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.