|Issue #58 - March 2009|
|COVERING 3 DECADES OF GAMING|
Press Fire To Begin by Bryan Roppolo
As I am sure all of you have now noticed, Retrogaming Times Monthly has a
new home at its own domain. I felt that after serving the classic
gaming community for 12 years that the free on-line magazine deserved
its own place on the web, and here it is! Hope you all like the look
and feel to the new site. Over time I will be transferring all the old
RTM and original Retrogaming
Times issues here, making everything contained in
location. Also, an index of EVERY article ever written will be
available in the Article Index portion of the site to make it easier to
find the reviews, stories, etc. that you are looking for. This is all
going to take some time to finally finish, but I hope to have
everything done sometime before the end of the summer. I'll be keeping
everyone posted on the status of this project through the course of
Another difference you might have noticed is the name change of this
introduction column from "Attract Mode" to "Press Fire To Begin". After
publishing the last issue I thought I remembered some talk about
different editors of this magazine creating their own unique name for
this column. Sure enough I went back through the years and found that
Adam King used "Press Fire To Start" and Scott Jacobi came up with
"Attract Mode". Now before you guys get on me for choosing something so
similar to Adam King's title, there actually is logic to my madness!
first thought that came to mind when I was contemplating a new name was
"Press Fire To Begin", which is the phrase spoken by the speech
synthesizer in Parsec, a
popular game for the TI-99/4A (which as you might or might not
know is my favorite system and the reason I got into classic gaming in
the first place). I actually had forgotten that Adam King used such a
close title for his column, until I went back to see what the other
editors had chosen. I know many of you out there probably are acting
like the Queen of Hearts from Alice
In Wonderland and saying "Off with his head," but if you are a
TI enthusiast you know how well known the phrase "Press Fire To Begin"
is, so I just had to use it. Oh yeah, in addition I drew up a nice
pixelated TI joystick to go with the column which I thought was very
fitting and might help people piece together the origin of the column
name. I also plan on "retiring" Scott Jacobi's Atari 2600 joystick
image along with his column title, however, Scott is free to reuse his
graphic and title if he ever becomes the editor again in the future. I
thought this would be a neat thing to do, allowing each editor to leave
their mark on the magazine.
I want to leave off this edition of "Press Fire To Begin" by saying
after reading the articles for this issue, I am
very pleased with what I have read. They are very well written and
prove to be quite entertaining. The only issue I have seen so far is
that some people on various message boards feel this on-line magazine
sometimes bashes certain classic systems. It has to be kept in mind
article written is the view of the author and not the view of the
magazine as a whole. If you feel that a certain system's weaknesses are
only being talked about in this magazine, then hopefully you can submit
an article yourself that shows the systems strengths. In the past I
have gotten involved with the "my system is better" argument, but have
found out that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I would
love nothing more than to have people submit articles for their
favorite system showing all that it could do, since I know each
computer/console could do something that another one could not. I just
wanted to make
mention of this to let readers know they are free to help prop up their
system here anytime, as myself and others would love the opposing
viewpoints since it makes good reading!
For this grand relaunching of Retrogaming Times Monthly I wanted to step away from my usual NES'cade column and share my thoughts on something I've been noticing recently. A popular subject I've seen in many places is how the current economic downturn is influencing the prices and values of video games. Now for new stuff the answer is not much at all. Granted, throughout the holiday season there were some great deals to be had with more and more retailers pushing value priced games as weekly specials. However, that's modern gaming, what about retrogaming? While some have said they've seen big deals pop up on Craigslist and eBay, I honestly don't see very much difference in the median price of select games that hold value. That means the Chrono Trigger's, EarthBound's, rare late NES releases, hard to find VCS cartridges - all seem to really be sitting firm with the over all trend for their platform and era of collector. Yet the place I've seen a phenomenal change is in arcade cabinets.
