Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Video Welcome

I bought a Playstation Vita upon release, and it can also serve as a camcorder, which can be very handy.  I uploaded a video to Youtube just last night, which was a video of me playing a ZX Spectrum game called Thru' The Wall, which is a Breakout clone.  I just made another video earlier, which features myself this time.  It doubles as a video welcome, and as an introduction to the Oregon Trail game.  Let me explain.  The first game in the "1,001 Video Games to Play Before You Die" book is 'The Oregon Trail', listed as 1971.  While the first known version was released in 1971, the earliest copy which can be accessed was released in 1975.    This can be accessed via Windows, by using "Command Prompt" and the Teletype feature.  I try to explain this in the video.  I will upload a video of myself explaining how to use Teltype and how to play the 1975 version of the Oregon Trail as soon as I can.  I had some technical malfunction with my Vita, but anyway, here is my video.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thru' The Wall

The last Breakout clone I play (for now, until Arkanoid) is this one from 1982, called Thru' The Wall.  What is somewhat historical about this is that it was included on a software compilation that was packed in with the ZX Spectrum computer system.  The ZX Spectrum was a computer system designed for the British market; at that time, it was common for particular kinds of computers to be developed primarily for a specific market.  It wasn't global like it is today.  As far as I can gather, the Spectrum was to the Brits what the Commodore 64 was to us.  From what I have seen on Youtube videos, though, the Spectrum appeared to be a significantly less powerful machine than the Commodore.  It was able to garner a significant following, nonetheless, one that persists to this day.

So, when you bought a Spectrum in 1982 or in the following years, you would also get a compilation called "Horizons".  Horizons had a series of tutorials on how to use and program for the system, and also had several simple BASIC programs, of which Thru the Wall was one.  Thru The Wall is a really simple game of Breakout.  Probably too simple considering the year that it was developed in, as gaming had already taken a step or two forward since the release of Atari's original game.  On the other hand, back in those days, the arcade was always significantly ahead when it came to graphics, as opposed to systems like the 2600 and the Spectrum.

But as it's Breakout, I still had fun playing it.  It is entirely keyboard controlled, and a nice touch was that pressing the shift key would speed up your paddle, making it easier to catch up to a far-away ball.

I had a lot of problems finding a Spectrum emulator that was simple and wouldn't kick up a fuss as I was loading a file.  I was finally able to find one called ZX Spin.  I cannot speak for how well it may run other games, but I was able to boot this one right up.  The game did not play sound, but from what I have seen of other games on Youtube, the Spectrum's sound capability is really sparse and all I was able to hear were a few blips.  It has nothing on the Commodore 64 and its famous SID chip.

And, I am happy to report that the following video is my first Youtube upload, ever.  I was not able to find a video of this on Youtube, so with the help of my Playstation Vita, I was able to record a few minutes of myself playing this game and then upload it to Youtube.  I had to play it with one hand, as I had to hold the Vita up with the other, so I wasn't able to utilize the shift button and its "boost" feature, but I still did alright.  Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Circus Atari

Circus Atari, for the Atari 2600, is the most famous rendition of the game "Circus".  I played it on the Atari Anthology compilation disc for the original Xbox.  It's very similar to the arcade version, with several variations to switch things up, as was customary for 2600 games.

But after my experiences, I do not feel like I'm being fair in reviewing this game without a paddle controller.  From what I understand, my only option (other than buying a 2600 itself), is to buy the latest version of the Atari Flashback.  The Flashback is designed to look like a 2600 system, but it has games built into it, and I believe that you can attach original Atari accessories to the unit, such as the paddle controller.  So hopefully one day I will be able to play the game with the paddle, and hopefully my experiences will be better.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Field Goal

"Field Goal", unlike some of the other games included in Wikipedia's entry for the game "Circus" (which I'm reviewing based on its status as a Breakout clone), actually is a fairly relevant depiction of the Breakout game.  Unlike catching a man on a trampoline to vault him up, in "Field Goal", you use a paddle to hit a football and this football is used to hit flying helmets.  Depending on the color of the helmet and how high it is, you get a certain number of points.  In addition, after a certain number of points are accumulated, a football player comes out and runs around.  Hitting him will give you a multiplier and increase your points.  It will also lead him into doing some kind of celebatory dance.

Like some games of this era, it is a minor variation of another pioneering game and therefore one can lose interest in it very quickly.  I still found it interesting, only because Taito would later go on to make "Arkanoid", which was a stellar "Breakout" clone that added a lot of new features and bells & whistles.  The Breakout genre is still pretty popular today, and developers that come out with Breakout-type games owe a large debt to Taito and their "Arkanoid" games.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gypsy Juggler

I found this game, "Gypsy Juggler" via the Wikipedia entry on this arcade game, "Circus", that I tried awhile back.  I wasn't crazy about it, probably because I wasn't playing with a paddle.  "Gypsy Juggler" is considered to be a spinoff of "Circus", which I suppose makes sense, but I found this game simpler and much easier to enjoy than "Circus".

This game is Pong-simple, but unlike Pong, can be enjoyed with one player (although Gypsy Juggler allows multiple players).  I don't know what Gypsies have to do with juggling, but I will take the game's title for it.  Anyway, the gameplay really is as simple as the title implies: you juggle an egg.  Each time you juggle an egg on your hand or arm successfully, you get 5 points.  If the egg hits your head, you don't get a point.  Hitting a button releases another egg, so you can juggle up to 4 eggs.  The more eggs you juggle, the more points you get for each egg you're able to juggle successfully.  Every time you break an egg, a little chick comes and walks away.  

