Category Archives: computer

Spacewar!: A Spin Around the Sun

Created by a group of hackers at MIT in 1962, the pull of Spacewar! on nascent computer gamers was as strong as the gravity well of the blazing sun in the game.

I’d like to say that Steve Russell “led” the group that developed the game, but he didn’t earn the nickname “Slug” for his programming alacrity. The rest of the team, consisting of Wayne Witanen, J. Martin Graetz, Alan Kotok, Peter Samson and Dan Edwards had to prod Russell every inch of the way, constantly throwing in pieces of the programming puzzle to skirt around the roadblocks Russell would profess were preventing him from continuing.

When they were finished, they had 9K worth of rolled-up paper-tape program that would create the foundation of the entire video game industry. Over a field of stars, two spaceships face off in a duel with limited missile supplies and fuel.  Besides each other, players would also have to avoid the bending gravity of a central star, eager to pull them down to their destruction. The game was such a hit around MIT that playing it was banned during school hours, and copies of the program were included by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) with each installation of the computer system Spacewar! was created on: the PDP-1.

Image of A PDP-1 minicomputer, the same model used in the creation of Spacewar!

The PDP-1 computer by DEC

Spacewar! influenced later games made by entrepreneurs intent on creating the video game industry, including Computer Space in 1971, the first mass-produced arcade video game, made by future Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. It also inspired Larry Rosenthal, creator of the first vector game Space Wars in 1977, as well as Ed Logg, creator of 1979’s phenomenally successful Asteroids. Spacewar! blazed forth from the minds of those early computer hackers at MIT, lighting the way for others to follow.

For more information on the history of Spacewar!, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Jeff Bridges and Steven Lisberger on the set of Tron, a video game themed movie by Disney 1982

Greetings, Programs! A Look at Tron

Tron is a movie that either turns people on or off, like the digital gates inside computer chips. Written by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird and directed by Lisberger, it made an attempt to take viewers on a journey into the inner world of computer circuitry.  It was released in the summer of 1982, and among various visual marvels was the first feature film to extensively use computer generated imagery (CGI).

Still of lightcycles in battle from Tron, a video game themed movie from Disney 1982

Light Cycles race in the grid in Tron

 

It tells the story of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer hacker who sits in a room over his video game arcade, trying to hack into the main computer at Encom, his former employer. He hopes to pull out of their system information that proves that some popular games of his were stolen by co-worker Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who then passed them off as his own and was subsequently kicked up the corporate ladder. With the help of friends and current Encom employees Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), Flynn infiltrates the company and attempts to pull the data. During the process, the Master Control Program zaps Flynn with a laser and flings him into the computer world, where he must fight for his life on the gaming grid and interact with the computer program equivalents of his friends.

Still of Yori and Tron from Tron, a video game themed film by Disney 1982

Yori and Tron in a clutch

 

Having Disney somewhat over a barrel at the time due to their waning animation department, as well as the poor performances of their live-action fare, Lisberger and the producers had carte-blanche to call in heavy hitters to help design the film; no less than three cutting-edge computer animation houses were used to produce the 15 minutes of fully-rendered CGI in Tron. Syd Mead and Jean “Moebius” Giraud were also drafted to help create the world of Tron and its computer denizens. The film might have an impenetrable story, but at least it looks marvelous.

Looks only get you so far, though. Tron ultimately disappointed at the box office, but you can’t completely fault the film; Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial juggernaut sucked all of the oxygen out of theatres that summer of 1982, asphyxiating such other noble genre efforts as Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tron has definitely generated a cult status for itself over the intervening years, however, and at the very least served as a proving ground for the burgeoning field of feature film computer animation.

To pull more information on the history of Tron out of the Encom servers, slip past the MCP and access the Dot Eaters article here.

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Still of the MPC from Tron, a video game themed film by Disney 1982

Oscar Week at TDE: Jaws (1989)

1975’s Jaws might not have been Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film (it was his second; The Sugarland Express, released the previous year, takes that honour), but it most certainly was the first to put him on the map. The story of a resort-town police chief and his battle against a monstrous killer shark, it set the template for the movie blockbuster and kept a huge swath of the public away from their beaches, bays and bathtubs. While nominated, it didn’t swim away with Best Picture; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest flew away with all the big awards at the 1976 ceremony.

