Retrogaming Times Monthly
Issue #57 - February 2009

1970s
Crash! 1980s
Bubble Bobble 1990s
Sonic The Hedgehog
COVERING 3 DECADES OF GAMING

Table of Contents
01. Attract Mode
02. Notes From Our Webmaster
03. NES'cade - Excitebike
04. RTM Idiocy Part 2
05. Apple II Incider - Stargate
06. The Thrill Of Defeat: Zaxxon In 1K? Oh My!
07. Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware
08. Videological Dig
09. Game Over



 Atari 2600 Joystick 
Attract Mode

After reading and contributing to Retrogaming Times through the years, both when it was hosted by Tom Zjaba and now Alan Hewston, I decided to respond to the request for a new editor. I have to confess that I have been slacking off a little when it comes to classic gaming, having not updated the TI-99/4A Videogame House website since December of last year! So hopefully becoming editor of this legendary classic gaming magazine will light a spark under me to get rolling again...and it already seems to have done so.

The first thing you might notice is the new layout of the magazine. I'm not sure what people think of it, so send any comments to my e-mail address linked above letting me know. I hope to have a flooded Inbox with thoughts on the changes to the look so I know what people like and don't like. I figured changing the main heading/colors of RTM while leaving the basic structure the same would be a nice change, but not too much of one so that it felt like a different magazine. My goal here was to have a more fun and colorful feel, something which I felt was lacking previously. After all, aren't video games all about fun and excitement?

While I am in the spotlight I would like to mention some of the goals I have set for 2009 as Editor In-Chief. My first goal is to boost the number of people that submit articles so that more information gets covered, since we all know classic gaming covers a lot of systems and games so there should be a lot of things to talk about that people want to hear. Another goal is to try and bring in new readers by promoting RTM in different places where "closet classic gamers" might be lurking. The more viewers the better in my opinion! I might have to get Alan Hewston to send me the site stats for each issue every month to see if any progress is being made. Lastly, I hope to add some fun extras to the magazine as time goes on, such as the "This Month In History" section which contains excerpts from newspapers/magazines for the month the particular RTM is published, just so others can read up on what was going on in the classic gaming world when it wasn't so classic.

Anyway, let's get on with this first issue of the updated RTM. Remember though to send those comments to my e-mail address on what you think of the new image.


 Note 
Notes From Our Webmaster
Greetings folks, I'm still around, but spending way too much time with my family and other hobbies lately. I wanted to let you know that we'll try to keep things going and feed you more Retro news in future issues. I'm really hoping to make the time to contribute again. Maybe we can catch up on our issues here in the next couple months to make up for being tardy this time.

I wanted to thank Eric Schuetz for trying to take on the job as our editor, but as you now know, he was unable to keep that commitment. It was more work than he had the time for. When Eric cried "Uncle" I put out a request to our staff and two folks said that they could help. I want to thank both of those guys. First off, Mark Sabbatini, who replied right away that he was willing to help. Mark has contributed quite a lot in the past couple years to RTM and we really appreciate his offer to help even more. But, when we learned that Bryan Roppolo was willing to lead the charge, we graciously accepted his offer over Mark's. I'm sure that Mark would have done a fine job. Based upon his contributions overall, I'd say he certainly would have done a better job than our next best alternative - yours truly - and I'm no editor. And then . . . a BIG thank you to Bryan Roppolo who is now our editor. Bryan has been doing a great job with contributing TI-99 arcade and other game articles for the RTM and does a fantastic job as a web editor for his TI-99/4A Videogamehouse site. So welcome aboard Bryan.

Alan Hewston, lame RTM webmaster


 NES Gamepad 
NES'cade - Excitebike
Excitebike, probably one of the most classic of classic NES games.  By all accounts if you owned an NES during its earlier days of mass popularity, a copy of Excitebike was more than likely in your game library.  Sure, it was no Super Mario Bros. but the colorful and well designed motorbike race won over a legion of fans.  Of course the big question brewing in the mind of our readers right now is, "what does Excitebike have to do with arcade gaming?"  Although there was an arcade version of Excitebike that was different than the NES release, it technically was released after the Famicom version, making it a remake.  However in the USA the wide release of both games was much closer to one another so I'm going to bend my own rules just a little.  If anything this article should act more as an introduction to the arcade version of Excitebike and the differences to those unfamiliar with them.  This makes sense since it seems that a good amount of people I've talked with over the years had no idea an arcade version existed.

Excitebike had two arcade releases actually, both in 1984.  The Nintendo PlayChoice arcade system essentially ran the same games that one would eventually find on the NES hardware at home.  It was, in effect, a kiosk in an arcade that you paid to play.  Actually that's exactly what it was, as credits translated into time - the more you'd pay, the longer you'd play.  A comparison between that version and the NES release would be identical since they're basically the exact same game.  As well as the PlayChoice cabinets, Nintendo also produced a different series of arcade uprights that ran under the Nintendo Vs. System standard.  In addition to most notably having a very different version of Super Mario Bros. (Vs. Super Mario Bros.), the Vs. System hand a handful of enhanced NES titles that were designed for the arcade hardware.  One such remake, the one relative to this article, was Vs. Excitebike.  Vs. Excitebike played as more of an expanded remake of NES / Famicom Excitebike, with some new graphics and game play modes.  However before getting into what made Vs. Excitebike different, let's take a look at what made it the same.