I'd never heard of this game before reading about it on Wikipedia, but I'm glad that I tried it.  It's a pretty fun time-waster.  As the maker of the attached Youtube bit says, it'd be a natural game to update for cell phones and iPods, since it's one of those games that are perfect for a short round of gaming.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Interestingly enough, there have been quite a few adaptions and clones of the game "Circus" over the years.  I'd barely heard of the game before taking a look at the original arcade version last time, so that shows that I still have a lot to learn about the early days of gaming.  I didn't really care for "Circus", but it's a game that is more suitable for two players and with paddle controls.  The first clone to come out was "Clowns", which came out a year after "Circus". 

A very fascinating thing I've come to realize over the years, was how much the early years of gaming had a "frontier" style veneer.  What I mean by that, is that in addition to designers and programmers trying innovative, new things with this newly discovered and implemented form of technology, there was also not much hesitance in shamelessly cloning and ripping off the ideas of others.  In the early years of gaming, particularly in the arcade scene and in some home systems (I'm looking at you, Commodore 64), bootlegs ran rampant.  "Clowns" is pretty much the same game as "Circus", but by a different publisher, Bally Midway (Exidy published Circus). (Note: Just read that "Clowns" was a licensed game, meaning that Exidy was compensated for Midway using their design).

So, any differences?  Not really.  I did find the game slightly easier to play, and a little slower than "Circus".  It was still quite difficult though.  I do like that when you receive an impressive score or hit a high balloon, the action will pause for a moment while a melody plays.  I think it will always bother me when others refer to these types of games as Breakout clones.  Technically, they are, but in a rather loose sense.  Games in this vein require rather pinpoint precision-like controls in order to be playable, and unfortunately, I do not have a paddle.


Friday, May 25, 2012


Next on my list of Breakout clones is a game that has had a lot of ports and adaptions over the years, and that game is called Circus.  I have never played any of the "Circus" games, and the arcade original was my first.  I know the Atari 2600 version is pretty famous, but does the arcade version compare favorably?  I have not played the 2600 version either, although I will very soon, but I will try my best to sum up this arcade original. 

Let me just say, this game is tough.  I don't know how the 2600 version compares in terms of difficulty, but the arcade game is really hard.  The game starts with a clown veering off a platform and the other clown must catch him by moving his seesaw.  Upon the first clown hitting the seesaw, the other clown will veer into the air and pop balloons, and then land back on the seesaw, sending the other clown into the air, and so forth.  Hitting the balloons will translate into points for you.  The yellow is on the bottom (20 points), green is in the middle (50) and blue is at the top (100 points). 

That is pretty much the objective of the game.  Where the difficulty comes in, is that the game is really fast, and in some cases, it's impossible for the clown to hit the seesaw.  Often, the clown must hit towards the end of the side of the board that is empty.  Otherwise, the clown will usually die.  And missing the clown altogether is very common too, as the game is fast. 

As I've noted in those days, the monitors used were monochrome, so color overlays had to be used on the monitors.  The graphics and the sound, therefore, are very simple.  In some cases, the gameplay can overshadow the primitive nature of the technology involved.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case here.  Although it seems that the gameplay improved in later ports of the game, this arcade version is simply too tough and fast to recommend. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pinball Spectacular

Although I have seen how obscure the "Bee" series of games were upon taking a look at them, thanks to Wikipedia, I saw that a copycat game was made for the Commodore 64.  It's called "Pinball Spectacular". 

I have very, very fond memories of the Commodore 64.  Although PCs are commonplace, and have been for a long time, the Commodore 64 was the first personal computer to really pave the way in the American marketplace.  During its lifespan, it's said to have sold up to 17.5 million units, making it the best selling PC ever.  Like a PC today, you can use the C64 for a lot of different things.  However, a lot of people, myself included, used them to play games.  Most kids had a Nintendo in their home; I had a Commodore 64.  It was the system I remember cutting my teeth on; my brothers also had an Atari 2600, but I don't really remember playing that as much. 

What I find mesmorizing upon looking back at the C64 is its massive library of games.  I remember playing a lot of games as a kid (due to the system being relatively easy to pirate, I remember owning many floppies with both sides filled with games).  However, after looking at various websites and their catalogs of C64 games, I have barely even scratched the surface as far as experiencing even a modicum of Commodore games. 

So, even while booting it up for the first time, I was very eager to try this game out.  What I find very noteworthy is that Pinball Spectacular was designed by HAL Laboratory.  They have been making games for many years, most significantly for Nintendo.  The Kirby series, the Smash Brothers series, and Earthbound were all developed by HAL.  This was one of their first games. 

Pinball Spectacular is indeed a hybrid of Breakout and pinball, just like the "Bee" games were.  Like "Cutie Q", there are only blocks on the top of the screen, and not on the sides (like the other two games).  There are no "ghosts" in the game, and there are "COMMODORE" lights in the center of the screen, rather than "NAMCO" lights.  You hit a letter corresponding to the lights, and you'll score big points as well as light up the sign.  A nice feature is that if you hit the Commodore symbol at the top-center of the screen, you get a temporary shield at the bottom.  So, even if both your paddles miss the ball, the shield picks it back up.   

As in the other games, there is really nothing to write home about in terms of graphics and sound.  Although, like Bomb Bee, there is more going on in terms of sound than in the other two games, which sound barren by contrast.  While good, I felt the controls were a little too loose, and could have been tightened a bit more.  I often ended up moving my paddles faster than I'd wished to. 

