Gauntlet

Gauntlet_Atari

Gauntlet (1985)
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
Gauntlet_Atari

The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
Gauntlet_Atari

There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
Gauntlet_Atari

The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
Gauntlet_Atari

As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Gauntlet_Atari

Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
Gauntlet_Atari

The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Gauntlet_Atari

Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!

RKS Score: 9/10

Test Drive

Test Drive

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90’s but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, manysequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a ‘reboot’ around this time (purely coincidental, I’m sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.
Test Drive

In fact, I had forgotten just howsimilar the two titles are until I played Accolade’s game for the first time in about twenty years for this review! There’s no options before starting the game aside from one important one – the selection of your car. The choices here include many of the supercar favourites of the day – Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette, and the good old Lotus Esprit Turbo. Each comes with a detailed stats screen to help you make your choice, after which you’re on the road, ready to go. The game is viewed from the driver’s perspective and each car can only be driven with manual gears, and it’s a full gearbox too, not the usual ‘low’ and ‘hi’ gears! There are five stages altogether with each separated by a stop at a ‘gas’ station where you’ll discover your average speed and points earned.
Test Drive

The stages are all segments of the same road which winds along a clifftop, movie-stylee – one side is sheer rock with the other side presumably consisting of a drop of equal sheerness! Normal traffic passes along the road in both directions now and then, although it’s not too busy, and there are also police radars which will summon a police car if you go too fast. There’s no time limit or other vehicles to race so you can approach the presence of the rozzers one of two ways: either go too slowly to bother them, or the way I’m sure most gamers will choose – go as fast as possible to outrun them! The supercar you’re driving isn’t a Daytona stock-car that will bounce around all over the place though – they’re very delicate things, even more so than I would’ve thought. Not only does hitting the rock face or another car cause you to crash (indicated by a smashed windscreen) but even revving the engine too high will result in obscured vision too!
Test Drive

Fans of the original Need For Speed will no doubt find most of this very familiar but it appears that Accolade got there first! Indeed, Test Drive must have surely been the first ever ‘supercar simulator’ and it’s the opportunity to drive these amazing cars that provides the game’s biggest draw. To that end, it’s a pretty good game. Each of the cars handles differently and the roads, which later on feature the odd oil spill or pothole, are good fun to drive along. Graphically, I remember being mightily impressed with this all those years ago but the intervening years have seen it age considerably. The presentation screens are still lovely but the in-game aesthetics less so. The oncoming cars (and occasional big rig) aren’t too bad but the scaling can be quite poor. If you’re travelling at any decent speed they’ll often seem to appear from nowhere prompting panic-lunges to try and get out of the way in time!
Test Drive

Don’t think that the absence of any kind of time-limit means you can crash as often as you want either – five wrecks equals game over here! Talking of which, one area that Need For Speed improved dramatically is the crashes. EA’s game was famous for its spectacular comings together but the spectacle here begins and ends with the broken glass in front of you. Even the track-sides and backgrounds are rather dull too, and the sense of speed isn’t great, although there is a handy rear-view mirror. So, the visuals might have aged somewhat, which is understandable with this kind of game, but I’m confident the audio was never any good, or at least this version. There are a couple of short (and not especially nice) tunes but the in-game sound is restricted to a horrible engine sound and that’s it! So, this is certainly one to play with the sound turned down, but is it one to play at all?

Well, like NFS, I think Test Drive was probably made as more of a technical showcase than as a thrilling and involving racing game. Accordingly, there’s really not much to it – no opponents, no car upgrades, no forked roads, and certainly nothing as radical as a championship or tournament mode. What there is, though, is pretty good. No time-limit or opponents also means you can relax and drive how you want to rather than be forced to tear through the stages like a maniac, although having said that, the between-stage pit-stops do encourage you to up the ante (as well as provide the odd lairy ‘motivational’ comment) and the lure of improving your average speed is quite strong. It is all over pretty quickly though, so that, along with the number of superior examples of the genre on the ST and Amiga, means that this original probably won’t hold your attention for long

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Pitstop II

Pitstop II

Pitstop II (1984)
By: Epyx Genre: Driving Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore 64 
Also Available For: PC, Amstrad CPC, Atari 800, Apple II, TRS-80
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Pitstop II

One of my many objectives when starting this humble blog was to finally force myself to try out some titles on the systems that have gone largely ignored by me over the years. The first one to enter my mind was the mighty C64. I may have become somewhat distracted since, but the process began with the pair of ‘Exploring the C64‘ posts for which I requested some game recommendations from seasoned C64 veterans. One of these recommendations was Pitstop, a game that turned out to be so bad I immediately thought I’d been the victim of a practical joke. Subsequent research, however, has revealed its sequel to be substantially better thought of. It’s taken me a good while to work up the courage, but here I shall find out if the ‘Pitstop’ name has been redeemed…
Pitstop II

It’s no surprise to find that it’s an F1-based game once again but it’s immediately apparent that it offers far more than its prequel. Impressively for the day, it’s a one or two-player game but regardless of which you choose, the game employs a split-screen viewpoint anyway – player one occupies the top half of the screen and drives a red car, player two occupies the bottom half and drives a blue car which is controlled by the computer in one-player games. The pre-race options screen offers you the choice of three difficulty levels, you can set the number of laps (3, 6, or 9), and you can select any of six real racing circuits from Europe and the US. As the name hints at, however, it can get a little more complicated than that.
Pitstop II

As well as the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ cars, there are also a seemingly unlimited number of other racers pootling around the circuits, at a much slower pace of course, which means they’re pretty much just there to make your life more difficult. That’s to be expected with a game of this nature but unlike most similar games, or at least ones from this time period, you also have to be careful how you drive as not only can you run out of fuel but you can also wear out your tyres too. Driving too fast around corners too often, for example, will soon see your car squeal off to the side like a burst balloon and stop dead. This, as well as the fuel situation, can be overcome by making one of the titular pit-stops. These can take some time but are unfortunately necessary if you want to make it to the end of a race in anything resembling a decent position.
Pitstop II

Mercifully, the CPU car also makes pit-stops from time to time as well which makes this a surprisingly fair game. It looks a lot nicer than the first game too – it’s far from a stunner but streets ahead of the hideous original. Control of the cars is a bit odd to start with – they feel very skiddy, as if you’re actually playing a bobsleigh racing game or something, but it’s fine after a bit of practise. There’s no in-game music here either, but apart from these minor grumbles Pitstop II is notable improvement over the original which scared me so. You’ll probably tire of the one-player game before too long but this was meant as a two-player game and in that capacity it’s fantastic. It’s still hardly the most complex racing game, even for its time, but Epyx have certainly made this a much more enjoyable game than the first effort.

