Monthly Archives: February 2014

Title screen to The Wizard of Oz, a video game for the SNES 1993

Oscar Week at TDE: The Wizard of Oz (1993)

The perennially movie favourite The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, was up against some stiff competition at the 1940 Oscar ceremony.  Both Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone With the Wind were pegged to win big, and win they did. Nominated for what was then called Outstanding Production, Oz would lose out to Gone With the Wind for best picture. The wonderful score of the film, by Herbert Stothart, did take home a statue, along with the signature Over the Rainbow taking Best Song.

Over the Rainbow also features prominently in the SNES platform game based on the movie, developed by Manley & Associates, Inc. and released by SETA U.S.A., Inc. in 1993. The game, in fact, takes the song quite literally. There are actual lemon drops from the trees and flying bluebirds to be avoided, while journeying along the famous Yellow Brick Road. Along the way to the Emerald City, gamers will meet and control all of Dorothy’s companions from the film: the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and even little dog Toto as well.

It’s a fun little platformer, with a lot of cute touches, although the stiff control of the characters is a horse of a different colour. Still, its a fun trip down the Yellow Brick Road, even if just for this surreal experience: playing a game based on a movie on a console made  by a company who’s most famous creation was itself inspired by The Wizard of Oz: Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom owes more than just a pair of ruby slippers to the movie for its inspiration.

For more information on Mario and Nintendo, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

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)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

The sweet science, in electronic form

Oscar Week at TDE: Rocky (1983)

Rocky was a low budget film from 1976, about a local Philadelphia boxer named Rocky Balboa getting a shot at the heavyweight championship. It went toe to toe with heavy-hitters like All the President’s MenNetwork and Taxi Driver at the 1977 Academy Awards, and walked off with the Best Picture prize, along with Best Director for John G. Avildsen. The immense success of the movie put a young Sylvester Stallone on the map, and was followed up by no less than five sequels, along with numerous video game adaptations.

We deal here with Rocky Super-Action Boxing for the ColecoVision. It actually covered the ground of the third Rocky film, with the titular hero going up against Clubber Lang, played with verve by Mr. T. As indicated by the game’s long name, it was made for use with Coleco’s complicated Super Action Controllers, which themselves bear resemblance to boxing gloves. There’s no motion-detection though… players control body movements with the large joystick on top of the controller, and throw and block punches with the four finger buttons.

The gameplay is pretty good as far as boxing games of the era go. There’s three horizontal  “lanes” which the players can move up and down in, and their position vs. the other boxer regulates whether punches register and can be blocked. This adds a bit of strategy as the pugilists jockey for the superior positioning. The game also offers a surprising amount of variety with the settings: you can play against the computer as either Rocky or Clubber with the CPU taking up the role of the other boxer with adjustable skill levels, and there is even a one-on-one mode where two humans can face each other in the ring. Typically from the ColecoVision, the graphics are also a standout. Everything is colourful and clear, and the boxers are rendered quite well.  We even get a referee wandering around the ring, keeping an eye on the proceedings. A player can really get into the role of Rocky Balboa and end up jabbing the air while holding the fancy Super Action Controllers.

Should I say it?  Yes I should.  It’s a knockout. Even Mickey would be proud, ya bum!

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)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Suicide might be painless, but this game isn't

Oscar Week at TDE: M*A*S*H (1983)

The film M*A*S*H, released in 1970, was ostensibly about a forward line mobile hospital and its staff who try to keep their sanity intact during the Korean War, but everyone knew it was a thinly veiled metaphor for a different conflict; the Vietnam War, then raging both abroad and at home, with the fatal Kent State shooting of protesting students by National Guard troops happening only two months after the film’s release.

The movie was directed by Robert Altman, who had made a career for himself directing shows during the early days of television. Tapping public angst over the growing morass of Vietnam, MASH exploded onto the screen and helped cement Altman as a counter-culture hero, thumbing his nose at authority like the beleaguered doctors in the film.  While nominated for Best Picture, MASH lost the prize to another, more obvious war picture, Patton. It did, however, walk away with the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Two years after the MASH theatrical release, it was turned into a wildly popular TV show on CBS.

