Super Charged Communists Infiltrate the Atari 2600!

The Supercharger was one of those devices released later in the lifecycle of the 2600, designed to extend the life of the console which, by 1982, was incredibly popular but outclassed by the newer game systems. Made by Starpath (formerly Arcadia before having to change their name to avoid confusion with Emerson’s Arcadia 2001 console), the Supercharger was an elongated cartridge that added another 6K of RAM to Atari’s old warhorse. Not only that, but it also had a cable that you would plug into the 1/4″ jack of any cassette tape recorder, and load in games for the system via cassette. Thusly, not only did you get more RAM for your 2600 but also bigger games.

One such game being the delightfully titled Communist Mutants from Space. It is yet another Galaxian knock-off, albeit with some twists from the formula like different types of missiles you could fire at the Commies swooping down at you, or shields to defect their godless shots, or a time-warp feature to either rewind a fatal mistake, like letting government take control of all means of production from god-fearing capitalists.

It had a cool cover, too.

Communist Mutants From Space, a home video game for the Supercharger, on the Atari 2600 console

Not just commies, but mutant commies. From space!

But there’s something familiar about those commies, even if they are mutants and from space. Something about their shininess,  about how their design is both round AND sharp at the same time… let’s journey down to the next paragraph for the answer, shall we?

It’s because the cover to the game was drawn by Alton Kelley, who, along with Stanley Mouse, made the super-cool rock album covers for Journey, one of the biggest rock bands of the 70’s and 80’s. Kelley was particularly responsible for the famous Scarab escape vehicle feature on the cover of, you guessed it, Journey’s Escape album. Maybe you’ll see some Communistic similarities in it.

Cover of Escape, a rock album by Journey

Journey makes its Escape, 1981

A closer look at that Scarab vehicle:

It’s also in space!

Pretty nifty. Of course, Communist Mutants From Space isn’t the only video game connection to Journey. The band had two games of their own. Data East made Journey Escape for the 2600, and Bally/Midway made an arcade version called simply, Journey.

For more fascinating information about the Supercharger add-on for the 2600journey over to this article here at The Dot Eaters.

For more info on the Data Age Journey game, smash your way out of the egg and zoom over to this article.

Sources:
Communist Mutants From Space Cover from Moby Games: https://www.mobygames.com/game/atari-2600/communist-mutants-from-space/cover-art/gameCoverId,24124/
Escape cover art from Overstock.com: https://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/American-Art-Decor-Journey-Escape-Framed-Album-Cover-Wall-Art/17522214/product.html

 

Sierra Explains Online Jargon and Emoticons on The Sierra Network

In 1991, Sierra was on the vanguard of online graphical virtual worlds, as The Sierra Network, initially devised by co-founder Ken Williams as a service for house-bound seniors called The Constant Companion, moved from test marketing to nationwide service.

Moving from simple parlour games like chess and backgammon to action games like Red Baron and The Shadow of YserbiusTSN also promised virtual “theme-parks” like SierraLand and LarryLand.

In addition, users could communicate with each other across live conference areas. To help new users parse the strange text they might be seeing online, in the Summer of 1992 Sierra-published magazine InterAction helpfully provided a guide to this arcane language:

A guide to jargon on The Sierra Network, an online virtual community

It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it

It’s interesting to see how online shorthand has evolved from the early days of virtual communities. For instance, <ROF,L>  The comma seems a bit superfluous if you’re trying to acronym something. And <G,D&R> for grinning, ducking and running. That’s waaaay too much work.

As for the emoticons, I have to say that (a smiling person wearing a striped necktie) and (Uncle Sam) are two amazing feats of engineering, but regular use for them in the vernacular is dubious. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Or so says a smiling Batman B-)

<ROF,L>

Grand Openings: Parasite Eve (Squaresoft 1998)

Squaresoft’s Parasite Eve was based on a popular Japanese book written by pharmacologist Hideaki Sena in his free time. Doing testing on mitochondria cells, producers of electrical energy in organisms, he started to wonder about the results if mitochondria decided it had had enough and took over the bodies it was residing in. 

Sena was happy with the video game adaptation of his work, an adaptation that went on to big success in its own right, and spawned two sequels. 

All NYPD cop Ms. Brea wanted was an evening at the opera without the actors and audience spontaneously bursting into flame. Unfortunately, as we see in this horrifying PlayStation game intro, she didn’t get her wish.


Grand Openings: PowerMonger

You’d be hard-pressed not to feel your blood quicken in anticipation of the coming battles as the intro to 1990’s PowerMonger unfurls like a kingdom banner. The game intro featured in this installment of Grand Openings was a revelation on the Amiga computer, telling a whole narrative of conquest through stirring music and effective animations.