Vs. Excitebike and NES Excitebike

Both games share the same basic graphics and design.  The player controls a bronze / orange colored motorcycle and rider and races against blue and purple rival motorcycles and riders.  One button controls standard throttle while another revs the motorbike into turbo mode.  Turbo gives the player a boost of speed but it also causes the temperature gauge to increase.  Once the temperature gauge fills, the motorbike will overheat and you will pull off the course until the engine has had time to cool down.  Throttling the turbo on for jumps and then back off when in the air is a critical skill required to progress into the later stages of the game.  Moving the joystick up or down moves the motorcycle and rider either up or down on the track.  Pressing the joystick left causes the motorcycle to tip back onto the rear wheel, popping a wheelie.  The wheelie is useful for negotiating small obstacles but staying on the rear wheel too long will cause your rider to wipe out.  Pressing the joystick right while in the air will cause the motorbike to tip forward.  The trick is to use a combination of tilting the motorcycle back and forth when riding over jumps.  The optimal path is to have the motorcycle follow a gentle arc from one jump to the next.  This prevents crashing and allows you to maintain speed when traveling over the challenging terrain.  These controls are exactly the same on the NES, with the control pad used rather than a joystick.  Rival riders can be knocked over by running your rear wheel into their front wheel, however this goes the same for your motorbike.  In the event of an accident with another rider, a mistimed descent from a jump, or an overexerted wheelie the rider will become separated from his bike.  Pressing the acceleration button rapidly will cause the rider to run back to their bike rather than walk.  A preset time must be beaten to advance to the next track, if the player doesn't complete the stage within that time then they are not allowed to advance to the next stage.

Where Vs. Excitebike first breaks ways with the NES version is in the different game modes.  NES Excitebike has an A and B mode selectable from the title screen.  "Selection A" is a solo race while "Selection B" is a race with rivals.  In both the arcade and NES versions the rivals simply act as additional obstacles on the track and there is no actual race for position against them.  The next difference is a bigger one and has to do with how progression between races is handled.  On the NES the player can choose a starting track from 1 to 5.  The first race is known as a "Challenge Race" and will begin on the track chosen by the player.  After finishing under at least the third place course time, the game continues to the "Excitebike Race" which takes place on the same track that the "Challenge Race" was held on.  From that point forward any additional tracks reached will only be run once as an "Excitebike Race."  All races are two laps in length and are either solo or with rivals based upon the mode selection at the start of the game.

Excitebike Arcade Original

Vs. Excitebike begins by asking the player to choose from three points of difficulty, which translate into starting at track 1, 2, or 3.  Each track has a qualifying race, the "Challenge Race," that is run by the player alone and is only one lap in length.  If the player finishes under at least the fifth place course time, they qualify for the "Excitebike Race."  The Excitebike Race takes place on the exact same course the Challenge Race did, except it is now populated by rival riders, and the race is two laps long.  Once again, the player must beat at least the fifth place time to proceed to the next race.  The next race will begin with a solo single lap Challenge Race qualifying round, then lead to an Excitebike Race with rivals, and continue on in the same manner until the player fails to qualify or finish within the fifth place time.  An enhanced stage introduction screen shows the progression between each race as well as the top five record times and the initials of those who hold them.  The post race screen is much more detailed than what is shown on the NES, with large graphics showing the top five riders.  Also at the game over screen the player is shown to the side of the winner's podium kicking a can.  Yet what most people that have played Vs. Excitebike remember most are the bonus stages.  These small diversions really make the game stand out.  After Excitebike Race 3 and 6 a bonus stage begins.  The bonus stages involve riding your motorbike up ramps and clearing piles of parked trucks with huge jumps.  Bonuses are awarded for the amount of trucks cleared.  There is no penalty for running out of time in the bonus stage other than the stage ending before the goal is reached.

Sound effects and music between the two games are almost identical if not exact.  Most of the changes have to do with how each race is presented and of course the bonus stages.  The changes in how qualifying work give the game a lot more variety instead of just being a series of races, which in my opinion makes Vs. Excitebike a better game than the NES release.  There was also yet another remake released on the Famicom Disk System titled Vs. Excitebike but it too is different from both arcade Vs. Excitebike and NES / Famicom Excitebike.  Excitebike on the NES and Vs. Excitebike in the arcade provide the same basic core gameplay, which I suppose makes them equal in terms of entertainment.  Being proficient at Vs. Excitebike will make you a better Excitebike player and vice versa.  Either way it goes back to the basic idea of the game, a fast paced high octane dirtbike race.  Years later, Excitebike still plays a solid game that everyone should have a copy of.
 

"InsaneDavid" also runs a slowly growing gaming site at http://www.classicplastic.net/dvgi


 Macintosh 
Computer Idiocy RTM #2

One word for why I don't iPhone: brick. 