RKS Score: 7/10

Renegade

Renegade (1986)
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor  an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6e7cg7DSQ[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

Pirates

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Sid Meier – Gamer godThe game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Swordplay in Sid Meier’s Pirates!The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Takethat, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier’s Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale);Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title ofSid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively calledSid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2RigX8BVlc[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Lode Runner

Way back in time, when I was gaming the night away on my Apple II clone (a Circle II), all things Zork ruled my gaming existence.  But when I needed a respite from adventuring in the Great Underground Empire, Lode Runner was the game that took its place.

Lord Runner - Apple - Box

Lode Runner was an arcade hit published by Broderbund Software in 1983.  The game’s backstory was that a vast fortune in gold bullion was heisted by the Bungeling Empire, and it’s your job to recover it.  Some of the gold sat around waiting for you to pick it up, and some was carried by various agents of the Empire –  which required a slightly more creative approach.  Essentially the only way to get their gold was to bury them alive, and wait for the gold to pop out once they were crushed to death.  Your Lode Runner was able to blast the dirt to either side of him (and more than one square, if needed), which would eventually automatically refill.  The trick was to make certain that an Agent would fall into it, and be unable to get out in time before the hole refilled.  Blast too soon and the hole would refill long before the Agent arrived; blast too late and the Agent would either climb out of the hole and expunge your Lode Runner from virtual existence or the hole would not open at all.  Timing your blasts, and knowing when to kill your Agents off, was the point of the game.

Lode Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

Lode Runner for Apple II screen

Yes, it was simple. What 1980’s game wasn’t?  But it was fun.  And clearly many, many gamers thought so, too, as Lode Runner was released on multiple platforms, including: Apple II (1983), Atari 400/800/XL/XE (1983), Commodore 64 (1983), MSX (1983), PC Booter (1983), VIC-20 (1983), Macintosh (1984), Nintendo Famicom (1984), ZX Spectrum (1984), PC-88 (1986), Nintendo Entertainment System (1987), Amstrad CPC (1989), and the Atari ST (1989)…among others!  That’s a lot of systems, a large audience, and a reason why Lode Runner remains a classic gaming memory.

Lode Runner - Sierra - Box

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns cover.

Like any classic game, Lode Runner had its share of updates and sequels, again a sign of a game that has a classic appeal.  The list is impressive:

  • Load Runner’s Rescue (Commodore 64, 1985)
  • Hyper Lode Runner (GameBoy, 1990)
  • Battle Lode Runner (TurboGrafx, 1993)
  • Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (DOS/Macintosh/Windows, 1994)
  • Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns (Windows/Macintosh, 1995)
  • Lode Runner 2 (Windows/Macintosh, 1998)
  • Lode Runner 3-D (Nintendo 64, 1999)
  • Battle Lode Runner (Wii, 2007)
  • Lode Runner (Xbox 360, 2009)

Lode Runner has been considered a classic for some time. It made #80 on Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time list, and was mentioned in 2003 as one of the best games of all time by Gamespot in their The Greatest Games of All Time series.  The creator of Tetris, the classic puzzle game that all puzzle games are compared to, was quoted in a 2008 interview with Edge Magazine that he considered Lode Runner to his favorite puzzle game for many years.  There was even a 1986 Lode Runner board game created by Donal Carlston (the creator of the still-popular board game, Personal Preference)!

Lode Runner - Online - Box

Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns cover

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jnRWMvxb7o[/youtube]

Back in 1983, a big bowl of salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, a jug of chocolate milk, and an afternoon of wiping out agents of the Bungeling Empire was a recipe for good times.  Now that I’m older (married with children, no less!), there’s no more chocolate milk nor salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, and my afternoon gaming has now been replaced with late evening gaming. But Lode Runner will always hold a special place in my gamer heart, and if you’ve never played it, find one of the updated versions and have great time!

Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 1

Bubble Bobble (1986)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 180,180
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, PlayStation, X68000, NES, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, FM Towns Marty, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, MSX, PC

What more can be said about this all-time great? Whilst perhaps not as well known as Mario or Sonic, the cute dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble are just as iconic to many gamers, myself included, and have now appeared in a lot of games on nearly every system ever created, in one guise or another. My first encounter with the bubble-blowing twins was in ‘Kwiki Meals’, the cafe near my college. It was here that I ventured every lunchtime to play Bubble Bobble (and eat a burger), and I was often late back to class! It was the game that first brought the great Taito to my attention and they’ve been one of my favourite companies since. Sadly, both Kwiki Meals and the arcade masterpiece it once housed are now long gone but I’ve had a regular fix of Bubble Bobble ever since.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 2

Most of you will know the drill by now – Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons by the evil Super Drunk who has also kidnapped their girlfriends! In order to get them back and be restored to Human form, they must battle their way through a hundred rounds of multi-platformed, monster-infested caves until they can face, and hopefully defeat, Super Drunk. Bub and Bob, who start each round in the bottom left and bottom right corners of the screen respectively, must clear each single-screen round of baddies in order to proceed to the next. To do this you must trap them in bubbles which both Bub and Bob can blow at will. The bubbles fly forward quickly, before floating up the screen being carried by the air currents in the caverns. Freshly-blown bubbles are surrounded by a shiny orange aura until they are a certain distance away and it is only during this brief period that enemies can be trapped in them.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 3

