Category Archives: 1984

Not Mostly Harmless

How to Torture Gamers Without Even Trying

Woe to the poor gamer who slid the floppy for Infocom’s computer adventure game adaptation of Douglas Adams’ seminal book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into their unsuspecting drive. Not because it was a bad game; it wasn’t. Unless you mean bad as evil. Then it was very, very bad, indeed.

Adams was an early technophile, quickly falling in love with the Apple II, and subsequently with Apple’s revolutionary Macintosh computer. He was also fond of Infocom’s adventure games, and signed a multi-game deal with the company in early 1984. Paired with famed Infocom game implementer Steve Meretzky, the two banged out the Hitchhiker’s game over a six month period; Adams writing passages in England and emailing them to Meretzky in Cambridge, MA. Meretzky ended up having to chase famous procrastinator Adams down to a remote British resort  to finish work on the game.

Cover of Hitchhiker's game, Atari 8-bit computers version

Cover of Hitchhiker’s game, Atari 8-bit computers version

 

Upon release in late 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a huge hit, moving over a quarter of a million copies. Breaking many cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, it also caused a million hairs to be pulled out by frustrated gamers. Transgressions included outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player was able to see. It also often required players to have read the book to know what to do in certain situations. Perhaps worst of all, a favourite torture of Adams was to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. At times it seemed that Hitchhiker’s was purposefully created as a ploy by Infocom to sell more of their Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, Hitchhiker’s is still an entertaining and interactive excursion through one of the greatest science fiction comedies of all time.

For more information on Hitchhiker’s and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Ad for Infocom's computer text adventure game Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams

Raise a beer to the great Douglas Adams, 1985 Ad

 

Still featuring the Gunstar from The Last Starfighter, a video game themed movie by Universal 1984

30th Anniversary of The Last Starfighter

July 13th was the 30th Anniversary of the release of The Last Starfighter to theatres.  How times flies while you’re saving the universe.

TLS was a bit of bubble-gum pop cinema about young teenaged handyman Alex Rogan, played by film newcomer Lance Guest, spending his days keeping the Starlite Starbrite trailer park together. Denied a student loan needed to attend college, Rogan’s only escape from his plight is obsessively playing an arcade game called Starfighter, installed at the park’s snack bar. With the park’s populace gathered behind him cheering one night, he breaks the record on the game. Later he is approached by the game’s inventor, played by Robert Preston. This man turns out to be a con-man from outer space named Centauri, who wisks Alex away to be conscripted to fight in defense against encroaching tyrants.  At first refusing this invitation, an assassination attempt convinces Rogan he might be his world’s, and indeed the universe’s, only hope for freedom. Joining Guest and Preston is 80′s sweetheart Catherine Mary Stewart as Rogan’s love-interest Maggie, along with veteran character actor Dan O’Herlihy as fan-favourite Grig, the lizardly pilot who is part wise mentor and part comic-relief.

Still of Dan O'Herlihy as Grig from The Last Starfighter, a video game themed film by Universal 1984

Dan O’Herlihy as Grig

Another star of the show is the Gunstar, a lethal spaceship created entirely by computers. TLS picks up the baton where Tron left off, featuring the most CGI in a film up to that point. With 27 minutes of photo-realistic computer effects, the movie helped further the technology down the road towards becoming standard practise in filmmaking.

Still featuring Robert Preston as Centauri from The Last Starfighter, a video game themed movie by Universal 1984

Robert Preston as Centauri

The movie didn’t exactly burn up the box-office when it was released on July 13, 1984. However, the lasting effect it had on moviemaking technology, along with sterling performances from Preston and O’Herlihy, makes it an important and charming ride through the stars with Alex, Centauri and Grig.

For a complete history on the making of The Last Starfighter, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

Flat on my back as usual, in the Summer Games gymnastic program

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.

Title screen of Airwolf, a computer game by Elite 1984

The Games of 1984: Airwolf

1984. It was only 30 years ago. Astronauts made the first untethered space walk from the space shuttle. The Winter Olympics took place in Sarajevo. Yuri Andropov died after only 15 months as Soviet Premiere.

Were you like me?  Did you anxiously run to the TV Saturday nights to watch Airwolf?

Airwolf was a cool show starring Jan Michael Vincent as rogue ex-Vietnam helicopter pilot Stringfellow Hawke, who comes into possession of the titular lethally high-tech attack helicopter, along with friend, mentor and fellow pilot Dominic played by Ernest Borgnine. Every week they would head off on dark missions of espionage, usually at the behest of government contact Archangel, played by perennial 70′s TV actor Alex Cord.