PowerMonger itself was a fun RTS, offering a huge landmass to take over and varying strategies with which to do it. While it eventually became a tad repetitive as you steamrollered opposing armies over and over again, the nearly endless permutations of lands to fight on and fascinating little touches in gameplay never let it get boring. 

You knew Peter Molyneux and his game company Bullfrog Productions had something grand up their sleeves as this mini-movie played at the beginning of their exceedingly fun war RTS game. To arms!


You can follow my commentary as I play through the first few levels of PowerMonger here in this TDE WePlay video.

Grand Openings: Chrono Cross

With the start of a new video series, we look at some great intros to classic games that set an atmospheric tone for the rest of the proceedings. 

We start with Chrono Cross for the PlayStation, yet another staggering RPG by the masters of the genre, Squaresoft. A sequel to Chrono Trigger on the SNES, Chrono Cross was a big hit, both critically and at the cash register, moving over 1.5 million units.

The intro to the game is suitably epic, giving quick glimpses of young protagonist Serge’s coming adventures, and ends with him making a startling discover…. he has apparently died. It also features truly amazing music from composer Yasunori Mitsuda, that perfectly captures the emotional sweep of the game.


Logo for Imagic, a video game company

This Imagic Moment

Designing Demons

Inspired by the great success Activision is enjoying in its early years producing games for the Atari VCS/2600, Los Gatos-based Imagic becomes the second third-party software manufacturer. Former Atari vice president of marketing Bill Grubb forms the company under a $2 million business plan, founded on July 17 1981. He is joined by Dennis Koble, who in 1976 was one of the first programmers hired by Atari. Also part of the founding team is ex-Mattel Electronics alums, Jim Goldberger and Brian Dougherty. Dougherty asks Pat Ransil, a classmate of his from U.C. Berkeley, to come along for the ride. Imagic Corporation’s staff is initially made up of 10 employees, consisting mostly of former Atari and Mattel crew. The list of programmers includes Rob Fulop, who at the tender age of 21 had been hired by Atari in 1979. While toiling in obscurity at the company, in 1980 Fulop created a VCS version of the 1978 arcade hit Night Driver.  He also pumped out a version of Space Invaders for Atari’s 400/800 computers the same year. Next came his masterful adaptation of Missile Command to the VCS in 1981, into which he also hid his initials as an easter egg for astute gamers to find.

That same year Fulup leaves Atari to join Imagic, and there he designs Demon Attack over a five-month period. It debuts at the 1982 Winter CES in Las Vegas as one of the three initial cartridge offerings from the company, along with Star Raiders knock-off  Star Voyager and pool game Trick Shot. Demon Attack becomes the best-selling Imagic cartridge, moving over one million units and ported to numerous video game and computer platforms. It also plucks the 1983 Videogame of the Year award from the pack, awarded in the pages of Electronic Games magazine. Out of the “gamestorming” sessions held to create new game ideas, Fulop also creates hit Cosmic Ark for Imagic, along with the idea of linking the game with Koble’s Atlantis; when the player loses at the end of Atlantis they’ll notice a ship taking off amid the destruction. This is the Ark from Cosmic Ark, charged with collecting species from new planets to help the Atlanteans repopulate. Fulup also populates the Imagic catalog with the lesser-known Fathom and a very rare Rubik’s Cube game called Cubicolor. Also on board at Imagic is VCS Video Pinball creator Bob Smith, whose output for the company includes Riddle of the Sphinx and Dragonfire.

The company expands to a staff of 250, with sales eventually surpassing 125 million dollars. An extensive advertising campaign attempts to differentiate the company from the competition, with an aggressive (some might say, passive aggressive) series of ads insulting casual gamers and sneeringly daring hardcore players to defeat the increased difficulty of Imagic cartridges.  Not one to be outdone by “the other” third-party game maker, Imagic moves into an ambitious 123,000 sq. ft. office and manufacturing plant in 1982. Part of their plan from the beginning, Imagic expands their roster of games from just the Atari 2600, to include cartridges for the Intellivision and the Odyssey² as well as Atari’s 8-bit computer line. The initial product for the Atari 400 and 800 computers is, of course, to be Demon Attack, and they also produce a Program Pak version for the TRS-80 Color Computer.