Once an enemy is trapped in a bubble, it must be popped quickly to kill it, either by touching it with the spines on Bub and Bob’s head and back, by jumping on it, or by pushing it into a wall. If you fail to pop it quickly enough, it will pop by itself, and the re-released enemy will be angry and much faster. It’s also possible to bounce off bubbles instead of popping them when you jump on one or fall on one from above. This is an essential skill to learn as sometimes it’s the only way to escape from part of a level or reach some high platforms. Bubbles also stick together if they touch each other, whether they contain enemies or not, so if you time it right you can cause a mega-pon chain reaction meaning mega-points! There are eight different types of standard enemy altogether and each has his own movement patern. Learning these are obviously the key to success here, but don’t take too long – if you stay on one stage too long, the undefeatable Baron Von Blubba will appear and stalk you until there’s nowhere left to hide!

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 4

One of this game’s many memorable points is that it jointly holds the record with its own sequel as one of the most fruit laden game ever (this is a good thing)! Items are spilled on a platform somewhere in the level every time an enemy is vanquished and other items appear seemingly out of nowhere now and then. There is an enormous amount of them to be found, some of which are very useful, particularly the umbrella which skips several levels, and there are power-ups and various kinds of screen-clearing smart bombs too. Some other items are even available in different colours, varying their effect. Also appearing liberally are lots of different fruits, gems and foods which can be seized for bonus points. Additional bubbles sometimes get ‘blown’ onto the screen by the air currents running through the caverns, and included amongst these are ‘special’ bubbles which, when popped, unleash special powers. These include fire bubbles, which spill fire which scorches enemy’s, lightning bubbles which sends a enemy-killing lightning bolt across the screen, and water bubbles, which send a torrent of water cascading down the platforms killing all enemies in its path. The last kind of bubbles to be found contain letters. Collecting them will gradually spell out E-X-T-E-N-D down the side of the screen. Complete the word to clear the round and get an extra life!

There are many more little intricacies and nuances to this game and to be honest, I could go on all day about them, but discovering them for yourself is one of the things that makes Bubble Bobble as great as it is. Despite initially seeming random, almost everything you do has some sort of affect on the game, from how quickly you finish a round right down to a particular digit of your score when you reach a certain point. Many games have been called classics over the years. Whether they truly are or not depends on your definition of the term I suppose, but few are as genuinely timeless as Bubble Bobble.

The cute, colourful graphics which are full of character, that music by Zuntata which could just be the catchiest tune of all-time, the flawlessly structured gameplay, the fiendish stage design, the fantastic fun of jumping around the platforms trying to time an attack to perfection, playing the game with a friend, it goes on and on. It’s regularly sited as one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue. Bubble Bobble isn’t just a single screen platform game, for many it’s the single screen platform game! It’s certainly true that it’s among the most enduring platform games of all-time and that kind of lasting adulation can only be for one reason…

RKS Score: 10/10

The Interview: William D. Volk

William D Volk

To say that William D. Volk has had an interesting career in gaming would be an understatement. From playing video games in high school to having his first gaming related job in college, to creating a number of great games. Volk began working with Avalon Hill starting off in quality assurance. In time he began working on his own titles including Conflict 2500, Voyage 1 and Controller.

Obsolete Gamer was able to get insight into his career working with various companies including Activision where he was VP of Technology has his technical direction over Return to Zork. We were also able to get his opinion on some of the events in his life including the video game crash, the Philips CD-I and mobile gaming.

Avalon Hill logo
Avalon Hill logo

Obsolete Gamer: Would it be fair to say you did not grow up playing games but once you were into your college years you found your love of gaming?

William Volk: I was playing games at the arcade in High School.  Pong showed up in the early ’70’s.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that you were exposed to?

William Volk: Probabily Pong.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

William Volk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Wars On a PDP-8 at University of Penn … original Startrek  and the Classic Adventure.

Obsolete Gamer: How does the process for transferring a strategic board game to computer software work and what was it like testing these games?

William Volk: Very few of Avalon Hills Computer Games were based on the board games in 79-82.  I wanted to tackle “Iron Men and Wooden Ships” but by then I had taken a position with Rising Star.  I also proposed an online version of Squad Leader.

Conflict 2500
Conflict 2500

Obsolete Gamer: Any gamers today have never seen much less played a text game, can you give us a little insight into how text base games were at that time?

William Volk: Everyone was hooked on the Infocom games.  You can still play them today.  Lords of Karma was Avalon Hill’s best text adventure IMHO.

Obsolete Gamer: During your work with Avalon Hill you began to create your own titles, can you tell us about the thought process of coming up with a game and then trying to create it?

William Volk: Conflict 2500: I was renting a place in Baltimore during the summer of 1980 and was a huge fan of Star Raiders (Spaceship Yamato).  I had played the Startrek game and wanted a more complex version of that.

Voyager I: Saw a maze program on an Apple II.  At UNH in 1981 I did a class project using a random maze generator that displayed a solid wall 3D maze on some incredibly expensive Textronix terminal.  The game was kinda based on the end of the original Alien film.  The getting off the ship because you set self-destruct part.

Controller: Was working at a video game store in Portsmouth NH and the owner (Frank D Kelley) had been an air-boss in the navy (controller).  He wanted a simple game to land aircraft.  Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and Avalon Hill picked up the game.  I KICK MYSELF for not porting that to the iPhone on day one, given the success of Flight Control.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the atmosphere at Avalon Hill like?

William Volk: Very congenial.  There were people who had started there in the 1950’s!  The board game people were absolute experts on military history.  I would have conversations with a WWII vet who worked there and had witnessed a ME262 attack on a B17.

PlayScreen logo
PlayScreen logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to see the work done at Avalon hill released to the public?