Apple's permanent disabling of phones with "unofficial" content a while back is one of those depressingly common occurrences where vindictiveness is seen as good customer policy. It goes as far back in computing as I can recall, when some of the first software copy protection schemes destroyed the data and equipment of innocent users. As for the pirates, the corporate meanness was just motivation to crack the latest schemes, which they inevitably did. 

As this column continues trolling for lesser-known moments of colossal stupidity in retrocomputing history, the much-mocked TRS-80 Color Computer remains our current microcosm. Examples of obscure programmers trying to match the destructive paranoia of corporate bigwigs are evident in a couple of schemes that ruined the disk drives of countless users. 

If a certain MS-DOS program from the mid-1980s, for instance, "ran into a 'snag' it assumed that it was a 'pirated' copy and immediately trashed several sectors on drive C (the hard drive), including directories and allocation bit maps," wrote user GREGL in a Delphi BBS system message in 1987. The message was part of a thread in a Color Computer forum discussing various protection schemes, with one CoCo title portrayed as particularly vicious.  

"Remember the game 'Mr. Dig?'" wrote user DONHUTCHISON. "If the game wasn't booted from drive zero, it would assume that the program had been pirated and would scramble the allocation table of whatever disk was in drive zero!  (It also wrote 'BUY YOUR OWN!!!' all over the directory!)" 

Another much-vilified technique, perhaps familiar to Commodore 64 users, physically abused the floppy disk and/or drive. 

"EasyScript had a copy-protection scheme that caused the drive head to bang against the 1541 drive’s housing," a former owner wrote in a current-day C64 CHAT FORUM. "The usual end result of this was to eventually misalign the drive head, rendering the drive useless." 

One of the CoCo's more odious protection schemes forced disk drives to operate at abnormally high speeds. Tandy initially selected a vendor making one of the lowest quality drives ever (sticking a premium $600 price tag on them anyhow), so a significant portion of owners found their equipment not up to the challenge. One of the more popular CoCo software companies, Tom Mix, got hundreds of complaints for using the drive abuse scheme on an unauthorized Popeye clone that refused to load properly. 

"Since there were a LOT of old grey Tandy drive cases out there that WERE limited to 30 ms, this was a serious problem," wrote Marty Goodman, one of the most knowledgeable and opinionated CoCo users ever, and probably the most frequent poster to the Delphi BBS. "I called the manufacturer about this after I and friends had cracked the scheme, and WARNED him about the problem, and urged him to change the code to a 30 ms step rate. This was, unfortunately, not done." 

The CoCo had a ROM-pack port which Tandy – and many other companies using them – figured would curb piracy. But CoCo users quickly figured out how to copy titles using a few lines of BASIC code (I considered it one of my great hacking achievements as a teen, only to be crushed when I found out many others were just as "ingenious"). But it wasn't just the computer manufacturers who were clueless, as politicians and legal officials issued a barrage of confusing, conflicting and often useless decrees on managing digital copyrights.

"In one case a while back, JS&A was (in my opinion RIGHTLY) enjoined from making what was, in effect, a dedicated device solely for pirating ATARI game cartridges," Goodman wrote. "BUT the REASONS the judge gave for the decision were incredibly stupid and actually DANGEROUS in the precedent they might set. The cretinous chimpanzee in his black robes alleged that ROM software should NOT enjoy the federal protection to right to back up because it was more durable than Mag Media software. ROM's ARE quite vulnerable to be zapped, and SHOULD be legal to back up all you want. Though in this case JS&A was rightly stopped from making a piracy machine, it was for the WRONG reasons."  

Incidentally, Goodman's "cretinous chimpanzees," one of his more famous phrases, will get a lot of space in the months ahead. 

Finally, users wanting to protect their work from illegal copying could buy well-intentioned programs containing their own loaded gun. 

One disk encryption program, for example, scrambled the contents using an algorithm based on a user password. The unscramble option reversed the formula regardless of the phrase entered. So an incorrect word or typo – not unheard of with the CoCo's chiclet keyboard bounce – resulted in the contents being scrambled into an unrecoverable mess. There was no "are you sure" prompt or undo option. 

Such oversights, which might have been corrected with a line or two of code, were hardly uncommon during the early days of programming. Next month will look at various programs wreaking vast amounts of havoc on users that could have been avoided with literally a few more minutes of effort.


 Apple 
Apple II Incider - Stargate

Happy February to everyone! January has come and gone with a whirlwind of activity. For me personally, I am a basketball official for youth, high school and adult leagues out here in California. The months of January/February are typically the busiest times of year for me as there are tons of games to work. Also, my regular job has been busy as our sales team tried to sell my company's services in a difficult economy and they require my services as a Sales Engineer to help out.  

Unless you live in a location with a large Chinese/Asian population, you may not know that the Chinese/Lunar New Year also came and went in the last couple of weeks.  Just as a new year is big for all American's, the Chinese/Lunar New Year festivities is a big tradition among Chinese and other Asians. It's a time to pay respects to your elders, look back at the year past and look forward to the incoming year (Year of the Ox). As a person of Chinese heritage that was born here in the United States, I don't always follow all the traditions, but I do acknowledge the significance of the festivities.  