Falling Arcade Prices by David Lundin, Jr
Computer Idiocy Part 3: Simply Destructive by Mark Sabbatini
You finally type the last paragraph of
a term paper that's kept you up most of the night, save it and stagger
to bed for a couple hours' sleep. The next morning when you try to
print it out...nothing. The file contains nothing except a blank
(Company's response: Hey, there's
(sometimes) a message telling you the file was partially saved, since
the program only saves whatever text is after the cursor position.
That's not a bug, it's a feature.)
As this column continues looking at
lesser known moments of colossal retrocomputing idiocy, surely this is
an abnormal example? OK, cue time warp and try again.
You finally type the last
paragraph...and accidentally hit the ENTER key without typing in a
filename at the "save" prompt. Maybe it's fatigue or just the
computer's infamous keybounce doing double duty after you ENTERed the
save command in the first place. In any event, the computer crashes and
the only fix is turning the power off, losing your work.
(Company's response: Why would
somebody press ENTER without entering a filename when prompted to do
so? It's your fault, stupid.)
OK, third time has to be the charm.
This time we'll assume the file actually got saved.
You try printing, but – yikes –
there's a power failure. It only lasts a few minutes, so no problem.
Except when you try to reload the file you discover the disk has been
destroyed by the program.
(Company's response...actually, maybe
now you understand why so many eventually decided to trap customers in
automated phone hell.)
Each of these are real and fatal flaws
in early home computer programs easily fixable with literally a line or
two of code. They're hardly the worst examples or most crass responses,
just what I came up with off the top of my head.
Asking "what were they thinking" just
invites more agony for those victimized. A magazine review of Cosmic
Paint for Radio Shack's TRS-80 Color Computer, for instance, criticized
a lack of error trapping, but author John Hattan wrote a rebuttal
arguing crashes are a good thing.
"I find it much more convenient for a
program to abort with an error message than for it to return to editing
without an indication you made a mistake," he wrote. Incorporating ON
ERROR statements are "often a simple way to dodge hardware errors by
having the program ignore them...some apparent fundamental problems can
allow for more user convenience than the first glance shows."
The first example at the beginning of
this column was perhaps the most maddening "feature" of VIP Writer, a
CoCo word processor I used throughout high school and college. It saved
files only from the current cursor position to the end of the text,
which seems like something most users would rarely want – and I can't
imagine the conversation that resulted in it being the default option.
I tend to save every few minutes, so I was constantly scrolling to the
top of a document and back to wherever I was at, a maddeningly
time-consuming process. But I had a few brain lapses, especially early
on, where I wiped everything out by saving while at the end of the
file. The program flashes a "file partially saved" message in the upper
left corner, but it disappears as soon as you hit a key and in most
cases I had already resumed writing.
Complaints from reviewers and others
fell on deaf ears, as updated versions of the product never altered the
The second above example belongs to
TextPro, a word processor whose long existence I never understood.
Above all else, it was a line-oriented program. For those not familiar
with this particular form of writing hell, it's something novice BASIC
programmers wrote in the early days of personal computers that offered
barely more usefulness than a typewriter. You type in a line or
sentence at a time and press ENTER. Each line is assigned a number. If
you want to edit anything, you have to go to a special mode where you
provide the line number and retype the text. Inserting, deleting and
moving text is pure hell, if it can be done at all. This is just the
beginning of the misery, but for the sake of space I'll simply
reiterate the commercial value of such programs was low or nonexistent.
But TextPro lasted for years despite a premium price tag matching
full-featured word processors. One reason was it offered a printer
buffer so you could keep writing, but it suffered from a terrible,
terrible bug. If anything interrupted the printing process, the file
was destroyed because how the buffer was programmed.
The third example and variations of it
afflicted many programs. Saving without filenames, printing without a
printer attached, mistyping the name of a file to be loaded from disk
or cassette, and other such mishaps all could have been easily
A MacPaint clone called CoCo Max
allowed files to be saved with names like "1:JUNK," which made them
impossible to delete with the CoCo's disk operating system. Despite
attention being called to it, the flaw remained when the company
released an enhanced second version of the program a year later.