William Volk: Funny, I was in Baltimore for a meeting last week.  Had dinner in the harbor area about 200 ft from the location of a shop (probably not there) where I saw Conflict on a shelf for the first time.

Obsolete Gamer: You were able to avoid what is called the great video game crash when you moved to Epson and was offered a great position, what were those years like moving forward as many other companies and the industry as a whole suffered?

William Volk: I felt compelled to take a ‘real’ job in 1982 because I had been in college and grad school for almost 8 years by that point.  So when I showed some folks at Epson my little 3D rendering system on the Atari 800 they referred me to Rising Star in California.  I was hired at the COMDEX show in Vegas in Nov. 1982.

Rising Star was great but leaving independent game development was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.  It did teach me about technical management and the Val Draw program I wrote was probably my greatest technical achievement.  A full 2D drafting system in 58 kilobytes of FORTH.  Lines, arcs, splines, associative dimensions, virtual memory, zoom, snap, automatic parallel lines … the stroke font was packed into a byte per stroke.  I don’t even know how I pulled it off.  In real dollars I made more $$$ in 1984 than I may have since, but I really should have just continued building games as an independent.  I didn’t realize that I was doing pretty good and I had some nice stuff I wanted to do.

Controller
Controller

Obsolete Gamer: The Pyramid of Peril was a 3D adventure inspired by some of your previous work and Raiders of the Lost Ark, can you tell us about the creative process when developing that game?

William Volk: Obviously based on Voyager 1.  Pyramid shaped puzzle.  David Barrett helped with the writing.  The Mac was new and exciting.  The entire game from concept to heat shrinking the boxes – 30 days.  Coded on a 128kb Mac.

Obsolete Gamer: Completing a project of the scope of “Pyramid” in 30 days was impressive, how was it done so quickly?

William Volk: I had the maze generating and display algorithms from Voyager and people to help on the artwork.

 

 

Obsolete Gamer: Most people know of the fate of the Philips CD-I, but can you tell us your thoughts on why in the end the company failed?

William Volk: Delayed launch to add MPEG Video.  AIM (American Interactive Media) decided that they didn’t need the video game industry to back the system.  EA and others, who had spent serious money building development systems, abandoned it because of the delays.

Obsolete Gamer: When you became director of technology and began pushing for Activision to publish “The Manhole” how did you know this would be the right move?

William Volk: I could see true greatness in the creativity of Rand and Robyn Miller (Cyan).  The User Interface was just breakthrough.  I was also a bit pissed at the delay of CD-I and wanted to send a message about that.  Activision was recovering from the video game crash and wanted something that was ground breaking.  Finally Stewart Alsop suggested that the Manhole would be an ideal CD-ROM title.  He was right.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the main challenges in moving away from the Midi format to actual recordings?

William Volk: We didn’t want to use CD-Audio tracks on the Mac (first) version, because we wanted to be able to pull data from the CD, we had to … because of Hypercard.  So we had to come up with a way of paging in 8 bit, 22khz audio chunks.  The CD-Emulator said it wouldn’t work, so we burned a test CD ($500 at that time!) and it worked.  Using live musicians was very cool.  I believe $20k of the budget was just for the music.  Russell Lieblich composed most of the music.

When we did the PC CD-ROM title we had our own engine …. MADE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_Applications_Development_Environment) so we could force a cache of data in a scene and use CD-Audio (redbook) tracks.

Return to Zork
Return to Zork

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like behind the scenes at Activision during its troubled time of the late 80’s?

William Volk: Fall of 1989 was one of Activison’s good years: Mech Warrior I, Death Track, Ghostbusters II, The Manhole, etc… The financial mess started in 1990 with the judgement on the Magnavox patent case.  Funny thing in 1990 is we coped with massive Nerf Gun wars and RC car ‘racing’ (consisting of running RC10’s into each other at 40mph+ … each car … in the parking lot).  In a strange way the coping made the place very fun to be at.  I still have a scar on my head from playing that game from “Sam and Max” where you hit full beer cans with some sort of post-nuclear-apocolyptic club.  Yeah, Fizzball http://samandmax.wikia.com/wiki/Fizzball Other local companies would come and watch us play this at lunchtime.

It wasn’t fun to see everyone go though.  Down to about 13 when we made the move to LA.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your feeling of using full motion video in games?

William Volk: It was clever but got overused eventually.  I do think we were heading in the right direction with RTZ’s emotional response system and intricate conversation interfaces.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the interface you created for Return to Zork?

William Volk: The Diamond Reverse Parser was inspired by an article Eddie Dombrower had seen from MIT.  I just used Taxicab Geometry with diamonds because it made the hit-detect faster.  We had used this sort of hit detect trick on “Tongue of the Fatman”.   So the idea you could use any object on any object and have the reverse parser show you what the action was came out of the disappointing reception we got with LGOP2.    We wanted INSANELY DIFFICULT and UNFAIR puzzles.  Yes, there really was a “Chris Lombardi Memorial Puzzle” in the game (internal object name), dedicated to a writer at CGW who had panned LGOP2.  I believe it was the sliding stone – sentences puzzle.

It’s not clear how we came up with it all the character interactions, but we were trying to make the video more than just “Interruptible Media”.  So the idea of being able to ask characters about objects, pictures, and even what other characters had to say … that was the goal.

The Manhole box art
The Manhole box art

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to save a company with the release of a great game?

William Volk: Great, but frustrating that we couldn’t get the studio to just let us run with that UI and style.  Everyone wanted to copy Myst.  Ironic, when you consider I helped to get Cyan their first publishing gig.  I am very proud of RTZ.

Obsolete Gamer: What are the differences in your feelings about mobile gaming from then to today?

William Volk: Well, Mobile Gaming from 2001 to 2007 was very much like games of the early 1980’s.  Very small games.  Then the iPhone shows up and we now have one of the most innovative sectors in gaming.  Just playing Match 3D (Sherri Cuono’s design) game is Sci-Fi like with the multitouch interfaces.