But also, let's not forget the historic moment a few weeks ago when Barack Obama took office as the first African-American president. The inauguration of President Obama was so big that my company put off a talk with our founder and now Chief Technology Officer so all of the employees could watch.  

With all of my personal stuff out of the way, let's turn to our favorite topic of games! 

Stargate & DefenderContinuing on with my series on Atarisoft games for the Apple II, let's take a look at Stargate. As I also played Defender extensively on my Atari 5200, I'll include my thoughts on that game as well. As most people know, Stargate was a sequel to the arcade hit Defender by Williams Electronics. In all the years I spent playing video games at various arcades, I don't think I put more than a COUPLE OF DOLLARS (if even that much) into a Defender or Stargate machine.

The main drawback to the arcade originals were obviously the controls. The complex controls of Defender and Stargate proved to be a major deterrent to me enjoying Defender and Stargate in the arcades. Thus, that is why I suck with games which had simpler controls such as Galaga and Pac-Man, among many others.  

However, despite my lack of interest in playing Defender in the arcades, I asked my parents to purchase Defender for my Atari 5200. It didn't take me long for me to fall in love with the game. Using a regular joystick to fly your ship was a dream. Using the two fire buttons for your ship's weapons and the keypad for hyper space was a godsend.

The Atari 5200 translation of Defender was also very solid. The Defender arcade game had rather simple graphics but some great sound effects. The 5200 graphics were very close to the arcade original and the sound effects were quite spectacular. Despite playing many games on my 5200 over the years, Defender remains one of my favorites al
ong with Space Dungeon and Mario Brothers.

The Apple II version of Stargate was a bit of a curiosity. I discovered the game at my cousin's house and borrowed it to play for quite sometime. Like Defender for the Atari 5200, I never had an interest in playing Stargate in the arcades. Once again, when I played Stargate with more "regular" controls I had a great amount of fun.

Stargate's overall game play is similar to Defender but there are some differences:

- More Enemies
- Game play is harder than the original Defender
- Special Stages
- A stargate exists in the playing field which the player can use to fly to humanoid's in trouble.  
- If you fly through he stargate with 5 humanoids in tow, you are transported ahead several levels.
- Player had a cloaking shield to use.

It was difficult to compare the Apple II version of Stargate to the original as I hardly played the actual arcade. I found the Apple II version of the game quite playable, and I did fairly well in the game. Despite the weaknesses of the Apple II when it came to graphics, the action with multiple objects on the screen were decent.  The sound quality was pretty good and depicted most of the action you heard in the arcades (landers kidnapping humanoids, new enemies appearing, ship exploding).

All in all, while fans of the Defender and Stargate originals would probably want to stick with the original controls, I personally would have preferred some simpler controls.  This is reflected in how much I enjoyed the Atari and Apple versions of Defender and Stargate respectively.


 Kaboom! 
The Thrill Of Defeat: Zaxxon In 1K? Oh My!

People instinctively have an irrational optimism that's been the lifeblood of society ever since Eve thought she could get away with eating fruit. They think politicians they vote for will keep promises, they think their kids are virgins, they buy tickets to Chicago Cubs games. 

They kept food on the tables of lousy/unscrupulous programmers by buying programs for the 1K Sinclair ZX81 they thought would be entertaining. 

At least 90 percent of the tapes were utter crap, duplicates of ubiquitous simpletons like Mastermind and Horse Racing that could be typed in from magazines in minutes. People paid $5 to $20 for collections containing a half-dozen of those and – if they were like me – tossed them in a drawer after a single play and went looking for another collection that might deliver. 

Amazingly, once in a while customers got their money's worth. 

One kilobyte of memory, for those who missed last month's column about gaming on the world's cheapest computer, is roughly the number of keystrokes this column has required to this point. Take away the memory required for the screen display (one byte for each character) and programmers usually had a leisurely 400 to 800 bytes available. 

There were a few amazing achievements, including a 1K chess game I referred to last month as the greatest programming effort of all time (see screenshot, accidentally omitted from the previous column) [Editor's Note: I included the screen shot of 1K Chess along with its full re-printed review at the end of this article]. It can be played online at www.zx81stuff.org.uk/zx81/indexframes.html, which is also a source for hundreds of other games, including a few reviewed below.

Last month's column reviewed typical – mostly drab – programs users got stuck with. This month rewards those still here by looking mostly at 1K gems, appreciable both for their entertainment value and impressive use of limited memory, including homebrew efforts from recent years. There's also some must-tries just for the preposterousness of their claims, such as Zaxxon, Frogger and an RPG adventure. 

As always, grades are strictly relative within the genre, meaning even the best of these wouldn't fare well against titles for a ZX81 with a 16K memory expansion. For those not playable online at the site above, information about emulators and where to find program files is provided after the reviews.