The Imagic’s Over

Although their formation as a third-party video game manufacturer had been inspired by Activision, Imagic doesn’t have quite as successful a transition through the great video game crash, a result of overreaching, underperforming and just plain bad timing. Looking to raise capital to maintain their ambitious game release schedule, in late 1982 the company files with the SEC to make a public offering of stock in the company. The problem is that during the review period for the IPO, Warner Communications makes its fateful announcement that Atari has underperformed in the fourth quarter of the year. This sends a shockwave through the markets and Warner shares plummeting. This has such a detrimental effect on Imagic’s financial footing that the IPO filing has to be pulled.

1982 ad for Imagic, a maker of video games for Mattel's Intellivision

Just kidding, it’s actually great news. Imagic ad, 1982

As high-profile Atari games such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark languish on store shelves, buyers and distributors begin demanding that video game companies like Imagic buy back unsold inventory. The company capitulates in order to keep preferred positioning on store shelves but must burn up $12 million worth of their privately held stock to pay for it all. An announcement in the later part of 1983 indicates their intention of adding home computer software to their library of games, including ports of their more popular games like Demon Attack and Microsurgeon for the Texas Instruments TI 99/4A computer. Another announcement in October, however, reveals that Imagic has laid off most of its staff. The intention of the company is to drop the manufacturing and distribution part of their business and become a video game design house only. In the end, after having produced 25 games for various home consoles, Imagic folds up shop in 1986, one of the more high-profile victims of the big video game crash.

JUMP: The Great Video Game Crash

Sources (Click to view; inert links kept for historical purposes)


1983 image of Rob Fulop holding his Imagic games, and other information from Electronic Fun With Computer and Games, “Phil Wiswell’s Gamemakers: Demon Designer”, interview by Phil Wiswell, pgs. 78-81, 86, Aug 1983. “‘E.F.: How long did Demon Attack take to create?’. ‘RF [Rob Fulop]: Five Months.'”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sep 9, 2015.
Martinez, Ron. “Night-Trapped.” Comp. William Hunter. Wired Oct. 1994: 76. Print. 1994 image of Rob Fulop next to mystic seer
WallyWonka. “Odyssey 2 3D Boxes Pack.” EmuMovies. N.p., 12 June 2017. Web. 18 Aug. 2020. Image of Odyssey 2 Demon Attack game box
Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, “Behind the Scenes: Tragic Imagic” by Leonard Herman, pgs. 25-27, Dec 1983. “In October, spokesman Margaret Davis announced that Imagic had been forced to lay off most of its work force. It was revealed that, henceforth, Imagic would be solely a game design house.” “During the third and fourth quarters of 1982, the powers-that-be at Imagic decided that they wanted to make a public offering of their stock.” “Just prior to, or during, the period of Imagic’s review, Atari’s stock plummeted in the wake of an announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues…” “There is evidence to suggest that, during this time, Imagic agreed to buy millions of their old games back in order to obtain shelf space for their new games. Shortly following, Imagic had to sell $12 million worth of its privately held stock in order to raise the revenues to pay the storage fees on its old cartridges.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 18 2015.
Imagic and TI join forces. (1983, September). Electronic Entertainment, 7. …Texas Instruments and Imagic disclosed an aggressive long-term cooperative venture….
Video segment from local California, Bay Area TV show “Just Kidding”, featuring a look behind the scenes at Imagic in 1983, with Pat Ransil
Staples, Betsy. “What’s New for ’82, Video Games, Imagic.” Creative Computing May 1982: 70. “Imagic, the newest producer of cartridges for the Atari VCS and Intellivision, made its debut with three game cartridges for the Atari system.” Creative Computing Magazine (May 1982) Volume 08 Number 05. Internet Archive. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
RetroNi. “Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer 3D Boxes Pack.” EmuMovies. N.p., 26 Feb. 2020. Web. 20 Aug. 2020. Image of box for TRS-80 CoCo version of Demon Attack
Video Games, “Video Games Interview: Bill Grubb and Dennis Koble”, by Steve Bloom, pgs. 22 – 24, 29, 81, Vol. 1 Num. 4, Jan 1983
“Imagic.” The Video Game Update , Aug 1982, p. 1.
The first offering for the Atari computer will be the very popular game, DEMON ATTACK.

 

Resetting The Dot Eaters

Welcome to the new Dot Eaters. To commemorate our 15th year in existence, we have totally revamped the site from top to bottom, in order to provide a better experience while examining our antiquities. The retro systems, games and companies we cover now all fall under the “Bitstory” section, with each article given its own page. Navigation throughout the site is streamlined and optimized to make getting to content easier. And, of course, there’s the new visual presentation you see all around you.

To celebrate, we are having a launch party, complete with classic game consoles set up that people can play. You can check out the details on our Facebook event page. I hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the Dot Eaters, and please share your opinions with us.