But honestly, I enjoyed playing this game more than the ones that it imitated.  It just seemed to have a quality that after I lost, I would want to play just one more game.  In simpler terms, it was more addicting, and I usually don't feel that way about the classics, although I love them just the same.  Perhaps I'm just biased towards Commodore software, I always seem to get a certain nostalgic twinge when I fire up a Commodore 64 game, whether I'd played it before or not. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cutie Q

Cutie Q is the last in a trilogy of breakout/pinball games from Namco and the creator of Pac-Man, Toru Iwatani.  These games were pretty obscure and didn't set the gaming scene afire, but they were decent enough, particularly the 2nd entry, Bomb Bee.  Can Cutie Q improve on this formula?  Well, let's find out. 

One notable thing about Cutie Q is that it's the only one of the three games to be released in a format other than the arcade.  This did not come about until 2008, when it was included in the Wii's Namco Museum Remix (I played NM Megamix, which is basically the same game with 6 new arcade classics).  There are three ways to play this game, either the Wii remote, the Wii nunchuk, or the Classic Controller.  I much preferred the classic controller, as it's just a much more traditional way to play games, and it really comes in handy for those Wii games which don't utilize its control features. 

As for the game itself, there really isn't much new to report.  It plays pretty much the same as the first two.  You have the dual paddles, as in Super Breakout.  You have the spinner and rollovers, as you would in pinball games.  However, there are a few things to note.  First, there are no side blocks, as in the first two games.  I felt that this was a good thing, as it makes the game more straightforward and less complicated.  The pinball hook is enough to make a clear distinction between this and Breakout.  Also, and I have not seen this mentioned in my research for the game, the blocks have a "ghost image" and the center area can have up to four ghosts that you can hit with the ball.  The ghosts only come in one color (pink), but I found a similarity to the ghosts in the Pac-Man games.  This makes sense, as the guy behind Pac-Man designed this game as well.  So, in my mind, this can serve as a sorta-prequel to Pac-Man. 

Since Cutie Q was released in the dawn of gaming, there isn't a noticeable upgrade in graphics and sound from the last game.  And, like the other Breakout games of the period, the ball will inexplicably go from a manageable speed to a blazing-fast speed.  However, it is possible to speed up your paddle with the press of a button.  This is a very handy feature, and I'm not sure if it's always been there or was just designed for the Wii port. 

Cutie Q isn't a significant upgrade from Bomb Bee, but it doesn't detract in terms of quality and gameplay either.  It was enjoyable enough, and speeding up the paddle in response to the faster speed of the ball was a very good design decision.  It's definitely worth a play, if nothing else than as a look into history (as Cutie Q is the first Namco game to be playable in a format other than arcade).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bomb Bee

I recently wrote about Namco's first video game "Gee Bee", which was a combination of Breakout and pinball that really didn't work very well.  "Bomb Bee" is the first of two sequels to "Gee Bee".  Like the first, "Bomb Bee" is relatively obscure, which is surprising because these are Namco's first two games.  Namco, as I pointed out, is one of the best video game developers in history and is still going strong today. 

Anyway, when first booting it up, I noticed that the layout was a slight improvement on "Gee Bee".  Things are a little more spread out in this one.  There are also more blocks and obstacles.  The graphics themselves are slightly more advanced, but not really. 

When I first started playing, I noticed that there was a lot more going on with the sound.  Not only is it better than in "Gee Bee", there are more sound effects and they're utilized more often.  "Gee Bee", like most video games of that period, was relatively sparse and quiet in terms of sound.  "Bomb Bee" is more sonically active, and you'd almost feel like you were at an actual pinball table if you didn't know any better.  I'm speaking, of course, in comparsion to "Gee Bee". 

As for gameplay, I had a much better time playing this than I did "Gee Bee".  It's basically the same game, but I think the layout changes of the "table" made all the difference.  The two bumpers, rather than being below the upper blocks like in "Gee Bee", are on the top right and left in "Bomb Bee".  This makes it much easier to score points, and seems to be more in line in what a real pinball table might actually be designed.  The gamemakers obviously saw that "Gee Bee" fell a little flat and made some changes that improved on the formula and made "Bomb Bee" a much better realized game. 

There are still some problems I had with the game that were present in the original.  At times, not when you lose a ball, one segment of blocks (right below the top) will reappear after you knocked them out.  I don't know how this happens, but it does at times.  At least it isn't the whole set of blocks like in "Gee Bee".  Also, and this seems to be present in every "Breakout"-style game up until "Arkanoid", the ball will inexplicably range from slow to lightning fast.  It very well might be because I suck, but I think overall a slightly faster general speed would be preferable to such a dramatic shift in speed from one extreme to another.  As a result, I'm never able to clear all the blocks. 

To sum things up, I had a very good time playing "Bomb Bee".  I wouldn't list it in with the classics, but am somewhat surprised at how little-known and obscure it is.  It's one of the first games that I have played that may not be a classic in its own right, but does add an interesting twist to a classic. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Gee Bee

I am going to be reviewing a few of the Breakout clones that followed the standard-bearer, Breakout, but only up to when Arkanoid came out.  This is because Arkanoid is also featured in the "1,001 Games" book.  And for good reason.  It was the first real advance on the classic Breakout formula, and many features that are prevalent in the Breakout clones that have been released since owe a large debt to Arkanoid. 