M*A*S*H the video game, however, is merely a shallow attempt at cashing in on the final days of the TV show, which ended its 11 year run in 1983, the same year the game came out.  Released for the Atari 2600/VCS, the premise is the kind of pure insanity that would make the show’s recurring psychiatrist character, Sidney, drool: it charges medic Hawkeye Pierce with alternating between piloting a helicopter to pick up sky-diving medics and wounded soldiers, and performing surgeries to remove shrapnel from patients.

It’s easy to see why designer Douglas Neubauer, of Star Raiders (Atari 8-bit computers) fame, used the pseudonym “Dallas North” as credit for this game, which was released by Fox Video Games. This exercise was merely another attempt by Fox at jumping on the VCS/2600 bandwagon by trafficking in product based on a 20th Century Fox property. The company features fairly prominently in this series of posts, so stay tuned for other examples. The game made it to computer platforms as well, with a version for Atari’s 8-bit computer line, as well as the TI-99/4A system.

M*A*S*H is also probably the only video game in history to feature the term “Ferret Face”. So there’s that.

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)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Use the... well, you know

Oscar Week at TDE: Star Wars (1983)

George Lucas’ movie Star Wars doesn’t require much of an introduction. The science fiction epic was released in 1977 and forever changed the film industry. The fact that it didn’t snag the Best Picture oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony (that honour went to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) the following year is often considered a bit of a robbery. Star Wars buffs can take consolation that John Williams won for Best Score, which also features prominently in the arcade game.

It’s to the great credit of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game that it lives up to the original material. Designed by Mike Hally, it was based off an earlier unfinished game by Battlezone creator Ed Rotberg. Utilizing Atari’s colour Quadrascan vector graphics hardware, the game totally immersed players in a galaxy far, far away… especially if they were playing the sit-down cockpit version. The game covered the action that takes place in the film’s final reel: Luke Skywalker as Red Five, joining the attack against the dreaded Imperial Death Star. Controlling Luke’s X-Wing fighter, gamers fended off a wave of enemy TIE fighters, then swooped down into the famous Star Wars trench scene in a race to deliver the final shot into the exhaust port, then out in time to watch the great conflagration as the deadly technological terror explodes. Then rinse and repeat, as the TIE fighters became more numerous and active, and the surface defenses of the Death Star increased in complexity and difficulty.

Not only did we have detailed and fluid vector graphics, we also got snippets Williams’ aforementioned rousing music score, as well as well-done and dramatic voice synthesis straight from the film. Add to that famed Atari controller engineer Jerry Liachek’s great-feeling flight yolk controller, and you had the makings of an undisputed classic. Atari’s Star Wars arcade game deserves its place as one of the greatest games of all time.

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

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

As the building burns

Oscar Week at TDE: The Towering Inferno (1982)

In the lead up to the Academy awards on March 2nd, 2014, The Dot Eaters goes to the Academy Awards. We will be profiling video games based on movies that either won or were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Today’s pick might surprise you.  Yes, in 1975 The Towering Inferno was nominated for Best Picture.  I’m not sure how much money producer Irwin Allen lavished on the Oscar committee to nominate this disaster flick…. or perhaps he just threatened to lock them in a burning building. While it didn’t win Best Picture, it did make off with the Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Song awards.

The game, made in 1982 for the Atari 2600 by U.S. Games (a division of General Mills, known for high-tech products such as oatmeal), certainly didn’t earn any awards. It is a cut and dried maze game, where players must guide firemen into the titular building in an attempt to rescue four survivors, who slowly perish one by one as time ticks on.  They have a rather anemic water hose they can use to clear a path through a maze of burning walls to the survivors, who for some reason are huddled behind a white window at the top of every floor. If the player makes it out the bottom exit with at least one survivor, they move to the next floor and repeat until all the floors are extinguished.  There are actually nine towering infernos in the game, with the player moving to the next one after finishing the previous one.

While pretty standard in gameplay, The Towering Inferno actually employs a bit of strategy… do you take your time to extinguish the flames and make a safe pathway, or is it a reckless rush to save as many survivors as possible?  What would Steve McQueen do?  Following is a video of the game in action.  Witness the burning spectacle that is… The Towering Inferno!

 

Fail!

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!