1K Adventure1K Adventure (D-) Anyone with high hopes for an adventure game on a computer without enough memory for a typical Infocom room description might be dim enough to find some play value here. The player starts out with 500 strength (hit points) and each turn consists of simply hitting any key (you just know the people who loved this are the ones who called customer service looking for the key labeled "any"). The computer subtracts 10 hit points and randomly decides if the player has found more strength, treasure or a monster. The only strategy occurs if a monster is encountered, whereas the player can fight or bribe it. Fighting subtracts up to 75 strength, a bribe costs the same in treasure. If there aren't sufficient points for the chosen option, RIP. I could see a combat RPG with some amount of strategy squeezing into 1K (my thought is use the 8K of ROM data as a map), but this ain't it.

1K Breakout1K Breakout (B+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) The only 1K game other than David Hume's legendary 1K Chess to receive votes in a users' poll for the best ZX81 games of all time. It features a full-screen playfield and a twist on the normal rules by requiring players to hit the bricks ("£" characters) twice. They turn into dollar signs after the first hit (half the value, I guess) and disappear after the second, which causes any bricks remaining in that row to drop a level and fill the blank space. The game is pleasantly brisk, pauses briefly between misses and keeps score. The biggest negative is there's only one playfield to complete (you get nine balls for the task, but it takes a few tries to get that far). A lesser complaint is the paddle/ball angle physics aren't great – there's a large "center" area of the paddle where it's possible to keep hitting the ball straight up and down. Still, of the many 1K versions, nothing else is close. 

1K Tetris1K Tetris (B) Russel Marks' port of a (tired) classic finished 19th out of 61 entries in the 2002 MiniGame Compo. The blocks are made from inverse "L"s and are surprisingly effective visually. Key layout is logical and responsive, unlike most games that use Sinclair's illogical line of arrows on the 5-8 keys. A couple of contest judges knocked it for lacking scoring, but Marks partially addressed this by adding a tally of vanquished lines in 2004. Another unimpressed judge noted "there are 256-(byte) tetris clones for PC." Maybe, but this is a commendable effort nonetheless. 

BallmazeBallmaze (B) One of several quality modern-era 1K games by Fernando Miguel Barletta (others are reviewed below), this requires the player to use the (dreaded) cursor keys to navigate a ball through seven mazes of increasing complexity before a timer runs out. It's pure vanilla – the ball has no momentum, moving only when the player presses a key – but I have no idea how Barletta squeezed so much in. The mazes cover a large part of the screen and there are little touches, such as a gauge ticking off the time remaining, there seemingly shouldn't be room for. The timer also gets faster after each maze and the game repeats itself if all seven are completed. It placed 13th at the 2004 MiniGame Compo, getting mixed reviews from the judges ("very simple, no randomness, still makes some fun, but only for a few minutes," one wrote). It loses play value once all the mazes are completed, but the challenge is sufficient that it took me far more than a few minutes and the addiction factor was strong enough to keep me trying. 

Can of WormsCan Of Worms (C-) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) For those of you who (cough) missed last month's abundance of crummy game collections, this offers the experience in a concept that will either make you laugh enough to somewhat justify the cost or disgust you to the point of throwing the computer out with the Ouija board as a symbol of evil.  

ChallengeChallenge (B+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) A surprisingly good five-program collection, in no small part because it's one of the few using machine language to keep things fast (sometime too fast). Brand's Hatch is a race around the track game that's a whale of a short-term challenge thanks to its control scheme and fast gameplay. Road Road is a similar but more complex concept, requiring one or two players to steer through an overhead map of London to a finish line nine times. Meteor Strike is a reversal of the common "bomber" concept, as the player must rotate a map of the world so continents aren't hit by meteors that take out everything in their path from the top to the bottom of the map. Juggler requires moving back and forth to keep four balls aloft, sort of like keeping four balls alive in breakout if they were falling straight up and down. All four have logical controls, most of which are helpfully listed on the screen, and some offer options such as speed adjustments. The only clunker in the collection is Cartoon Man, a mere programming exercise where an animated man moves left or right at one of four speeds as the appropriate keys are pressed. The one other negative is it's impossible to tell which way the cars are facing in the racing games, which makes their left/right steering controls more of a frustration than a challenge for a while. 

Juggle81Juggle81 (B-) Wow, a Game And Watch emulator, complete with sound on a soundless computer, that's mostly spot-on. Pity the game really isn't that engaging. The player controls the arms of a juggler with the left and right keys, putting the arms in one of three positions to juggle three balls traveling overhead at different speeds. Basically, it's a simple combination of Kaboom and Breakout concepts. The game gets faster after every 20 catches, but it's still way too easy to figure out the movement of the balls and keep them in play for a long time. Also, the display is highly glitchy, something akin to the flickering in a lot of Atari 2600 games. In it's favor, it's one of a minuscule number of games with sound, playing beeps through a hardware add-on sold back then. 

LazyfrogLazyfrog (B-) This tiny Frogger knockoff is another game by Marks, intended for but not entered into the MiniGame Compo (he doesn't exactly talk it up, calling it "a fairly lazy port"). Marks says the game is probably too easy, but I found it challenging and it's arguably better than a few of the exceeding lame 16K commercial versions for the ZX81. The player guides frogs across four crowded lanes of traffic and four rows of logs to reach four "home" spots. If all are filled the next wave continues at a slightly higher speed. It keeps score and the player gets three frogs. Missing are time limits, lady frogs, diving turtles and other "extras." 