But that's for further down the road.  For today, I wanted to mention a Breakout clone that came out a few years after that game, back in 1978.  This game is called "Gee Bee". 

This game is noteworthy for a few reasons.  First, it was the first game developed by Namco.  I'm assuming that most of you need no introduction to Namco, but for the one or two of you that do, it will suffice to say that Namco is a pioneer software developer in the video game and arcade business.  They are the development house behind such monumental classics as Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Galaga, Galaxian, Rolling Thunder, Ridge Racer, Tekken, and many, many other games.  They are still going strong today. 

Also, this game was designed by Toru Iwatani, who would later go on to develop that granddaddy of 'em all, Pac-Man.  Originally, he wanted to design pinball machines, but Namco apparently wanted no part of that business.  So, in a form of compromise, Gee Bee ended up as a somewhat odd mix between Breakout and pinball. 

The game struck that impression on me as I first booted it up.  Obviously, in 1978, the graphics were still primitive, and it looked pretty similar to Super Breakout.  However, games of this period were noteworthy since they were among the first to be in full color, rather than the colors being overlaid over a black and white screen.  But right away, you notice some differences.  First, there are some features you would associate with pinball, like a spinner in the center of the screen, two bumpers and five rollovers that spell out "N-A-M-C-O".  Hitting these could net you big points.  Also, in addition to blocks being placed vertically, there are also blocks on the left and right side.  You hit these using two paddles, so it's sort of similar to the doubles mode in Super Breakout.

I appreciated that even back then, game developers, if not coming up with totally innovative and fresh ideas, were at least willing to put a few new spins on a classic formula.  Unfortunately, I don't think that it worked too well here, and Gee Bee's relative obscurity seems to bear me out (there seems to be no port that exists of the game).  Probably my biggest gripe is that after you lose a ball (you get three), the board resets and all the blocks you knocked out before you lost the ball, come back.  I am not sure what the logic was behind that design decision, but it just did not work for me at all.

Also, pinball was never my game, and I think the inclusion of some of its features in Gee Bee made the game less enjoyable for me personally.  There are side gates like in real pinball, and it's very possible for a ball to go through there.  This leads to a lost ball, through no fault of your own.  And there does not appear to be a tilt button that could have helped somewhat allay this issue.

Finally, the ball doesn't appear to gradually build in speed like in other Breakout-style games, but will veer from manageable speed to speed-demon fast.  The spinner will keep you on your toes, as it will change the ball's direction.

But despite those flaws, I still somewhat enjoyed Gee Bee.  Design flaws notwithstanding, the pinball aspect meshed better than I thought it would have prior to playing it.  Although the graphics and sound were obviously nothing extraordinary, you can still see subtle evolution if you'd played earlier games.  There were two sequels released to Gee Bee, which I will be reviewing in the very-near future.  It doesn't seem like these games caught fire either.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Super Breakout

Sorry, I know it's been awhile; been working a lot and I came down with a pretty bad chest cold.  Anyway, I am back to review the sequel to "Breakout", known as "Super Breakout".  Unlike the first game, Super Breakout is programmed via a microprocessor, meaning that it's been much easier to port it to other systems.  Hence, it's been included in numerous compilations, unlike the original Breakout.

The only version of Breakout I'd played was on the 2600, but from what I'd heard, Super Breakout is the same game with some added new features.  I used the "Atari Classics Evolved" game for the PSP to play it.  The first thing that I noticed, and that took some getting used to, was that you have to turn your screen to the vertical side in order to play.  I'm not sure why, maybe the screen wouldn't fully fit in the default horizontal position?  Anyway, as a result, the controls take a little getting used to, but I got the hang of it, to a degree.

Unlike the 2600 Breakout , Super Breakout is more in line with the Breakout gameplay that I remember.  You use the paddle to hit individual blocks with a ball, and you must intercept the ball so that it hits more blocks until there are no more blocks.  The graphics are basic, and the sound is pretty sparse, but that's in keeping with the time.  However, there are three different modes of play that you can choose from.  In Progressive Mode, once you destroy a wall of blocks, other walls come down to the center and gain in speed the longer the ball stays in play.  In Double Mode, you control two paddles (one on top of the other) and two balls, only losing a life when you lose possession of both balls.  In Cavity Mode, you get one paddle and ball, but there are two additional balls that are trapped within the blocks.  Once you free those balls, you can use them to destroy more blocks.  In the latter two modes, you get extra points if you can keep the additional balls in play.

While I was glad to take this stroll down memory lane, I thought what brought the experience down for me was the control.  As I may have said previously, the analog nub on the PSP is infamous for how small and useless that it is, so I went with the digital pad to move the paddle.  It turned out being no replacement for the traditional paddle/trackball setup that was popular at the time, and hence was close to mandatory for many games of that period.  So, I flat out sucked at Super Breakout, missing many balls.  I don't know if I would have missed them anyway if I was playing on the original arcade cabinet, but I will probably never know.

I thought the Evolved version of the game was pretty cool.  Regrettably, there is only one type of version included for the Breakout game, unlike the four included for Pong, but I still enjoyed it.  The graphics look slightly better, with a glowing ball, sparks that fly when you hit a brick, cool sound effects and music.  Maybe it's my imagination, but I found it slightly easier to play than the original version.