We haven’t even begun to exploit augmented reality, social interactions and other possibilities.

Obsolete Gamer: Of all your time in the industry do you have a favorite story about that time?

William Volk: Yeah.  Producer (John Skeel) goes to comic show in NYC in 1989 or so.  Likes a new comic book so he negotiates a deal to get the video game rights for $20k.   Activision does a weekend focus group on the concept with kids, soda and pizza.  The result?

TEENAGE BOYS SHOW LITTLE INTEREST IN  ANTHROPOMORPHIC  TURTLES.

Activision logo
Activision logo

Obsolete Gamer: Overall what was your favorite computer or game system?

William Volk: The FM Towns.  Really.   The Amiga a close second.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your favorite classic game?

William Volk: Choplifter.

Obsolete Gamer: Was there a game you had in your head that you wanted to release, but never did/could?

William Volk: I seriously wanted to release a Wing Commander type game … where after hours of play, many missions and incredible skill you would end up crashed on some planet (otherwise you would be killed) … and then end up in an elaborate adventure involving learning how to interact with native people … and have us DENY THAT THE ADVENTURE GAME EXISTED.  Like only 1 in 10,000 players would stumble upon that game within a game.  Yeah, that sounds crazy, but it’s what I wanted to do in the early 1990’s.

Obsolete Gamer: If you could rerelease any game you’ve worked on using today’s technology what would it be?

William Volk: Return to Zork in a “Grand Theft Auto” type engine and fairer puzzles.

Currently William Volk is the co-founder and CEO of PlayScreen and an avid cyclist.

Gamer Profile: William D. Volk

[youtube id=”NgkhC0XGFjs” width=”633″ height=”356″]

I liked Choplifter (1981) on the Apple II because it had simple engaging play and you actually started to empathize with the little people on the ground.   You WANTED to rescue them. ~William D. Volk

William Volk

Favorite Classic Game: Choplifter

Company: PlayScreen

PlayScreen Video Playlist

The Interview

Obsolete Gamer: Would it be fair to say you did not grow up playing games but once you were into your college years you found your love of gaming?

William Volk: I was playing games at the arcade in High School.  Pong showed up in the early ’70’s.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that you were exposed to?

William Volk: Probabily Pong.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

William Volk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Wars On a PDP-8 at University of Penn … original Startrek  and the Classic Adventure.

Obsolete Gamer: How does the process for transferring a strategic board game to computer software work and what was it like testing these games?

William Volk: Very few of Avalon Hills Computer Games were based on the board games in 79-82.  I wanted to tackle “Iron Men and Wooden Ships” but by then I had taken a position with Rising Star.  I also proposed an online version of Squad Leader.

Conflict 2500

Obsolete Gamer: Any gamers today have never seen much less played a text game, can you give us a little insight into how text base games were at that time?

William Volk: Everyone was hooked on the Infocom games.  You can still play them today.  Lords of Karma was Avalon Hill’s best text adventure IMHO.

Obsolete Gamer: During your work with Avalon Hill you began to create your own titles, can you tell us about the thought process of coming up with a game and then trying to create it?

William Volk: Conflict 2500: I was renting a place in Baltimore during the summer of 1980 and was a huge fan of Star Raiders (Spaceship Yamato).  I had played the Startrek game and wanted a more complex version of that.

Voyager I: Saw a maze program on an Apple II.  At UNH in 1981 I did a class project using a random maze generator that displayed a solid wall 3D maze on some incredibly expensive Textronix terminal.  The game was kinda based on the end of the original Alien film.  The getting off the ship because you set self-destruct part.

Controller: Was working at a video game store in Portsmouth NH and the owner (Frank D Kelley) had been an air-boss in the navy (controller).  He wanted a simple game to land aircraft.  Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and Avalon Hill picked up the game.  I KICK MYSELF for not porting that to the iPhone on day one, given the success of Flight Control.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the atmosphere at Avalon Hill like?

William Volk: Very congenial.  There were people who had started there in the 1950’s!  The board game people were absolute experts on military history.  I would have conversations with a WWII vet who worked there and had witnessed a ME262 attack on a B17.

PlayScreen logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to see the work done at Avalon hill released to the public?

William Volk: Funny, I was in Baltimore for a meeting last week.  Had dinner in the harbor area about 200 ft from the location of a shop (probably not there) where I saw Conflict on a shelf for the first time.

Obsolete Gamer: You were able to avoid what is called the great video game crash when you moved to Epson and was offered a great position, what were those years like moving forward as many other companies and the industry as a whole suffered?

William Volk: I felt compelled to take a ‘real’ job in 1982 because I had been in college and grad school for almost 8 years by that point.  So when I showed some folks at Epson my little 3D rendering system on the Atari 800 they referred me to Rising Star in California.  I was hired at the COMDEX show in Vegas in Nov. 1982.

Rising Star was great but leaving independent game development was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.  It did teach me about technical management and the Val Draw program I wrote was probably my greatest technical achievement.  A full 2D drafting system in 58 kilobytes of FORTH.  Lines, arcs, splines, associative dimensions, virtual memory, zoom, snap, automatic parallel lines … the stroke font was packed into a byte per stroke.  I don’t even know how I pulled it off.  In real dollars I made more $$$ in 1984 than I may have since, but I really should have just continued building games as an independent.  I didn’t realize that I was doing pretty good and I had some nice stuff I wanted to do.

Controller

Obsolete Gamer: The Pyramid of Peril was a 3D adventure inspired by some of your previous work and Raiders of the Lost Ark, can you tell us about the creative process when developing that game?

William Volk: Obviously based on Voyager 1.  Pyramid shaped puzzle.  David Barrett helped with the writing.  The Mac was new and exciting.  The entire game from concept to heat shrinking the boxes – 30 days.  Coded on a 128kb Mac.

Obsolete Gamer: Completing a project of the scope of “Pyramid” in 30 days was impressive, how was it done so quickly?

William Volk: I had the maze generating and display algorithms from Voyager and people to help on the artwork.