Rally 1KRally 1K (B-) A one-trick pony you'll tire of after mastering this car racing game, but an undeniably impressive bit of programming by Fernando M. Barletta for one of the MiniGame Compos. The player drives a car around a scrolling race track from an overhead perspective, trying to complete a lap in the least amount of time (20 seconds is the suggested time to beat). It will take you longer – much longer – to complete it the first time because of the control scheme and quirky block-graphic thing at the center of the screen that is your car. That's not to say the graphics are bad, since they're actually remarkable given the ZX81's 64X48 graphics resolution, but it takes a while to figure out which of eight directions your car is facing. Since the controls are forward, reverse and turn right or left, that's pretty important. One really nice touch is the opening title screen, which scrolls the track around in various directions. It didn't score all that high in the competition ("doesn't feel like racing, more like coaxing a LOGO turtle around a course," one judge wrote), but it's worth a boot and maybe a half-hour of your time. 

ZXActionZXAction (C+) Zaxxon in 1K? Not really, but this is another MiniGame entry by Barletta claiming be a simplified version of the 3D scrolling arcade space shooter. Graphically it's impressive within the Sinclair's limits as the jagged space fort scrolls by endlessly at a good pace. There's a demo mode and final score display. Gameplay is (obviously) more limited than the arcade since the player's ship only moves left and right, all of the targets are merely deadly obstacles to be avoided or shot (no missile launches, fuel tank refills, etc.), and the game ends after a single collision. Games can last a while anyhow since the difficulty level is too easy and doesn't increase. The MiniGame judges liked this more than I did, ranking it ninth out of 17 1K entries, four spots higher than Ballmaze, which I consider superior. Worth playing once to appreciate the visuals, but that's all.

1K Chess1K Chess (A) [This is a reprinting from January's issue (RTM 56)] Horne's effort is considered legendary and ranks as the second-best title in an all-time ZX81 users' poll, so how can this grade be ay lower despite some significant shortcomings? The computer AI is beginner-level competent, with a magazine comparison of ZX81 chess games rating it five out of 10 (the best earned a nine, but all would get their chips kicked by nearly any program on another computer). The pieces on Horne's tiny board are represented by letters rather than graphics ("P" for pawn, "Q" for queen, etc.), but Sinclair's in-house chess game does the same and requires 16K (it got a six for playing ability). The lettering is not too hard to get used to and the game can always be played out on a real board. The computer checks to make sure the player (who is always black) makes legal moves and puts on an entertaining display as the moves it is considering with flashing letters. The limited AI is somewhat redeemed by moves that are fairly quick (advanced programs of the era can take 10 hours or more per move). The biggest drawback is the program doesn't recognize castling or capturing en passant, but the grade here doesn't suffer given the impossibility of including them given the memory limits (a version for the unexpanded 2K Timex/Sinclair 1000 includes these moves). The only nick is for the number-letter notation for entering moves (7E5E as an opening pawn move, for instance) instead of the conventional letter-number approach, which resulted in some early frustration and seems correctable without using additional memory.

There's plenty of free ZX81 emulators for nearly any computer, thanks to the low system requirements. A good one for Windows users is EightyOne (at www.chuntey.com), while on my Mac I use ZXSP (http://k1.dyndns.org/Develop/projects/zxsp-osx/distributions/). Both emulate multiple Sinclair and related machines, including the ZX80, Spectrum and Jupiter Ace. Program files are equally easy to find and they're so small it makes sense to simply grab various ZIP files with hundreds of titles each (www.zx81.nl and www.imarshall.karoo.net/zx81/zx81pfiles.htm are two such resources). 

Next month we'll really stretch the memory boundaries, relatively speaking, with a look at games for the ZX81's U.S. near-clone, the 2K Timex Sinclair 1000.



 Pac-Man on PC 
Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware

Undoubtedly, the Classic-era game system with the widest retro appeal is the Atari 2600. It has been emulated on virtually every modern console. The Atari Anthology (2004) is the second such collection of Atari 2600 games for the PlayStation 2; it was preceded by the Activision Anthology (2002) - and the subject of a future review.

The Atari Anthology, published by Atari Interactive, is substantially the same as the PC collection Atari: the 80 Classic Games (2003); that collection was reviewed in a previous issue of RTM. This collection includes 85 games altogether; 18 Atari arcade games and 67 Atari 2600 games. Many of the arcade games were also previously included in the Atari Anniversary Edition Redux (2001) collection for the original PlayStation.


Game Selection

The arcade games in the Anthology include everything that was ported to the 2600 (e.g. Centipede, Asteroids, Crystal Castles, Warlords) as well as some vector games that were not (e.g. Black Widow, Major Havoc, and Space Duel). Presumably for historic reasons, the original Pong is also included.