Jaws: The Computer Game was released in 1989 for the Amiga, C64, Atari ST and other systems. Made by developer Intelligent Design, Ltd. and published by Screen 7 Ltd., it is a strange mish-mash of strategy and 2-D platforming. Players take on the role of chief Martin Brody, who circles the island of Amity in his boat The Orca, following reports of shark sightings.  He can close beaches to prevent attacks, although keeping them closed too long ticks off Mayor Larry Vaughn and can lead to Brody’s dismissal. Both Hooper and Quint from the movie join Brody on his quest, along with a team of six divers who pilot a submersible vehicle into the depths around Amity.  The ultimate goal is to collect pieces of a special gun and a cache of bullets, which when assembled can be used to dispatch the fishy fiend.

Jaws: The Computer Game is actually fun to play.  Trying to guess where the shark will go lends a bit of strategy, and the underwater parts are competent if a bit draggy and frustrating at times. The colourful graphics help keep things interesting, along with John Williams’ famous main theme from the movie, which lends tension leading up to the titular fish’s occasional appearances. It’s worth going back into the water for this one.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)

The Epyx Games Fail Reel

For the past two weeks TDE has presented the eight games of the illustrious Epyx Games series, from the 1984 release Summer Games, to California Games II in 1990. All to celebrate the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  As they extinguish the Olympic flame in Russia, we present our own closing ceremonies with the Epyx Fail Reel. Falls, flubs and F-Ups from the furious competitions of the Epyx Games series.

With the thrill of victory, also comes the agony of defeat.  A lot of agony.

Here is a list of the other Epyx Games articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga

For more on the history of Epyx and the Games series, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Games: Winter Edition, a computer game by Epyx 1988

The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga

Our final entry in the Epyx Games series, The Games: Winter Edition was released for the Amiga computer in Olympic year 1988, with the real games held that year in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You might remember those games as being the setting for the movie Cool Runnings, about the debut of the Jamaican Bobsled team in Olympic competition. Unfortunately, Winter Edition did not include the bobsled, nor Jamaica as a participating country, so players couldn’t recreate the John Candy vehicle. Not even in the Luge. The Epyx Games series did finally get to the big show, however. Winter Edition was an official licensee of the United States Olympic Committee, and therefore was the only game out of the series that contained Olympic branding within. Of course, all use of the Olympic rings imagery had to be accompanied with the USA logo, so the game seemed a tad biased towards the United States.

Along with the Amiga, it also appeared on several other computer platforms, including fierce competitor the Atari ST, as well as the C64, DOS and others. For the Amiga version, the game was made by developer FACS Programming Services, Inc., a subsidiary of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based F.A.C.S. Inc., for Epyx. Programming was handled by Don Sherry, Jonathan Hickey, Larry Ashmun, Alex Popadich and Joy Dorethy. The artist for the project was Mike Snyder.  Taking care of the music was Chris Ebert and Chris Grigg.

There are seven sporting events offered: Luge, Downhill (Skiing), The Slalom (Skiing), Cross Country (Skiing) Ski Jump, Speed Skating, and Figure Skating.  Rousing opening and closing ceremonies also round out the package, along with a podium ceremony for the victors in each competition. It’s also good to hear national anthems make their return, giving players a good education on the first few bars of every participating country’s patriotic ditty. Speaking of music, the score is not too bad here, with some well-designed and varied tunes to fire up the blood before an event like Speed Skating. Gameplay stumbles, however. Thankfully joystick jiggling kept to a bare minimum, although things start to break down a tad with some inscrutable timings required in Figure Skating and Ski Jump.  The former is actually interesting to set up, where you have to build a choreography for a routine before you skate, to a selection of music selections of various lengths and tempos. Then you must take to the ice and skate this routine, making the right moves at the right time in the music. Unfortunately, executing the different moves requires knowing the timing for holding or not holding the joystick in the correct position, which is initially unknowable until you’ve practiced each a thousand times. As for the Ski Jump?  I’ll let the attached gameplay video speak for itself, although I will say that I practiced for hours before I recorded the footage. I never did get the hang of it.

Problems with timings can be rectified with intense practice by the player, but nothing can improve the rough and unpolished graphics of Winter Edition.  Things like bare blue skies and lumpy athletes make one long for the clever details of the original summer and winter games artwork.