Obsolete Gamer: Most people know of the fate of the Philips CD-I, but can you tell us your thoughts on why in the end the company failed?

William Volk: Delayed launch to add MPEG Video.  AIM (American Interactive Media) decided that they didn’t need the video game industry to back the system.  EA and others, who had spent serious money building development systems, abandoned it because of the delays.

Obsolete Gamer: When you became director of technology and began pushing for Activision to publish “The Manhole” how did you know this would be the right move?

William Volk: I could see true greatness in the creativity of Rand and Robyn Miller (Cyan).  The User Interface was just breakthrough.  I was also a bit pissed at the delay of CD-I and wanted to send a message about that.  Activision was recovering from the video game crash and wanted something that was ground breaking.  Finally Stewart Alsop suggested that the Manhole would be an ideal CD-ROM title.  He was right.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the main challenges in moving away from the Midi format to actual recordings?

William Volk: We didn’t want to use CD-Audio tracks on the Mac (first) version, because we wanted to be able to pull data from the CD, we had to … because of Hypercard.  So we had to come up with a way of paging in 8 bit, 22khz audio chunks.  The CD-Emulator said it wouldn’t work, so we burned a test CD ($500 at that time!) and it worked.  Using live musicians was very cool.  I believe $20k of the budget was just for the music.  Russell Lieblich composed most of the music.

When we did the PC CD-ROM title we had our own engine …. MADE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_Applications_Development_Environment) so we could force a cache of data in a scene and use CD-Audio (redbook) tracks.

Return to Zork

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like behind the scenes at Activision during its troubled time of the late 80’s?

William Volk: Fall of 1989 was one of Activison’s good years: Mech Warrior I, Death Track, Ghostbusters II, The Manhole, etc… The financial mess started in 1990 with the judgement on the Magnavox patent case.  Funny thing in 1990 is we coped with massive Nerf Gun wars and RC car ‘racing’ (consisting of running RC10’s into each other at 40mph+ … each car … in the parking lot).  In a strange way the coping made the place very fun to be at.  I still have a scar on my head from playing that game from “Sam and Max” where you hit full beer cans with some sort of post-nuclear-apocolyptic club.  Yeah, Fizzball http://samandmax.wikia.com/wiki/Fizzball Other local companies would come and watch us play this at lunchtime.

It wasn’t fun to see everyone go though.  Down to about 13 when we made the move to LA.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your feeling of using full motion video in games?

William Volk: It was clever but got overused eventually.  I do think we were heading in the right direction with RTZ’s emotional response system and intricate conversation interfaces.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the interface you created for Return to Zork?

William Volk: The Diamond Reverse Parser was inspired by an article Eddie Dombrower had seen from MIT.  I just used Taxicab Geometry with diamonds because it made the hit-detect faster.  We had used this sort of hit detect trick on “Tongue of the Fatman”.   So the idea you could use any object on any object and have the reverse parser show you what the action was came out of the disappointing reception we got with LGOP2.    We wanted INSANELY DIFFICULT and UNFAIR puzzles.  Yes, there really was a “Chris Lombardi Memorial Puzzle” in the game (internal object name), dedicated to a writer at CGW who had panned LGOP2.  I believe it was the sliding stone – sentences puzzle.

It’s not clear how we came up with it all the character interactions, but we were trying to make the video more than just “Interruptible Media”.  So the idea of being able to ask characters about objects, pictures, and even what other characters had to say … that was the goal.

The Manhole box art

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to save a company with the release of a great game?

William Volk: Great, but frustrating that we couldn’t get the studio to just let us run with that UI and style.  Everyone wanted to copy Myst.  Ironic, when you consider I helped to get Cyan their first publishing gig.  I am very proud of RTZ.

Obsolete Gamer: What are the differences in your feelings about mobile gaming from then to today?

William Volk: Well, Mobile Gaming from 2001 to 2007 was very much like games of the early 1980’s.  Very small games.  Then the iPhone shows up and we now have one of the most innovative sectors in gaming.  Just playing Match 3D (Sherri Cuono’s design) game is Sci-Fi like with the multitouch interfaces.

We haven’t even begun to exploit augmented reality, social interactions and other possibilities.

Obsolete Gamer: Of all your time in the industry do you have a favorite story about that time?

William Volk: Yeah.  Producer (John Skeel) goes to comic show in NYC in 1989 or so.  Likes a new comic book so he negotiates a deal to get the video game rights for $20k.   Activision does a weekend focus group on the concept with kids, soda and pizza.  The result?

TEENAGE BOYS SHOW LITTLE INTEREST IN  ANTHROPOMORPHIC  TURTLES.

Activision logo

Obsolete Gamer: Overall what was your favorite computer or game system?

William Volk: The FM Towns.  Really.   The Amiga a close second.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your favorite classic game?

William Volk: Choplifter.

Obsolete Gamer: Was there a game you had in your head that you wanted to release, but never did/could?

William Volk: I seriously wanted to release a Wing Commander type game … where after hours of play, many missions and incredible skill you would end up crashed on some planet (otherwise you would be killed) … and then end up in an elaborate adventure involving learning how to interact with native people … and have us DENY THAT THE ADVENTURE GAME EXISTED.  Like only 1 in 10,000 players would stumble upon that game within a game.  Yeah, that sounds crazy, but it’s what I wanted to do in the early 1990’s.

Obsolete Gamer: If you could rerelease any game you’ve worked on using today’s technology what would it be?

William Volk: Return to Zork in a “Grand Theft Auto” type engine and fairer puzzles.

Currently William Volk is the co-founder and CEO of PlayScreen and an avid cyclist.

