It ain’t easy being the keeper of the peace in sun-drenched, wild-west town Gold Gulch. So, what would happen if the lawman of the town, with trusty firearm at his hip, slowly lost his spit one day? Bill gives you a brief rundown of the C64 classic computer game Law of the West, and a little bit about Alan Miller, the famed game designer who made it. Then, watch in horror at the inevitable carnage of a peace officer on the edge.
Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Berkeley in 1972, Alan Miller would eventually answer a Silicon Valley want ad and thus become an early game designer for Atari and their 2600 (then called the VCS) console in 1977, joining the company several months before the release of Atari’s seminal games machine. After some pedestrian releases like Surround and Hangman for the console, Miller made the ground-breaking Basketball in 1978, featuring a trapezoid court that startled a lot of people with its illusion of depth in the playfield. Miller pushed the then-known programming limits of the 2600, and subsequently went on to become one of the founding members of Activision, the first third-party publisher of 2600 games.
While at Activision, Miller would take the trapezoid court of Basketball, duplicate it and stack the two vertically for the cartridge featured in today’s game ad, 1981’s Tennis. He would also add a shadow to the ball, a seemingly small graphical tweak that did wonders for helping players orient their positions on the court.
When it came to making great sports games as real as they could be on Atari’s flagship video game console, Alan Miller had no reservations.
These days, although one of the most prolific game developers and publishers around, Activision is probably best known as the company behind the Call of Duty series. Starting as an entry into the WWII-shooter sweepstakes that was all the rage in the early 2000’s, the games moved into a more modern setting with, yes, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games that have become a license to print money in recent years. A lot of people now deride Activision as simply resting on its laurels, content to spin money from what are essentially the same games released year after year with each new incarnation of the Modern Warfare series.
The company had a much more nobel and creative beginning. Founded in 1979 by former Atari programmers who wrote some of the first games for that illustrious company, its raison d’être was to give creative license and proper accreditation to those the founders thought the most important to the success of any game platform: the people creating the games. That, and to make some of the very best games for what was then the leading console, the Atari VCS/2600.
Activision founding members in 1980: L. to R. Bob Whitehead, David Crane, Larry Kaplan and Alan Miller
Throwing the astounding creativity of those early days into sharp relief compared to the moribund Activision of today is the Activision Anthology, a collection of wondrous 8-bit games now released for IOS devices. The seemingly made-for-touch-devices Kaboom! is included free, with 45 other gems such as Pitfall!, Barnstorming and Enduro available as an in-app purchase for $6.99. Another purchase tier lets you buy the games in 11 game bundles, each for $2.99. They feature multiple control schemes, to help you acclimatize from rubber Atari joystick to touch screen. There is also a lot of historical documentation included, such as original artwork, manuals and tips from the original programmers.
Those longing for the days when creativity was the watchword of the video game industry instead of a fossilized memory can gorge themselves on the best of the best with the Activision Anthology.