18 January 2010

Adventure - Atari 2600

Adventure is probably best known for being the first video game with an Easter Egg. Adventure’s Easter Egg is a secret room where the programmer wrote “Created by Warren Robinett.” Atari did not credit its programmers at the time.
Adventure’s Easter Egg was Mr. Robinett’s revenge.
The game was released when my friends and I were deep in the grip of Dungeons & Dragons paper and pencil games. To be able to play a similar – but primitive – version on our Atari was cool.
As the story goes, once upon a time an evil magician stole an enchanted goblet and hid it somewhere in the kingdom. You have to find it. Along the way you will fight and outsmart three deadly dragons and a pesky black bat. You’ll use a bridge, a magnet, keys and a sword to complete your quest. You’ll also need to master some maddening mazes.
Most Atari 2600 games required the gamer to suspend disbelief and employ their imagination to fill in the details that the modest technology could not display. Adventure is among the best examples. The gameplay is solid and challenging, but it was up to the gamer to imagine that the quest was more than the sum of its parts. Adventure displayed rudimentary graphics and characters, but every kid who played it imagined they were more than just a block zipping around in the simple levels. You were an adventurer on a quest. Just look at the box art that accompanies this essay. While you played through the game’s blocky graphics, you imagined you were actually battling that cool dragon in the forbidden castles. This is another great example of the imaginative Atari box art that filled the gap between the player’s imagination and the graphics the console could actually produce.
Just like playing D&D, the game didn’t work if it didn’t spark your imagination. It did, and it will forever be the console game that inspired all the adventure and RPG games that followed.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

Tecmo Super Bowl III - Super Nintendo

Player trades, upgradeable created players and cumulative franchise modes.
For today’s Madden gamer, all of these features have become standard practice. When you shell out $60 every August for the new version of Madden, being able to craft your franchise with front office expertise is something that gamers have to come expect.
But these features weren’t so routine in 1994. In the days of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, re-arranging your roster or creating a new running back out of thin air wasn’t something you even considered as a possibility. In the days of 16 bit graphics, football games were football games and arm-chair general managers simply didn’t exist.
Yes, there were season modes where you could try and run the table from September into January but after The Super Bowl your roster remained the same. There were no opportunities for trades and players who had a great season weren’t about to see any increase to their speed or tackle break ratings.
At least not before Tecmo Super Bowl III (TSB3) came out.
Building on one of the most historic sports game franchises of all time, TSB3 was the first release that ever allowed gamers to make off-season trades. While trading for draft picks or sending multiple players away wasn’t an option, fair trades were something the computer recognized.
For example, I can still remember trying to repeatedly trade Marshall Faulk (still on the Colts) for Natrone Means (he played for the Chargers) and getting shot down every time because while Faulk is an historically better player, Means was the man in mid-90s.
Outside of trades, TSB3 was also the first game where you could design a player, with a name, number and everything else. If he was a running back and had a 100-yard rushing game, you could expect to have some points waiting after the game to level him up, like an RPG character.
And on top of all this, if you won The Super Bowl three years in a row you unlocked a slew of Hall of Fame players. You couldn’t sign all of them, however, because each one had a certain number of required points for acquisition, like a free agent salary negotiation without dollars.
It’s for all of these reasons that I can say with complete confidence that TSB3 is the greatest football video ever made. This may seem like a silly statement with the sheer beauty and depth put out by Madden games today, but TSB3 didn’t have an Xbox 360 engine. It had SNES capabilities so trying to compare the two side-by-side wouldn’t be fair.
Instead, you have to look at what gamers expected to get at the time. When I cracked open "Madden 10" this summer, I expected it to be visually appealing with smooth player mechanics and, of course, off season roster building capabilities. When I played TSB3 for the first time, I expected it to be Tecmo Bowl, which it was. What I didn’t expect was that after years of crying to the Video Game Gods for some front office control my prayers would finally be answered. What I didn’t expect was that me and my friends would obsessively spend months and even years building and re-building our franchises.
What I didn’t expect was that everything I always wanted out of a football game would actually come to fruition.
By George Morse

Asteroids - Atari 2600

In Asteroids you pilot a small spaceship through waves of asteroid belts and attacks from UFOs. When you shoot an asteroid it breaks into small, fast-moving pieces that scatter in all directions. UFOs appear frequently to zip across the screen and shoot at your ship. If you get into trouble you can either hyperspace to a random part of the game screen - which could put you in the path of more danger – or use the shield function which allows asteroids and enemies to pass through you for a moment.
Hardcore players use hyperspace. I used the shield, beginning my longstanding habit of taking the easy way out in games whenever possible. When all the asteroids are destroyed it starts over again with a new screen. Like most games of the era the gameplay remains the same but the difficulty ratchets up in speed and enemy frequency.
The arcade version of “Asteroids,” with its vector graphics and cool cabinet, is the superior game. But the Atari 2600 version is the one that got me. It is simple and elegant and challenging. There is no “beating” the game, but getting the score to “flip” was a major accomplishment when I was a kid.
Asteroids is a classic game by any standard, but the real beauty is its ability to create tension and entertainment at the same time. This seemingly simple game uses primitive sound effects to elicit real emotions of fear and suspense. How will that asteroid break? Where will the next UFO come from? Where will the hyperspace drop you in the battle field?
The background soundtrack is reminiscent of the “Jaws” theme. Its throbbing menace speeds up as things get hairy, and the mood is pierced relentlessly by the sound of crashing asteroids and enemy gunfire.
Much praise has been heaped upon the early game programmers and their ability to make fun games with primitive technology. “Asteroids” is a prime example. Blocky graphics, a handful of simple sounds and flawlessly basic gameplay puts “Asteroids” in the canon of great games.
By Victor Paul Alvarez