William Volk on Beneath the Surface

[youtube id=”f7V-_PzbG_I” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Maniac Mansion review

I rarely do it but Today is the day that I most definitely will! I’ll start the review from the very end of it – the score. Why? Well, reasons may be many, some more other less probable but what the truth is, is that I, as most mammals do, only tend to try to simplify my life. I consider vast majority of my readers at least to be mammals, so I suppose they like things plain and simple as well. That said, if I mention the name of the game and the score, it’s obvious that all the old bastards such as myself will nod their heads in understanding and move away to other, more recent or less well known game reviews and those who still don’t know it (are there any gamers who don’t know IT!?) may find the score high enough to lure them into a quick read. For those that’ll stay and waste five minutes going through my endless blah, blah, blah, here – Maniac Mansion gets 9.5 out of 10. Thank you! Goodnight!



Maniac Mansion was developed and released by LucasFilm Games LLC (now known simply as LucasArts) in 1987 on Commodore 64 and then in 1988 on all other major platforms of the time – Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, DOS & NES/Famicom. And since all these represent different points in wide range of 8 & 16 bit machines, the game version varies slightly in terms of graphics & music depending on given machine’s capabilities. Have no fear though, over the top, B-class movie-like gameplay remains the same on all of these. And that’s the only thing that really matters here, right?! Right!

Maniac Mansion DOS EGA Title Screen
DOS EGA – Title Screen

From the technical point of view Maniac Mansion, often called MM, was a novelty of sorts. It introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine that revolutionized Adventure games genre offering a complete point and click interface instead of typical at the time – text based interface. It utilized now well known Verb + Object operation, where verbs would be a set of actions that player could take upon various objects in the game World. It’s easily noticeable that games that followed for years after used or based their own engines on SCUMM as it not only simplified interaction with the game but made it more fluid, life-like, so that the player would not get distracted by mis-typing lengthy boring-ass commands or using wrong words in former kinds of interfaces. On top of all that MM was the first adventure game that presented the player with more than one character to control simultaneously. Player could switch between them whenever he/she felt like it or needed to.

Maniac Mansion Amiga Main Hall
AMIGA – This is how the Mansion’s Main Hall looks like. It holds quite a few neat secrets as well.

Taking Video Games technology available at the time MM did not stood out in any other area really – graphics were OK but not mind blowing and lacked loved and cherished by everyone Rivers of Blood(tm)… Well, there was *some* blood in the game but hardly enough to keep a gore-hungry, silly TV-shows raised teens at peace. And music? Apart from truly awesome opening theme and few sounds (not on all systems though) during gameplay were practically abundant. Looking at the back catalog of games I played over the years, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s not the graphics or even sound and music that makes a good game…

Maniac Mansion NES Secret Lab
NES – Secret Lab ain’t that secret no more…

Maniac Mansion, from beginning to an end is all story. Story, that is simple, short but drives the player from the first minute when he choses three of the seven available characters (one fixed though) to the last second of gameplay, or till he fails. Yes, in MM one can fail and not complete the game just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing something unnecessary… And why would one wander around doing odd things, digging holes in piles of shit instead of following the flow of the story? Because, lets say that you love cheesy B-class movies that are so bad that they actually are really good… Now, in this World MM would be an absolute king and queen of those movies, all rolled into one!!

Maniac Mansion c64 screenshot
C64 – This is where it all began 20 years before…

You play the role of Dave and two of his friends who have to save Dave’s girlfriend Sandy (even those names seem as if the were taken out of an under budget production made for 75 cents and a promise of mention in the final credits) from the hands of mad scientist – Dr Fred Edison – and his army (well, actually only few) of mutated Tentacles… Sounds cheap & cheesy? It should, the story is so simple that honestly I don’t see it ever getting any better. At least not in 1987, when I was no more no less than six years old and Maniac Mansion was like reading a book that I could actually take part in and it did not suck.

Maniac Mansion Apple II Library screenshot
Apple II – Library – The source of all knowledge… And funny smells…

I’m not gonna spoil this truly awesome game for you by telling you about all the inside jokes, puns and 80’s pop-culture references because I know you’ll enjoy it far more discovering everything by yourself. All I’ll mention is the game offers huge re-playability value due to the fact that all the secrets and gags cannot be found on one playthrough. For one, the characters player choose at the beginning all have unique personalities and respond to same situations differently and may even need to find different ways of solving similar problems. Also many, many things in this game lead to failure but failure through tears of laughter as authors did not kept the best stuff only for actions progressing the plot. And this is exactly what makes a great game – when failure is *also* an option worth taking. ^_^

Maniac Mansion Atari ST kitchen screenshot
Atari ST – There’s no kitchen without chainsaw and some mature cheese.

Maniac Mansion, even though it changed the face of Adventure games genre forever cannot be treated like pure adventure game only. I’d say it’s an interactive movie with adventure and arcade elements at heart. Some puzzles must be timed perfectly to complete, other require smart switching between chosen characters and using their positions and available actions at just the right order. And at another time you’re sitting there watching the game unveil its cinematic sequences just to add depth to the story. Please, pretty please, with a rotten turd covered cherry on top, notice that I used italics whilst mentioning cinematic sequences. Oh, darn, I’ve done it again…

Maniac Mansion c64 tentacle
C64 – Tentacle in its full 8-bit awesomeness…

Why only 9.5 out of 10, if the game clearly was the next Bible!? Or Bible 2.0, if you please (I expect a lot of hate mail now, he, he… ^_^)!? Well, it sure was fun playing it and I even recall one time when as a child I played it with two friends, each of us taking a role of another character… It’s not difficult to guess we did not fare far in the game… Maniac Mansion is just awfully difficult at times, presenting the player with numerous dead ends upon reaching which there is no choice but to reload the game. Or even many time & monkey-like agility based puzzles that one may repeat time after time until perfecting them, so that he/she could progress just that little further in the game. Honestly, sometimes when I play it it feels as if my head was split and someone pissed inside – there seems to be the brain there but my reflexes just ain’t what they’re supposed to be, short-cutted or something. Or maybe I’m just getting old, that’s all? That said, all the humor, re-playability and utterly awesome setting of Old Mansion that holds unknown secrets and a lonely kidnapped girl do make me wanna play it again… Today… Must fight the urge to play the darn gameMust not choose the system nowI am the master of my own mind & willAhhEhhBollocks! I’ll give this bad boy one more roll. ^_^

David McCaman: FunClick

Funclick logo

Name: David “Lodey” McCaman

Company: FunClick / Hands-On Mobile

Profession: Head of Marketing

Favorite Classic Game: Chivalry

Quote: Playing Chivalry on my Apple II in middle-school was one of my fondest multiplayer gaming memories. A 1983 action “roll-playing” game of rescue for up to 4 players, Chivalry consists of numerous mini-games and rolls of chance to make it to the end to save the kingdom. Simple, fun, and addictive, Chivalry allowed for quick games, competitive action with friends, and led the way for the more robust, in-depth Bard’s Tale (also a classic favorite) in 1985.