The tactic of blaming users or denying
a problem existed might have been maddening for customers, but made for
amusing reading in the letters section of various magazines. I learned
more about which companies were worth dealing with there than I ever
did from ads or even product reviews. Next month I'll start looking at
some of my favorite rebuttals, along with perhaps some amateur
psychology of what motivated such responses then and now.
Apple II Incider - Wheel Of Fortune by Donald Lee
|Ever since I was a
kid I've been a fan of television game shows. With classics such as
Match Game, Family Feud, and Card Sharks (among many others), I spent a
great amount of time watching television as a young kid and teenager.
When game shows started to disappear in the mid 1990's, I was one of
the most disappointed.
Fortunately, while game shows aren't on TV in the mornings like they used to be, there still are mainstays such as The Price is Right. Network TV brought us Who Wants To Be a Millionaire among other prime tv game shows. Even today's "reality shows" such as Survivor could be considered as a extension of the classic game shows from yesterday.
But one of my early favorites and one that still remains on prime time TV is Wheel of Fortune. Watching the show from the early 80's until today, I've seen the show go through multiple incarnations. I remember the early days of contestants winning money in a round of Wheel of Fortune and then immediately spending them on various prizes. These days, the cash is awarded directly to the contestant. One thing that hasn't changed much is the presence of Pat Sajak and Vanessa White. They've gotten older, but still remain entertaining on the show.
As a kid, I had a lot of fun playing along trying to solve the various puzzles on Wheel of Fortune. However, at the height of the game show's popularity, a company called Sharedata started releasing home versions of various TV programs. Among them was a version of Wheel of Fortune for the Apple II (I will take a look at the other games in the months ahead).
I immediately picked up a copy and dove right in. The simplicity of the Wheel of Fortune game show meant translating the game to home computers was relatively straightforward. The game screen was divided into three parts. The top part of the screen had the puzzle that players were trying to solve. The bottom left of the screen was a facsimile of the wheel that players spun. Finally, on the bottom right hand side of the screen was where the player interacted with the game and his/her information was shown. All input has to be done through the keyboard.
The game is divided into three rounds and a bonus round (if a human player wins). It can accommodate up to three human players at a time, but if you have less than three the computer will fill in. Due to the fact that each player takes their turn one at a time, Wheel of Fortune is a perfect party game for multiple players.
The designers of the game kept the graphics simple but colorful. In fact, Wheel of Fortune used 128K of RAM and the Apple II's double high resolution graphics mode, which meant the older Apple II machines could not play the game. The sound for the game is sparse but used when needed. I'm not sure how many different puzzles were on the game disk, but in the time I played back in the 1980's, I didn't recall too many repeats.
All in all, Wheel of Fortune is a good effort and worth playing. While I've enjoyed watching game shows over the years, I've never had an inkling to try out to be on a game show. However, Sharedata's Wheel of Fortune game is a good substitute that I can enjoy in the comfort of my own home!
The Thrill Of Defeat: Games For The 2K Timex Sinclair 1000 by Mark Sabbatini
"This type of product can
have the same impact as the car did 100 years ago."
Seemingly big words for a
toy computer with 2K of memory, but that 1982 boast by a Timex
executive is perhaps accurate since automobiles in 1882 were clumsy and
unreliable experiments such as the Hippomobile. It would be another six
years before Karl Benz began selling the first modern automobile.
Forward a century from that and the computer was indeed credited with
vast accomplishments such as triggering an unprecedented stock market
crash and the first mass-scale digital virus.