The range of Atari 2600 games is quite comprehensive! It includes roughly three-quarters of the original Atari-made games that did not use licensed content. Titles included range from some of very early releases including Star Ship and Outlaw, through games released towards the end of the system's life span such as Quadrun, Radar Lock, and Off the Wall.
The collection even includes a few games that saw only very limited commercial release such as Swordquest Waterworld and Video Cube. Speaking as a Canadian collector, the Sears exclusive titles (e.g. Submarine Commander, Steeplechase, Stellar Trek) are especially interesting as they were never officially sold here in Canada.

Some of the game choices are a bit odd (e.g. Flag Capture, Slot Machine, Math Gran Prix, Video Chess, and Fun with Numbers); I cannot image that these titles hold much nostalgia value. There is also some redundancy with different versions or editions of games. For example the collection includes three different baseball games: Home Run (1978), Realsports Baseball (1982), and Super Baseball (1988). It almost seems like the producers were trying to pad-out the size of the collection.


Bonus Content

The extras and bonus content are also very comprehensive. For the 2600 games, there are full-colour scans of all of the original game manuals, as a well as a system manual. Some of the scans are a bit too small to read on the TV screen and a few things are outright missing (e.g. two of the three Swordquest comic books).

For the arcade games, there are scans of the original sales flyers created to promote the game to arcade operators. There are also some miscellaneous scans of various Atari promotional items and video clips of an interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell (this content is recycled from the Atari Anniversary Edition Redux).

Unfortunately, there is no general section on the history of Atari, or any information about the rarity or significance of some of these games.


General Comments

As is the case with just about every retro game compilation I have reviewed, some games adapt to the PlayStation 2 controllers better than others. Most of the games were designed for a single joystick, so they have made the transition easily. While originally designed for a trackball, Centipede and Millipede are playable with a joystick, and Asteroids is actually easier than with the original arcade controls.

In contrast, games that used a spinner or paddle controls, such as Super Breakout and, especially, Tempest are difficult to almost unplayable. Star Raiders, which required a separate keypad, is also nearly unplayable (there are enough buttons on the controller, but they are oddly mapped).

On the main interface screen, the games are grouped into various categories (e.g. Mind Games, Sports Games, Arcade Originals) and clicking on the game launches that title. Various options, such as difficulty level, can be set before the game is started. The arcade games provide the option of having the original screen border; with this option enabled, I find that the screen size is just too small to comfortably see.

Next month, we will review yet another collection of classic games for the PlayStation 2. Feedback on this column is always welcome; please send any comments and/or questions to jhd@interbaun.com.



 Jackhammer Man 
Videological Dig

As mentioned in the "Attract Mode" section, I am planing on adding some extra interesting tidbits to the magazine that are not necessarily original articles, but rather fun bits dug up from the past. The first of these "extras" is called the "Videological Dig", which is a play on the term Archaeological Dig. This is the section where past video game news bytes, sound bytes, TV spots etc. will be posted so people can experience classic gaming before it became classic. I always get a blast digging through old newspapers, magazines, etc. and reading about old info as it was occurring, so I hope others enjoy this new addition as much as I enjoy finding these old articles.

For some strange reason I am in a Sonic the Hedgehog type of mood right now (maybe it's all the blue used in this new design), so I looked around for some articles that mentioned the coming of Sonic on the Genesis and found a nice article from the June 8, 1991 issue of the Toronto Star covering the CES show in Chicago. It might not cover Sonic that much, but it was a very neat piece that I thought was worthy of sharing. It's written by William Burrill and appears on page J4 of the newspaper. Not only is there some neat hype about the Super Nintendo here, but see if you can spot any pre-release names of games mentioned in the article.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Nintendo jumps into battle of the high-resolution players But colorful 16-bit system won't be released here until '92

By William Burrill, TORONTO STAR

CHICAGO - It's a bitter war.

Sixteen bits, to be precise.

At this week's Summer Consumer Electronics Show here, Nintendo finally released it's long-awaited 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States. The Super NES is almost identical to the 16-bit Super Famicom, released in Japan nine months ago. But crafty Nintendo has altered the guts just enough so the U.S. Super NES won't play Japanese Super Famicom games.

As predicted in this column earlier, the Super NES will not play the 8-bit games for the 65 million exiting NES systems. And, as I reported in The Star earlier this week, the Super NES will not be released in Canada until some undetermined date in 1992. The Super NES is twice as powerful as the old 8-bit NES system. It features sharper graphics, a multiple background scrolling rate that creates a 3-D effect, faster game play and much greater color capacity. It's a very nifty little piece of hardware. But, of course, the Super NES is not the first 16-bit game system on the
market. Both the Sega Genesis and NEC's TurboGrafx-16 have been around since 1989.

So which 16-bit has the most bite? That was the question an army of public relations and marketing people sunk their teeth into at this convention that attracts electronic gamers from all over the world.

Nintendo came out swinging, telling buyers here in Chicago that the Super NES is far superior to its two 16-bit rivals. "Almost every capability of the Super NES is almost twice that of the other systems," Nintendo's Tim Dale told me as Super Mario bopped around in the 16-bit Super Marioland. "The most color capacity for the competitors is 516 colors, while we have over 32,000 colors."