I wasn't happy with the one clip that I found of this version, but it was all that I could find.  I recently purchased a Playstation Vita, which has a pretty cool camera built in that you can use to record videos.  I tried doing that with this review, but holding my Vita in one hand to record, and the PSP in the other to play a round of Super Breakout and show you how it looked on the system, was difficult and awkward to say the least.  


Friday, March 23, 2012


Sorry for not posting in awhile.  I had to take my "1,001 Video Games" copy back to the library.  I intend to buy a copy, but until I do, I will play a few Breakout games, since Breakout is the next game on the list.  First is the original Breakout for the Atari 2600. 

I wanted to note beforehand, that unless one owns an actual Breakout arcade machine, playing the original version of the game is pretty much impossible.  Breakout was programmed with discrete logic, rather than via a microprocessor.  What I'm saying is that as a result, games that don't use processors cannot be emulated.  As it is, there were not many versions of the original Breakout that were ported.  The most well known was for the Atari 2600, and I played it using the Atari Anthology for the original XBox. 

When I think of Breakout, I usually think of the more modern games like Arkanoid, Brickbreaker, and others.  Playing Breakout was taking a huge step backwards in time, as I'd not played it in many, many years.  And with the exception of Pong, you cannot get more simple than Breakout.    I immediately noticed differences.  For one, you do not take out one brick at a time, but rather, there are rows of bricks that your ball must hit, one by one.  Ideally, you should try to hit the ball towards the far right or left, so that the ball gets trapped in the top area, but this is often easier said than done.  When you hit certain bricks, the ball veers quickly and wildly, making it difficult to reach it in time.

Almost needless to say, the graphics and sound are very basic.  And so is the gameplay.  Arkanoid pioneered the use of new elements to the Breakout experience (multiple balls, lasers, other power-ups), and this game was years before Arkanoid.  The variants that can be utilized don't add much to the experience, although I thought the "invisible" mode was kind of cool.  I did not use a paddle controller, but the Xbox 360 controller was serviceable, although I highly recommend using the digital pad to move your paddle; the analog stick is way too loose and I had lost many balls before switching to digital.   

In the end, this game held my attention for awhile, which is more than I can say for Pong.  Not to say that Pong is bad, quite the contrary, but Breakout is more of a single-player affair, whereas Pong was always more of a multiplayer experience.  But it does lose its appeal after a time; I started gaming in around the mid to late 80s, and I tend to struggle holding my attention when it comes to playing games released before that time (there are a few exceptions, most notably Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga). 

Included below are videos of the original arcade version of Breakout, and a review of the 2600 version.  I was impressed with how the arcade version looked; also, the bricks are separate, rather than long colored rows like the 2600 version.  However, it's actually black and write, with color overlays placed where the bricks are located.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Oregon Trail (1975 Version)

I promised that I'd get back to The Oregon Trail, and I am a man of my word.  It was kind of mysterious to me that The Oregon Trail was the 1st game listed in the book "1,001 Video Games to Play Before You Die", even before Pong.  This is because it was originally released in 1971.  A few student teachers at a Minnesota college, as part of their history class, wrote a computer program using an early variant of BASIC to help teach the class.  This program, of course, was Oregon Trail. 

I actually found, via Wikipedia, a very interesting blog in which the blogger tries to track down the earliest known version of Oregon Trail to have existed.  The original version was up on the college network until the end of the semester, and it was then deleted.  The creator printed out a copy of the original source code, but unfortunately, the whereabouts of that source code are no longer known. 

However, a friend of the blogger was able to find a tape copy of a program simply entitled "Oregon" at a school, dated 1975.  Upon loading the program up, it turned out to be a version of "Oregon Trail" dated 1975, three years earlier of the earliest known version said to have existed prior to that point.  I found it really cool that a few people were that passionate about the game and about the past of computing. 

But have my feelings changed on playing Oregon Trail for the first time in many years, especially since it is the first copy now known to be in existence?  Sadly, no.  First, there are no graphics whatsoever, unlike the one you probably played in elementary school.  Just purely text-oriented, as basic as it gets.  Not to say that I mind this.  I have a fond affinity for some text-based games I used to play, key among those being "Zork".  But those games were pretty much like interactive novels. 

A key frustration I always had with this game, and this early version is no different, is the lack of control that you have.  You start the game with approximately $700, and you have to allocate so much to clothing, oxen, food, ammo, etc.  After that, the events that happen to you seem entirely random.  After each day, or turn, you can choose to hunt, stop at a port if available (to buy food and supplies), or continue your journey.  If you hunt, you must type the word "bang" very quickly.  And I do mean, quickly.  I can touch-type very fast (between 90 and 100 WPM), and was able to successfully kill an animal for food once.  I cannot guess why that is, maybe because I was playing on a computer screen, rather than via teletype (typewriter) as the game was originally designed?

But anyway, regardless of what you choose, some big event may happen to you and your travelers that you may or may not survive.  The first time I played, I had gotten relatively far; I believe you must successfully complete 18 days or turns in order to "win" the game.  But on later occasions, I survived maybe 3 or 4 days before perishing.

I plan on trying out later versions of the game as I progress through the games in the book.  But so far, I really doubt that my feelings will change.  In order to play either the 1975 or 1978 version, you must open a command prompt window (if you're using Windows, this should be under Accessories) and type in a teletype command.  The blog I linked to has further instructions.  And one more interesting item of note:  the famous "you have died of dysentery" line did not come up in the series until later when it came out on the Apple II.

