Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback Machine to 1951, when Ralph Baer was working for Loral Electronics Corporation. Tasked to develop “the world’s best television receiver”, Baer figured that while it’s great to improve the picture and sound of TV, what the medium really needed was viewer participation with the device, instead of just passively sitting there staring at the boob tube. One of his ideas is to include some kind of game to be played, but Loral ultimately ash-cans the whole endeavor, deciding that the market couldn’t bear the price tag of a super TV set. Bear, of course, would move on to Sanders Associates, where he would develop a standalone home video game system, that would become the first such marketed device, licensed by Magnavox and released in 1972 as the Odyssey.
Ultimately, Baer’s dream of an interactive TV would be realized by Magnavox when they release the 4305 TV model in 1976. Forget separate boxes, wires and RF modulators you had to screw onto antenna leads… this baby has an electronic ping-pong game at the touch of a button! While a modern marvel, dedicated TV games would go the way of the dodo after the release of programmable game systems like the Fairchild Channel F, or more dramatically with Atari’s powerhouse Video Computer System (VCS)…. later know as the 2600. Still, even those system required gamers to slog a big square console from its hidey-hole, flip the switch on the box connected to your TV, fumble around for the cartridge. The Magnavox 4305 TV? Just push a button to serve your friends or family some humble pie on the electronic tennis court.
Leader Board golf, created by Bruce and Roger Carver of Access Software, is one of the premiere computer golf games of all time. Sure, golf on the computer would advance vastly in the years since Leader Board‘s release in 1986… the Carver brothers themselves would continue to revolutionize computer links with, well, Links in 1990.
But Leader Board continues to fascinate. It had an amazing feel on the Commodore 64… the ball flew through the air and bounced onto the fairways (or bunkers, drat them!) with a kind of uncanny realism for the time, and the swing of the golfer seems as smooth and human as the titular prince in Broderbund’s Prince of Persia. But of all the endearing qualities of Leader Board, my favourite has to be the weird glitch that happens when you stroke a ball that lands at the edge of the many water hazards in the game. Instead of plunking you in the water and adding a stroke to your score, when the graphics are redrawn to your new position on the fairway, suddenly you find that your ball has miraculously landed on one tiny little island in the water! When I played with friends, when this happened we would invariably let out with a “Whew! Good thing the ball just happened to land on that tiny island!”
The incredibly convenient little islands of Leader Board golf. Totally ridiculous… but also immensely charming. This video is my ode to one of the goofiest, and greatest, game glitches of all time. Of course, since I’m playing golf, I let off a few choice words at the end, so you’ll have to click on the “link” in the embed to watch it.
I’m embarrassed to say that I only read George Orwell’s classic near-future book 1984 only a few years ago at the time of writing this blog post. The most amazing thing about this excellent novel is how incredibly prescient it is.
Watching the 1983 computer game-themed WarGames gives me the same feeling. Back before the Internet was a popular thing and Dani Bunten was just starting to popularize online gaming over at a little start-up gaming company called Electronic Arts with programs like Modem Wars, WarGames told the gripping story of young David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) trying to hack into a gaming software company and unknowingly causing a NORAD computer bring the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon. Even since, there a have been very few, if any, movies that gave a realistic view of actual computer hacking… and certainly not while surrounded by such an exciting package.
So, we bring you the trailer for the movie’s release onto VHS tape in the year that Orwell warned about, a movie with its own advice about the nuclear arms race: The only winning move is not to play.
“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.
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 Yserbius, TSN 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:
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-)
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.
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!
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.
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.
Rob Fulop, circa 1981
Imagic designer Rob Fulop with various Demon Attack versions, 1983
Rob Fulop, 1994 image
Demon Attack, VCS/2600
Phoenix on the Atari VCS/2600
Demon Attack designer Rob Fulop, circa 1997
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’sAtlantis; 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 VCSVideo Pinball creator Bob Smith, whose output for the company includes Riddle of the Sphinx and Dragonfire.
Dennis Koble and Bill Grubb, 1982
Imagic game designer Dennis Koble, 1997
Ad for Dragonfire, by Imagic 1982
Imagic Ad for Riddle of the Sphinx, for the Atari 2600
Imagic ads in a nutshell: Do you have the stones to play our games?
Dinosaurs with space rockets! Demon Attack for the TRS-80 Color Computer, 1984
UK advert for Imagic wares, 1982
Yes Virginia, there IS third-party support for the Odyssey²!
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.
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.
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.