Airwolf the computer game, however, is a punishing exercise in abject frustration. Made by Elite Systems, the game has you piloting the chopper through some kind of complicated underground complex, packed to the rafters with diabolical traps and puzzles, in an attempt to rescue people and make it back out alive. You’ll notice the first problem with the game right away… for some inexplicable reason, Airwolf can’t hover. So trying to move with any kind of precision is impossible; you always end up bobbing up and down trying to maintain your altitude. Most of the barriers you try to move through are just a little bit bigger than the aircraft, so there is a tonne of bumping going on. You’re given nine shields that disappear as you take damage, and you might think that’s a lot. You’ll blow through them at an alarming rate, however.

One of the coolest things about the TV show was the soaring theme song.  In the computer game, it becomes a droning, repetitive dirge to your constant destruction. You’ll have the image of Airwolf taking off from its platform at the beginning of the game burned into the meaty flesh of your brain as you die and take off, die and take off, over and over and over again.  Just starting the game up and hearing that dreaded theme song as Airwolf moves off to the right is enough to make me break out into a cold sweat.

Here’s a video of gameplay from 1984′s Airwolf. God speed, Stringfellow Hawke.  You’ll need it:

Please allow me to introduce myself...

1984: Devil World

Where we celebrate the video games from 1984, a scant 30 years ago.

In 1984, perhaps driven by George Orwell’s warnings of a Big Brother controlling everything, telecommunications giant AT&T was broken up into eight different companies, the result of anti-trust court case United States vs. AT&T. Ads for fast food restaurant Wendy’s started asking other chains  “Where’s the beef?”. And, of course, the revolutionary Macintosh computer was unveiled by Apple. 

1984 was also the second year for Nintendo’s Family Computer (Famicom) video game console. It was such a solid success in Japan that Nintendo had to open a new R&D department dedicated to making games for the system in order to keep up with demand. Heading the new R&D4 was Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the smash hit arcade game Donkey Kong. His first game for the Famicom is our subject today: the bizarre Devil World.

Players control a young dragon named Tamagon, who has taken it upon himself to enter the Devil’s domain and take on the big guy. As Tamagon moves around the Pac-Man styled maze, he must be careful. At the top of the screen the devil directs his minions to occasionally turn cranks, moving the maze in the four main compass directions. This movement creates crushing hazards for the dragon at the edges of the screen. Tamagon must take hold of the crosses littering the maze, enabling him to fight the denizens of Hell: robed eyes that chase him relentlessly. If the dragon is able to roast the eyes with his fiery breath while holding a cross, they turn into tasty fried eggs that he can eat. The crosses also let Tamagon pick up dots lining the maze, and when he has taken them all the board ends. He can also get some relief from the sweltering climes of hades by gobbling bonus ice cream cones that occasionally appear. In the next screen, Tamagon must take four bibles to a seal in the centre of the screen, and the last wave of the game is a bonus round with the dragon picking up bonus boxes before a time limit runs out. The screens then repeat, with increasing difficulty.

While the gameplay is merely another take on the maze game genre, the content of the graphics is what makes Devil World stand out, not only among other Nintendo games, but video games in general. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought that there needs to be more religious imagery in games. Nintendo of America didn’t think quite the same way, however. While Devil World was released in Japan for the Famicom in 1984, and on the NES in Europe in 1987, it was never released in North America. This was because of NoA’s strict policy against religious iconography in their games.

Now, taking to the pulpit, is a video of Devil World in action. Perfect for all you video game zealots. For more information on Devil World and the Famicom, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

Pole Position II, for the Atari 7800 ProSystem

The Atari 7800 ProSystem

The 7800 was Atari’s follow-up to the 5200 Supersystem, and was originally announced in 1984. Unfortunately, when ex-Commodore head Jack Tramiel took over the consumer division of Atari that year, he froze almost all video game projects to focus instead on the company’s 16-bit computer line.   While the 7800 might have been a force to be reckoned with in 1984, the video game landscape had changed substantially by its eventual release in 1986, and Atari’s console struggled to make an impact in a market where heavyweights Nintendo and Sega were duking it out.

The ProSystem sold over 3.5 million units in four years, and produced some pretty good home translations of arcade hits like Dig Dug and Xenophobe.  The gaming world, however, had moved on to the sprawling, original worlds of Super Mario Bros..For more on the history of the Atari 7800 ProSystem, consult your local Dot Eaters article.