This Youtube video is a very cool look into the history of The Oregon Trail. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012


There don't seem to be that many variants of Pong out there, at least, the kind that put a twist or two on that pioneering game.  But I have saved the best for last.  Windjammers was a game for the Neo-Geo in the mid 90's; I remember having it for a brief time when I bought a Neo-Geo CD a long time ago.  Regretfully, I ended up selling it and the games that came with it.  I remember playing it a few times and enjoying it, but did not really appreciate how great it really is until I tried it again in my journey to play all these games as part of the blog. 

It certainly has a Neo-Geo flavor; like the other two games I reviewed, Bang Bead and Battle Flip Shot, it's kind of a meld between Pong and a fighting game (the latter in terms of presentation) but Windjammers pulls it off much more successfully than the other two, and it's incredible considering the other two were released years after Windjammers. 

You use a flying disc and can throw it in 8 different directions; the disc can either fly directly towards your opponent or it will bounce and ricochet off the walls surrounding the field.  Some stages will have barriers in the middle of the field, adding an extra element of challenge.  The disc will continously increase in speed until a goal is scored, causing the loser to throw the next disc.  There are yellow and pink zones; the yellow is worth 3 points and the pink is worth 5.  Also, letting a disc fall to the ground is worth 2 points to your opponent. 

There are many kinds of throws you can do.  In addition to a normal throw, you can curve it, toss it up in the air, power throw, special throw (these two require a power charge) and counter.  The special moves require SF 2 type moves to execute, but they add some spice to the proceedings (for example, setting the disc on fire).  There are 2 sets that last around 30 seconds each, making for fast-paced contests.  There are six players to choose from, and six courts available for play

Incredibly, I thought the graphics were more colorful and had more variety than either BFS or Bang Bead, which is impressive given that the latter were released in the late 90's.  The sound is nothing to write home about, but you'll probably like it if you like Neo Geo games (or arcade games from the 90's).  The high point for me was the gameplay.  Windjammers is a very easy game to just pick up and play, and I never felt overwhelmed by what was going on.  You can actually defeat the AI opponent pretty easily, unlike in Battle Flip Shot.  But it still poses a challenge. 

I am pretty envious at those who have a good friend who they could potentially play this with, as it has been certified by numerous reviewers that the game absolutely shines in two-player mode.  But I found going solo was really fun as well.  I would not only recommend this game, but would go as far as to say that the compilers of the "1,001 Video Games..." dropped the ball by not including this on the list.  The only Neo-Geo games I noticed on the list were some of the fighting games, but they did a lot more than that. 

It's a real shame that outside of emulators and actually owning a Neo-Geo console (or the arcade hardware), it's really difficult to be able to experience Windjammers.  It's available on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, but only in Japan.  One would think it would be a relatively simple matter to make it available to American users of the Wii via download; the only thing I could think stopping that would be rights issues.  But if you can find a copy, by all means pick it up.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Plasma Pong

I didn't think that much can be done with the premise of "Pong", just some slight refinements here and there via a few games.  Boy, was I proven wrong!  "Plasma Pong" was an indie game, done by one person, that was released a few years ago (2007, I believe).  It is free to download for PC. 

Plasma Pong is basically Pong, with paddles, ball, and black screen.  But there is one key factor that influences the gameplay significantly, and makes it into almost a completely different game.  The field between your paddle and your opponent's is a field of plasma, that can be molded and manipulated via your paddle.  Your paddle (and your opponent's) can be used to shoot plasma, which influences the direction of the ball.  This causes the ball to go into wildly divergent patterns, and there are often times when the ball will fly into the plasma made by your opponent, causing the ball you just shot to come flying right back at you.  You can also use the plasma to suck the ball into your paddle and release a shockwave that will send the ball speeding towards your opponent.

The game is not a best of 10 or 11 set as in regular Pong, but every time you get the ball past your opponent, you advance to the next level, where the plasma becomes even more plentiful on the field and it becomes harder to determine the path of the ball.  You get 10 lives, and lose one when a ball slips by you. 

The graphics are pretty amazing.  The plasma that is shot quickly turns the black screen into a cavalcade of vibrant colors.  Potheads could really appreciate this game.  During gameplay, pressing 1-9 can alter various graphical elements of the game, including 3D, plasma shading and temperature, creating even more graphic variations.  The music is an orchestral/dance hybrid of some kind, and you can hear its tempo speed up every time you go to the next level.

There is also another mode called Sandbox that lets you tamper with the graphical effects of the game without having to play it.  This is good if you just want to sit back and treat yourself to a light show. 

The only issue that I have with the game is that I wish it had gamepad support.  It only supports the mouse, and I found that using it tightened the control up more than it should have been.  Maybe a trackball mouse would work better with this game.  Other than that, I have to wholeheartedly recommend it, especially since it's free to download. 

(Note:  The developer, Stephen Taylor, closed the website promoting the game [www.plasmapong.com} due to its infringing on the Pong trademark.  There is a note on the website promising an update of the game, along with another new game from Mr. Taylor, but neither seems to have materialized; the notice was published in 2008.  It's a shame, because it is a very good game.)


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Battle Flip Shot/Bang Bead

As part of my overview of Pong, I also planned to look at some of the few variations over the years on the game.  I guess there's only so much you can do with the core theme.  I came upon a couple of games from the Neo-Geo era called Battle Flip Shot and Bang Bead (Bang Bead came out a couple of years after Battle Flip Shot and was from the same company).  As far as I know, these games were only released in Japan.  One disclaimer I should give before proceeding is that I always do single-player in these games.  I do feel that these types of games would probably be a lot of fun with two people, and my impressions of these games are solely based on the single-player experience.  Let's look at BFS first.