The Games: Winter Edition does slip and fall butt-first to the ice on occasion, but doesn’t completely disgrace its pedigree. Taken as a whole, the grand Epyx Games series of international sports competition deserves a solid gold medal of achievement in computer gaming.

Every game in the Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more information on Epyx and the Games series, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Games: Summer Edition, a computer game for the Amiga by Epyx 1988

The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition

We’re back to the Olympian playing field with the Amiga version of The Games: Summer Edition, distributed in 1988 by U.S. Gold and developed by Code Monkeys for Epyx. There were versions of the game made for the venerable C64 too, as well as arch Amiga rival the Atari ST, as well as for the Apple II and DOS.

Like the original Summer Games, this reboot was made to capitalize on an Olympic year. The very next summer games, in fact, taking place in Seoul, South Korea. As usual for this series, there was no Olympic branding to be found in Summer Edition, as the product wasn’t an official IOC license. Of course, we all knew what grand, international sporting event we were actually playing in.

There are eight Olympic-style events on display here: Cycling, Hurdles, Pole Vault, Hammer Throw, Uneven Parallel Bars, Archery, Rings and Diving. It’s also nice to see appropriately epic closing ceremonies make a return to the series. Since the game was made on the Amiga, the graphics are a pretty big notch above the previous iterations. The audio quality of the music is also a standout, although the compositions disappointingly generic for a Games title. Where are the groovy riffs? Gameplay is suspect as well. Most of the events devolve into the dreaded joystick waggling contest, and both of the gymnastic events, the rings and the parallel bars, take the gold in “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”. Trying to play them, with all their complicated joystick movements and contextual timing, one can see why certain Olympic events were left out in the other games. With an Olympian amount of practice, I’m sure people could figure things out and put on a good athletic performance. As for me, I’ll just rest here under the bars and wait for the medics to carry me out.

Every game in the Epyx Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more information on Epyx and the Games series, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Image from California Games II, a computer game by Epyx 1990

The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)

Welcome, moondoggies, to more sun-bleached sporting hijinks in California Games II, released by Epyx for the PC in 1990 as a sequel to their popular California Games. It was programmed by Gil Colgate, Kevin Furry, Darrell Fetzer and Jesse Taylor. Art was handled by Arthur Koch, Matthew Crysdale, Paul Vernon, Collette Michaud and Joel Mariano. Chris Ebert, Bob Aron and Chris Grigg did sound design. The game was produced by Matt Householder, and additional design was done by Tom Schumacher. You can really see the personnel rosters climb as the games advance, can’t you? Initially released for DOS, California Games II also saw light on the two big 16-bit computers of the era, the Amiga and Atari ST, along with later console versions for SNES and the SEGA Master System.

This post covers the DOS version, which is a great entry in the Epyx Games series. The available events here are Hang Gliding, Snowboarding, Jet Surfing (Jet Ski), Bodyboarding, and Skateboarding. I’d have to say that personally, I enjoy snowboarding and skateboarding the most out of this title. Although what to do with the helicopter in snowboarding is initially inscrutable (protip: don’t land on the platform, hover over the snowy slope next to it and hit the fire button to jump out), the multi-stage gameplay is a blast and mighty harrowing as you careen down the mountain. The jetskiing event is by far the worst, with little to do but try and keep between the buoys with a stiffly-handling watercraft. There is also no sound effects in this event, except for the music that constantly plays. Considering that the player is prompted before the race to “rev up your engines”, it’s funny that there’s no actual engine sounds! Bodyboarding is merely blah, although the graphics in this one really give me the idea that I’m actually playing a classic graphic adventure by Sierra Online.  Maybe a sequel to Codename Iceman or something. Matching the Sierra Online adventure game ethos are some of the dire ends you can come to. Things are not as laid-back in California as they seem.

The music is a bit better here than in the previous California Games, and player control seems responsive and tight. In all, a lot of fun to play. It’s totally tubular..although take it easy approaching the tunnels in while on your skateboard, or you might leave a permanent mark. Now THAT’S bogus, dude.

Every game in the Epyx Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more bitchin’ info on the history of Epyx, glide over to your local Dot Eaters entry, man!