The Timex Sinclair 1000
could do nothing of the sort, nor was it much good for word processing
or playing games nearly as entertaining as 1982 hits like Pitfall and
Choplifter. But even an unexpanded 2K machine could surpass the likes
of that year's biggest bomb (ET for the Atari 2600) despite an absence
of color, sound, speed, useable keyboard and graphics beyond 64X48
Skimpy as 2,048 bytes of
RAM sounds (1/1,000,000 of today's low-end configurations), it probably
seemed vast to programmers accustomed to cramming code into the 1K
memory of the TS1000's identical British twin, the Sinclair ZX81. After
two months of reviewing games for that machine in this column about
gaming on the world's most pathetic and/or obscure computers, we take a
(cough) huge leap forward and examine how programmers took advantage of
all that memory Timex provided to U.S. customers.
The TS1000, introduced a
year after the ZX81's 1981 debut, was the first complete and assembled
computer to sell for less than $100 ($99.95). It shared the ZX81's
minuscule membrane keyboard with 40 keys and incredibly slow cassette
storage format that was notoriously unreliable. Minor visual changes
were made for the TS1000 such as changing the "rubout" key to "delete"
and, as noted in the January 1983 issue of Byte, "the humor was
carefully excised from the American manuals."
Part of the RAM was snagged
by the display, which had no dedicated memory of its own, so
programmers generally had 1,200-1,500 bytes to work with depending on
how much of the screen was used. While a big step up from the 400-700
bytes a ZX81 programmer might have, it fell far short of the 3,583
bytes of Commodore's VIC-20, the TS1000's closest competitor (at three
times the price).
A $50 RAM pack expanded
memory to its claimed maximum of 16K, but 64K RAM packs were available
from third-party manufacturers. Customers could also eventually beef up
their $100 computers (a price that dropped to $49, then $29, then
whatever stores could get as the price wars hit during the next year or
two) with full-size keyboards, disk drives, modems, printers and
various gizmos to do things like control home appliances. Programmers
also figured out ways to overcome some of the TS1000's limits,
introducing high-resolution (256X192) graphics and sound playable
through an external speaker.
But the 2K games featured
only the basics, with letters and punctuation often playing the role of
"graphics," and the action crammed in a corner of the screen to save
memory. Most commercial software consisted of multi-title game packs,
although a few "premium" efforts were released singly or as a double
set. A partial list of known titles is reviewed below with the
remainder, minus most of the above preamble, hopefully squeezing into a
reasonable amount of space next month.
Reviews, as always, are
grade by how fun the games are strictly within their category, since
most 16K TS1000 titles far outclass those listed below. Many are
playable in a Web browser using the online emulator at www.zx81stuff.org.uk/zx81/indexframes.html.
Otherwise, numerous free emulators and software collections are easily
located with Google.
|2K Games Pack (D-) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) Reading the cassette cover would be enough to prevent me from buying this International Publishing six-pack, as the instructions for the first two games indicate they are completely random. The first has the player and computer drawing cards alternately in an effort to get the closest to 31 without going over. The second has the player and computer rolling dice ten times, with the highest total winning. I'm sorry, but that would be lame in a 1K collection, or half-K for that matter. The randomness continues with Snail Race (even money bets on four snails moving one-at-a-time at random) and fails to do so with Advice, which is supposed to print out nonsense sayings from a short list of phrases but crashes instead. There's the ubiquitous sketch pad with nothing of distinction. The only thing worth any time is Reverse, which generates 10 random digits the player must then put in numerical order by reversing their order two at a time.|
Family Pak (D-) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) No games, but at least as
amusing than the IP package above, if only to see Timex trying to work
things like spreadsheet and database functions into 2K. Memoboard
allows text entry on a virtual bulletin board, but is severely
penalized here for crashing if the <SPACE> key is pressed (users
are supposed to navigate with the cursor keys instead). Checkbook
balancer does a simple calculation of your bank statement and
outstanding transactions. Recipe recorder is similar to Memoboard, with
the ability to save the screen display. Money manager is a one-screen
household budget program that looks like a spreadsheet, but using it is
all but impossible since there's no instructions. Homework Helper is
supposed to calculate equations and formulas but, again, without
instructions it's hard figure out how it works.