Battle Flip Shot tries to integrate Pong with Street Fighter II.  The first thing you do after inserting the coin is choose from 5 different characters.  Then you go to an arena-type field, equipped with a shield, which you use to hit the ball back.  Your goal is to hit the targets behind the opponent.  When the last target is hit, you win the round and move on to the next (each level is 2 out of 3 rounds, just like any fighting game).  Of course, you must protect your targets as well.

This game is very fast.  Unlike Pong, you can also move forward and backward, in addition to left and right.  The A button gives you a more powerful shot, and the B button lets you slide.  To be honest, I really didn't see much of a difference in using these buttons, and feel the game can usually be played by just moving the pad to hit the ball.  Obviously, for a late 90's title, the graphics are much better than Pong, but certainly not revolutionary.  If anything, I found the graphics a little behind the curve, and they could have been pulled off on a Super Nintendo without too much difficulty.  The music isn't anything outstanding, but will make you feel right at home if you're used to playing Neo Geo/arcade games.

The only caveat I have with this game is that it can be very difficult.  The ball moves really fast, and you must always be on your toes if you hope to win.  The AI also has some quirks.  For most of the game, it's relatively easy to bash its targets, but when you're down to the last one, the AI suddenly becomes very stubborn and will protect that last target like its child.  A lot of times, I'd have 3 or 4 targets to the computer's one, and I'd end up losing out of the computer's fierce defense in protecting that last target.  For that reason, the game would probably be preferable with two people.

Bang Bead is pretty much the same as Battle Flip Shot, with a few differences.  The graphics are slightly better.  There are more characters (7 characters, along with two hidden ones).  There is more variety in the backgrounds.  The only gameplay difference I noticed was that after hitting the targets (9 stars), the round isn't won, but the force field behind the targets will break, which means that placing a shot behind your opponent will lead to a win.  There is also a super attack that can be filled up via a gauge.  Hitting the A button for attack seemed to make a difference in the gameplay, unlike BFS.  Like BFS, the gameplay is very fast, and I found the AI slightly easier this time around.  Again, I'd imagine that this is a gameplay experience that would be superior with two people.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pong: The Next Level

There is only one official update that was made of Pong (unless you count the numerous spinoffs of the original arcade game, which are pretty much the same anyway), and that was a version released in 1999 by Hasbro.  During this time, modern updates of several classics such as Missile Command, Q-Bert, Asteroids, etc. were put out for the Playstation One and several other consoles.  I recently bought that version of Pong and tried it out, for this blog. 

My initial impressions were very good.  I really enjoyed the presentation; the audio in particular really takes you back to the day.  It just has a very old-school flavor, and I liked some of the updates that were made, such as the paddles having a personality.  Then I played the game.  The first few stages were pretty good, and I liked how you could advance through different stages (such as a arctic ice cap, a soccer field, and so forth) with different goals in each stage.  However, a few kinks soon became apparent to me. 

The first is the control.  I don't know if I agree with the Classic Game Room's Youtube review that a paddle was needed to play the game (although it would have been preferable), but the controls certainly could have been tightened.  There were many times I'd only slightly move the analog stick on my PS3 to minutely move my paddle to hit the ball, but the paddle would veer beyond that and I'd lose the ball, and a point would be gained for my opponent. 

However, my biggest problem with the game is that I felt the developer was too ambitious for the game's own good.  By the soccer stage, I was already struggling with the concept of moving two paddles (one for the kicker, other for the goalie), and by the time I got to the clown stage, I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do.  Granted, I am not the best gamer in the world, not by a long shot, and I'm sure there are others who played the game who had no trouble.  But I think the game would have benefited with a "less is more" approach.

I came away with a favorable opinion of the way that "Pong" was presented in the Atari Evolved game for the PSP, because not only did it come with the original game, but also with several "evolved" updates, such as Air Hockey and Pinball.  These updates retained the same gameplay of the original, but updated the graphics and sound to make it more appealing to the present-day gamer.  I think that approach would have been more beneficial to this game.  Rather, the developers came up with a lot of different stages where there was a lot going on and where I came away confused.  That, combined with the loose controls, led me to make this a hard one to recommend.  To me, classic gaming (and Pong certainly symbolizes that) is all about simplicity, and this game fell short in that regard.

If you still want to play it, you can get the game for dirt cheap; to my chagrin, I found out that it was on the Playstation Network (I could have downloaded it to my PSP rather than buying the CD).  But I don't think being able to play it on a handheld would have led me to change my impression of the game.  I will probably keep at this game out of sheer stubborness, but I doubt my feelings on it will change. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Ahhh, Pong, the 2nd game in the book.  There is no denying the influence that Pong had on gaming; while it isn't the first video game, it was the first game to really enter the mainstream.  The success of Pong led to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario, etc.  A case can be made that if it were not for Pong, video gaming as we know it today might not exist. 

Most people have probably played Pong, even if only once in their lives for a few minutes.  And honestly, that's all the time you need.  For while Pong is no doubt an iconic video game, the first successful commercially released video game, it is very simple to a fault and one can get bored with it very quickly.  Peter Molyneux, the guy who's designed such games as Populous, Syndicate, Black & White, and many more games, wrote the preface to the book.  In it, he says that he bought a Pong console back in the 70's (yes, some of the first gaming consoles that were sold only had one game, such as Pong, and you could not buy other game cartridges).  He took it home and became bored within a half hour. 