Excerpt from California Games, a computer game by Epyx 1987

The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64

Time for some totally awesome and knarly sports, dudes!

California Games was released for the Commodore 64 by Epyx in 1987, featuring six rad events straight outta the Golden State. It was designed by Chuck Sommerville and Jon Leupp, along with Ken Nicholson and Kevin Norman. Lending their graphical talents were Jenny Martin, Suzie Greene, Sheryl Knowles and Paul Vernon.  Taking sound duties was Chris Grigg. The sun-soaked sports featured in the game are Half Pipe, Foot Bag, Surfing, Skating, BMX, and Flying Disc.

This game might have been the most financially successful of the Epyx Games series, but I don’t know… it doesn’t quite gel for me like the previous titles. Some of the events are fun; trying to catch the break in Surfing is entertaining, along with some neat animations if you wipe out. Half Pipe is hella complicated when you first start, although after a tonne of practice you can get into a rhythm with the various skateboard moves that feels great.  The only other sport in the package that I enjoy is Flying Disc, aka Frisbee. The other events are very picky about timing, and the sidelong view in Skating and BMX makes it hard to judge exactly where your character is in relation to the sidewalk/track.

It is also disappointing that you don’t get something similar to the national anthems from the previous games.  Here you just choose from among a few different sponsors, with no musical theme attached to them.  Speaking of music, the overall score isn’t the best of the series by any means. Players are also left missing the opening and closing ceremonies…. after a static render of your trophy you’re just dumped unceremoniously back to the main menu when completing a full circuit of games. So California Games is a bit bogus, but still better than getting gagged with a spoon.

Every game in the Epyx Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more information on Epyx, grok your local Dot Eaters article, dude!

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64

There have been a lot of sports titles licensed to use the branding of the Olympic games, but the one that most captures the grandeur and scope of international competition in the hearts of classic gamers wasn’t an official Olympic title. Today we feature the seminal Summer Games, released in 1984 by Epyx.

Created by Stephen Landrum, Randy Glover, Jon Leupp, Brian McGhie, Stephen Murdry and Scott Nelson, no self-respecting C64 owner would be without this spectacular sports game in their collection. Released to coincide with the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, Summer Games actually had it roots as an unreleased decathlon game for the Starpath Supercharger called Sweat! , for the Atari 2600. In the resultant computer game by Epyx we get eight Olympic-style events, all presented with loving accuracy and offering terrific control over the athletes. Except for gymnastics.  Zod, I hated gymnastics, almost as much as the figure skating in Winter Games. The following video of competition in several Summer Games events painfully highlights my fumblings on the mat.

Every game in the Epyx Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.  Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on the Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more on the history of Epyx and Summer Games, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Epyx Games: Winter Games on the C64

The bread and butter of computer game maker Epyx was their Games series, starting with the beloved Summer Games, initially released in 1984 to coincide with the Summer Olympic games held in Los Angeles that year. It was followed up by Summer Games II the following year, along with the game we feature today, Winter Games. All of the games in the series were great fun and reasonable representations of the included sports, but apropos of the commencement of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, we present to you the pomp, the passion, and the pixels of Epyx’s Winter Games.

The graphics are spectacular in the game, really putting the player in the environment of a grand winter sports spectacle, surrounded by mountains and running streams.  The music score is another standout, with a simultaneous grandiose and groovy attitude.  But the hallmark of all the Games games by Epyx is the precise feeling of controlling the athletes. The designers were well aware that the almost intangible “feel” of movement and control is what makes or breaks a sports title.  Gold medals all around for their work on recreating seven different Olympic sport challenges for the player, without any undue frustration. I’d like to complain about the figure skating in Winter Games, as it initially feels like the only part of the game where you’re not in complete control of the athlete… but ultimately I’ll have to be honest and say that my cursing and swearing in that part probably comes down to my own fumblings with the controls and not because of the design.

Every game in the Epyx Games series will be featured in posts all during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.  Here are the links to the other articles:

The Epyx Games: Summer Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: Summer Games II on the C64
The Epyx Games: World Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games on the C64
The Epyx Games: California Games II on PC (DOS)
The Epyx Games – The Games: Summer Edition on the Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Games: Winter Edition on Amiga
The Epyx Games – The Fail Reel

For more information on Winter Games maker Epyx, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.