Nintendo even took out trade ads saying that, until the release of the Super NES, "many of the currently available 16-bit games are really just warmed over 8-bit versions!" Nintendo says the new Super NES games, including Super Marioland, Castlevania IV, The Legend of Zelda III, Sim City, Super Play Action Football, Pilotwings and F-Zero, are the first games specifically designed to fully utilize a 16-bit system. But Sega counter-attacked, claiming they are the real leaders in the 16-bit market, with more than 100 games already available, compared to about a dozen
for the Super NES.

Nintendo has sold 80 per cent of the game systems now in North America, compared to 10 per cent for Sega and 5 per cent for TurboGrafx-16. But Sega has sold the most 16-bit systems. "If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Nintendo is paying Sega the biggest compliment of all," said Sega's Mark Smotroff. And Nintendo may have waited too long to pay that compliment, Sega's Bob Botch figures. "We're glad they waited," he said in an interview. "It takes programmers at least a year or so to know what a new piece of hardware really can or can't do. We're obviously over that curve now with the Genesis, and they're just starting. So we'll have a software edge on them for some time."

In the Sega arcade area, one screen shows Sega's new Mario-rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, looking sharp and crisp beside a screen showing a suspiciously washed-out Super NES version of Super Marioland. "They have the resolution turned way down on Mario," grumbled one Nintendo
representative. But Sega counters that Nintendo's claim of 32,000 colors to Sega's 516 is a shade misleading. "You can only see so many colors on a TV screen," Botch said. "And I think the Genesis has already pushed that limit pretty far."

Boom! Sega lets go another salvo, lowering the Genesis price to $149.95 (U.S.), compared to $199 for the Super NES.

Bang! Nintendo makes a surprise announcement that it and Phillips Electronics have agreed to produce CD-ROM games for a CD player that will plug into the Super NES. (Nintendo also has another CD game deal with Sony Corp.)

Biff! Sega announces its own CD unit to plug into the Genesis, available here early next year.

One company that already has a 16-bit system and a CD player attachment on the market is NEC Inc., with its TurboGrafx-16 system. But can NEC keep up, now that Nintendo has entered the fray, predicting to sell 2 million Super NES units this year? Based on 1991 projections, Sega says the 1991 16- bit market share will work out to: Sega (60 per cent), Nintendo (28 per cent), NEC TurboGrafx-16 (12 per cent).

Boffo! NEC delivers a flurry to the solar plexus by chopping its 16-bit unit price to $99 (U.S.), thus dropping itself out of the price war between Sega and Super NES and setting itself up as a direct competitor to the old 8-bit NES.

Nintendo has a great new product. It'll be in stores in September across the border. But not in Canada. "We feel Canadians haven't fully explored all the 8-bit games yet," said Peter MacDougall, vice-president of Nintendo Canada.

Sega watches this move with glee: "We have no idea what the logic of that move is," Botch said. "Traditionally, when Sega ships something to the U.S., we very quickly ship it to Canada because things go back and forth across the border." But MacDougall doesn't see much risk of losing business to those who shuffle off to Buffalo for the Super NES. He's sure we'll go looking for it, but doubts we'll find many due to high demand and low availability.

Anyway, if all this talk of corporate sumo wrestling is rotting your brain, you get some idea how it feels to spend time as a correspondent on the front lines of an international video game marketing war.

Gawd! No wonder they call Chicago the Windy City.

The important thing to remember is the games are the key. If these guys try to undercut each other and the quality of the games falls
off because of the price war, we all lose. (Remember Atari, Coleco and Intellivision, way back in the early '80s?) But if they try to outduel each other with better games, we're into a pleasant dilemma of not knowing which way to turn.


Game Over

After completing this issue I realized I did not introduce myself properly in the introduction. For those of you out there that don't know me, my name is Bryan Roppolo and I've been collecting classic video games for over 11 years (time really flies when you are having fun). Through the years I have started up various websites for the TI-99/4A, which was my first system that I got on Christmas 1983 when the stores were practically giving them away (I still have a picture from that Christmas with the boxed TI under the tree).

Collecting for the TI-99/4A has probably provided me with the most fun of my life, from tracking down former programmers on the Internet, to building my own websites, to helping books publish information on the TI. Without the 99/4A, I don't know what I would be doing now and for the most part do not want to know since I'm sure it has kept me out of trouble through the years!

My main objectives in becoming editor of Retrogaming Times Monthly is to help give back even more to the community that I have been apart of for over a decade, and also to become even more involved with the hobby that has shaped the person that I am today. It should prove to be a fun and exciting journey to not only help continue RTM as a publication, but making it better and hopefully more well known to people outside of the classic gaming groups. I thank both the staff and the readers of RTM for giving me this opportunity, since without either there would be no RTM to edit.

- Bryan Roppolo, Retrogaming Times Monthly Editor

Copyright © 2009 Alan Hewston & Bryan Roppolo. All related copyrights and trademarks are acknowledged.