Cage (B) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) Wow. This unique paddle game is
easily one of the best 2K offerings out there and certainly worthy of
being sold on its own instead of as part of a collection – except for a
few niggling details. The player has four-direction control of a paddle
that is used to capture one of the eight "eggs" bouncing rapidly around
the screen. They're brought back to a small cage at the bottom of the
screen, where the player presses a key to hatch them. At that point a
bat that has been flying back and forth across the top of the screen
starts attacking relentlessly to free the hatchling and the player must
try to keep it out of the cage by deflecting it breakout-style, with
each hit earning points. It's hard, but eventually the bird will give
up and return to the top of the screen. At that point the player can
try to capture another egg, taking care not to release any already in
the cage when he enters and leaves it. Eventually more bats will attack
and the points for keeping hatchlings captive increases. It's easy to
learn and has potential to be a long-range challenge. So what are the
problems? First, collision detection is spotty – anything other than a
direct hit on the bat with the middle of the paddle is dicey, so it can
feel like it's managing to free birds unfairly. Second, the
instructions say the game ends "when the bats stay at the top of the
screen and won't attack after you've hatched a new egg in the cage."
Huh? What the heck determines that? It says you can try to free a
captive bird and recapture it in an effort to keep the game going, but
it all seems very arbitrary. Third, it uses the cursed 5-8 row of keys
for movement, which are too closely spaced for accuracy and never
manage to be intuitive no matter how much you try. And that leads to
the real killer – and they're lucky the grade isn't lower because of it
: the zero key is used to reset the game. The instructions warn you not
to accidentally press it since it's so close to the directional keys,
especially since the membrane keyboard makes it impossible to tell
where your fingers are without looking at them. But instead of
acknowledging the risk, why didn't they change it to one of about, oh,
30 better keys? I'd have bought this and been mostly happy with it as a
youth, but I also suspect I'd have plenty of occasions where I'd want
to throw the computer across the room for screw ups that weren't my
Game Bag III (C+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) This five-game package from
Timex is better than most multipacks, even if they're basically
dressed-up 1K BASIC retreads with the advantage of some machine
language for playable speeds. The increased memory also allows more
elaborate graphics on a larger portion of the screen, if large clumps
of letters and symbols count as such. Blitz, for instance, is just a
fancier-looking and slightly trickier version of the ubiquitous
"bomber" game where an aircraft has to destroy the obstacles it keeps
passing over using bombs before the plane descends too low and collides
with something. It's well done and claims to have 255 speeds, although
the usable variety is considerably less. Rat's Nest is a Tron
lightcycle knockoff, again claiming 250 speeds and again many are
unplayably fast. The computer AI is mediocre and the 5-8 keyboard
controls absolutely suck. Snake seems like a decent Kaboom
variation, with custom playfield setups, but the controls are difficult
to figure out and they don't always seem to work. Sketch Pad is an
improved version of 1K doodlers many packages include, with the ability
to draw on the entire screen without crashing and save pictures on
cassette. The problem is text entry is highly erratic – pressing the
<SPACE> key (that's right, "key," since Sinclair decided a
full-size spacebar was too extravagant) crashes the program. Users are
expected to enter a special editing mode to insert spaces, which are
also one of the very few graphics-like characters allowed (get used to
drawing pictures with lots of numbers and letters, in other words).