 


Dig Dug review

Dig Dug in-game
Dig Dug in-game shot

Dig Dug review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“Pop that monster!”

Overall Score:
9 out of 10

Overview:

Dig Dug consists of you being this blue man in a white suit that digs your way underground to kill monsters in tunnels. You do this by impaling them with an air pump that has like a tip like Scorpion’s weapon in Mortal Kombat (weird, I know but it’s cute!). You them pump the little monsters with enough air until they pop like a balloon. The game keeps progressing as you kill more monsters and there are none left in that level. Each level is progressively harder (especially when multiple enemies come at you at once).

You can get an extra man every 20000 points and you can pick up fruit in the middle of the stage when you kill enemies in a spectacular way, accelerating your 1UP rate.

The original game keeps going for 256 levels with the remake having about 400 levels.

The game is available on most Ataris, the Intellivision, Apple II, Commodore VIC 20 and c64, for PC, NES, gameboy, Wii, and the TI-99/4A. The remake is also available under Namco Classic Collection Volume 2 for Xbox, Gamecube, and the PS2.

Fun Factor:

I always thought it was a trip to fill up cute little monsters with air and watch their belly burst. If you’re braindead like me then you will love this kind of action. As the game will become much harder later, you will have to react instantly to the onslaught of monsters and have to adapt to using the terrain to your advantage and tricking the game’s A.I. by timing your attacks. You will sometimes have to run like a little bitch for your life and that can be fun to do especially in an old game! Fun Factor gets a score of 1o out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

Dig Dug is a challenging game. It’s from an era where if you wanted to get a high score you had to be a good gamer. Continues? Never heard of them. You put in a quarter and you got a set amount of lives. If you lost them all, you had to pay again to replay from the beginning. If you like your games easy then Dig Dug is not a game for you. If you like a game where the A.I. will eventually come at you from every direction, really fast then this is your game. You do get one more life though every 20000 points.

The first levels are easy and the game constantly keeps acccelerating in diffuculty. There’s no way to alter that but the game is challenging enough as it is. Difficulty Versatility gets a score of 9 out of 10.

Value:

Since this game is so old now, most people will probably play the emulated (usually MAME) version which you can get for free.

The PS2 Namco Classic Collection version is now out of print and not available online. You can track it down either by calling your local game stores or finding it through ebay.

The Wii version you can probably get online from their store for probably a few dollars.

Overall, since you can either play this game for free or for a few dollars for the PS2 or Wii version, Value gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Replayability:

Most classic arcade games are highly addictive/replayable, unless you find them too hard/frustrating for you. You can pretty much set your own goal as you what you want your experienced with this game to be, whether to get to whatever number of level or whatever your high score will be.

Myself, I find this game fun and I often wonder to what level I can get to the next time I play. Considering I’ve played this game thousands of times since the 80s and I still play it, the game is a classic and very replayable. I give replayability a score of 9 out of 10.

Sound:

The sounds mainly consist of hearing the dragon roar (whistle) and your pump that fills up the cute monsters and pops the living hell out of them. For an old game the sounds are really well done and I think Sound deserves a score of 1o out of 10.

Music:

The music is so simple but it’s so catchy. The music is interactive in the sense that the little jingle will only play whenever your guy is walking. Mega64 makes fun of that fact and made a video where they go around harrassing people with it! Here is a video showing that:

It’s catchy and it keeps you playing this hectic little game. For a few simple notes, it’s a classic. Overall the game has like 4 little melodies but the main melody is the one that you will hear the most. Music gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Graphics:

The graphics look pretty cute for this old game and they are actually great. It’s fun watching the monsters blow up like a balloon and then POP! Graphics get a score of 10 out of 10.

Stability/Reliability:

This game actually has 2 bugs.

If you get to the end of the game, the game has a kill screen where you are basically stuck because the game will not progress any further. This happens when you get to the last level of the game (level 256) and beat it.

The other bug happens if you drop a rock on an enemy while you are pumping it with air and snuff it. It basically makes all enemies disappear making the level unbeatable but the work around is to trigger another rock to fall.

Other than those two bugs, mainly the rock one (because most people will NOT get to the last level), the game is rock solid. Stability/Reliability get a score of 8 out of 10.

Controls:

The controls are simple. Up is up and so forth, and the fire button always triggers the harpoon gun/pump which lets you kill enemies. Other than that you walk into the ground to tunnel and you make rocks fall by leaving a tunnel under it (to try to trick a monster into getting crushed). Controls get a score of 10 out of 10.

Performance:

The game runs flawless whether you play it on an arcade machine, emulation (MAME, etc), or on a console remake of it. If only all games could run as well as old games! Performance gets a score of 10 out of 10.

My history with this game:

This is one of the first games where I was impressed by an arcade game, specifically Namco and Atari. I remember seeing this around the same time I first played Ms. Pacman, another arcade favorite of mine. I’ve played Dig Dug over 1000 times, literally. It’s not as popular as the Pacman games but among the arcade community, it’s always a classic.

If you’ve never played Dig Dug, you are missing out on a major arcade game that is a corner stone for arcade gaming history. Go play it and stop reading this.