Pong has been released in several video game compilations over the years, including Atari Anthology and the Atari Flashback 2 console, which comes pre-installed with many 2600 games.  I own these, but I have revisited Pong via my PSP and the Atari Classics Evolved game. 

This is a cool little compilation.  You get 11 classic Atari arcade games (in addition to Pong, also Battlezone, Centipede, Tempest, etc.) and also what are called "evolved" versions.  These versions have updated graphics and sound.  I started with the original Pong.  I forgot how hard it can be, because the paddles are so small.  In addition, it's almost required to use the standard directional buttons, as the analog "nub" on the PSP is awful.  And games in those days used paddle controllers, so a decent analog control could have made all the difference.  I ended up getting my ass kicked by the computer in pretty much every game I played, to be honest.  And it's Pong, so the graphics and sound are very minimal, but it's a game that's worth spending a few minutes with now and again. 

But what are really cool are the "evolved" modes of the game.  Pong has four.  The first is Ping Pong mode, with a nice-looking overhead view of a tennis table (the pong paddles are now rackets) and tennis sounds as the ball is hit.  The second is pinball mode, which looks kind of like a pinball table.  The third, and my personal favorite is Air Hockey.  This changes things up a bit, by switching the perspective to a vertical one (and you have to adjust your PSP and play it that way).  I love air hockey, and the graphics and sound make it almost feel like the real thing; my only gripe is that you can't move up and down like in real air hockey, only left-right, but I guess they wanted to keep it in the spirit of Pong.  The final mode is Neoclassic mode, which is basically regular Pong only with a grey background (rather than the black of the original), slightly bigger yellow paddles, a glowing yellow ball, and some additional sound effects.   

I think that if you want to play Pong, and happen to have a PSP, Atari Classics Evolved is probably the way to go.  Not only do you get an emulated version of the original Pong, you get these very cool modes of the game that I found far more appealing to play than the actual Pong. 

Sorry for not being more frequent when it comes to playing these games, my schedule's been a bit messed up lately.  My next post will talk about an updated sequel to Pong that was made in the late 90's for the Playstation, which I'm playing now.  Also, I've never really uploaded videos, but I can't seem to find any videos on Youtube for the evolved modes of Pong, so I'll look into getting some kind of camera eventually, so I can post the videos here. 


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sorry, Next Game On Its Way

Sorry, I'd been meaning to post about Pong, the 2nd game on the list.  I've played it, obviously, and will give my thoughts on it tomorrow, along with a sequel that was released 10 or so years ago that I'm currently playing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Oregon Trail

The very first game in the book, The Oregon Trail is an "edutainment" game that was originally released in 1971 ("edutainment" is a subgenre of gaming that combines education, along with entertainment elements of video games).  In the game, you assume the role of a wagon leader who guides his party from Missouri to Oregon, via the Oregon Trail, in the mid-19th century.  As you travel, you must manage your resources carefully, and make the right decisions at key moments.

I remember playing this game when I was in school.  I can't remember what system it was on; it was either on an Apple II or an old IBM PC, as it had color graphics and was not quite as archaic   As much as I appreciate its role in video games, I always looked at it more as a way to kill time while I was in school.  I never really became excited as I was playing it.  An "edutainment" game that, IMO, was more deserving of being on the list, and yet wasn't, was one of the "Carmen Sandiego" games that were developed for computers in the 1980s and 90s.  I remember spending many hours playing those games ("Where in the World" and "Where in Time" were favorites) for my Commodore 64, when I was at home.  It was similar in some ways to "Oregon Trail", but I also remember it as being more nonlinear.  You had to use an almanac that provided clues in catching Carmen's cohorts, and eventually, Carmen herself.  This required travelling to different locations throughout the world, and learning different things about the country you were in (I remember particularly, learning the currency of each country through these games).  I remember having a lot of fun.    

I know this is the first game on the list, but I am going to forgo revisiting Oregon Trail, at least for now.  I'm timid on replaying a game that I have lukewarm memories of.  There are many different versions of the game, including ones for Facebook and Nintendo's new portable, the 3DS (which I have).  Maybe a more modern take on it will make me enjoy it more.  But I promise, I will return to this game, in time, to give my thoughts on it.

1,001 (And More) Video Games I Want to Play Before I Die

Hi, I'm Jeff.  I am a lifelong gamer, and had recently discovered a book called "1,001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die".  I was very impressed that such a book had been written and published; each game is given a brief write-up and often includes a picture.  Needless to say, the book is pretty large, and is one in a series (along with 1,001 Albums, 1,001 Songs, and so on).

While many such lists have been created online, the fact that one came out in book form made quite an impression on me.  It is very professionally done, with many of the games being iconic, if not timeless classics.  And I am a devoted gamer, I try to play as many games as I can, regardless of what time or system they were developed for.  But I realized, upon glancing through the pages of this book, that I had been spending too much time on the newer systems, and had been missing out on revisiting these classics that I haven't played for some time, or the games that I had gotten around to.  There are many in the book that I had played, but also many that I had not.

I hope to play each game, in depth, in order that is listed in the book.  But not only that.  I also want to try some of a particular game's variants, sequels or remakes.  I know that it's ridculously thorough, but I've always been that kind of person.  It also brings me a great deal of enjoyment, to stumble onto something that very few people have tried.

I will post on each game frequently, along with my experiences with each game, and its variants and/or sequels or remakes, provided that there are any.