Cross The Road is a decent mutation of the highway portion of Frogger,
with the player crossing from right to left while trying to avoid the
large cars speeding by.
|TS Destroyer/Space Raid (B+) (BROWSER PLAYABLE) This was one of the more prominent 2K packages and got generally positive reviews from magazines, including one hyperbolic article claiming it featured action and graphics "matched by only a few of the best 16K games." Not really, but it'll pass the time while saving for that 16K RAM pack. The horizontal-scrolling shooting TS Destroyer is the better of the two, with the player controlling the vertical movements of a ship in the middle of the screen that must avoid oncoming asteroids while destroying aliens rising to the top of the screen along the left edge. If an alien reaches the top it turns into a guided missile that will quickly destroy the player unless shot first (luring it into an asteroid also works). Making matters more complex is an enemy ship at the right edge of the screen that tracks the player's movements (at a somewhat slower speed) and fires shots whenever they are aligned. The game ends If 10 aliens reach the top, all your ships are destroyed, or you destroy a predetermined number of aliens. One nice thing is the instructions include modifications for those variables, along with the ability to print a final score if you have 16K (the instructions aren't in the online browser, unfortunately). Another nice touch is a simplistic two-line left-to-right scrolling "landscape" at the bottom of the screen that gives the game more ambiance. Space Raid is a simplistic relative of the last stage of Phoenix, with the player at the bottom of the screen trying to shoot through two rotating shields protecting a spaceship at the top with an alien inside. Enemy fire comes from a laser at the ship's bottom that tracks the player similarly to TS Destroyer. The game ends when the player's five bases are destroyed or after the alien is hit, which greatly diminishes the play value. Helping extend the longevity of each game is selectable speed levels ranging from too easy to unplayable. What would have helped more was squeezing in one more line of code so the game would progress to the next level of difficulty after each "wave" was completed.|
Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware by Jonathan H. Davidson
Atari 2600 games are very
well-represented in PlayStation 2 compilations. The Atari Anthology, reviewed last month,
includes 67 games originally developed by Atari. The retrogaming
collection for this month is the Activision Anthology, another
collection of Atari 2600 games. This collection was published by
Activision Publishing in 2002.
The Activision Anthology includes 48 Atari 2600 games. This is virtually all of the games that Activision ever released for the Atari 2600, obviously excepting the licensed titles (e.g. Ghostbusters, Rampage, Double Dragon, and Kung Fu Master). Oddly, Commando (licensed from Capcom) is included.
Happily this compilation includes some of the more complex games like Private Eye, Pitfall 2, Robot Tank, and Space Shuttle. According to the manual, of these, only Private Eye had previously been released as part of a compilation. (This title was not included in either the ca. 1996 PC collection or as part of the original PlayStation compilation.)
A few titles from Imagic (Atlantis, Demon Attack, and Moonsweeper) are included, as well as some Absolute titles (Pete Rose Baseball as Baseball; Title Match Pro Wrestling as Title Match; and Tomcat F-14 Flight Simulator).
Most interesting is the inclusion of two previously unreleased/prototype games - Kabobber and Thwocker. This is one of only two compilations I have seen that include previous unreleased games - the Intellivision Lives collection for the PS 2 also includes three such games.
As with virtually all of these retro game collections, some games are less fun than others. It is great having virtually the entire Activision library conveniently available, but I doubt that Bridge and Checkers will receive a lot of play time. Fortunately, the collection is overall very solid, and it includes many games rightly deserving to be considered classics.
This collection remedies one of the most significant deficiencies in all the previous Activision collections - it includes all of the original high-score patches.
The original manuals (and boxes) are also included. The manuals have been rewritten slightly rewritten to reflect the use of the PlayStation 2 controllers, but otherwise the text is substantially the same, including the tips from the original programmers.
A thoughtful touch is the inclusion of some period music from the early 1980s. This includes popular songs from such diverse artists as Blondie, Twisted Sister, and A-Ha. Fortunately, this feature can be easily turned off when it starts to become annoying.
Most of the games are readily playable with the standard Dual Shock controller. There are a few exceptions, mainly Kaboom!, which was designed for the Atari 2600 paddle controllers, and Space Shuttle, which used virtually every button on the original console.
The main interface is modeled after a 1980's game room, complete with rack of cartridges (the label of which closely matches the original), corkboard to display the patches, and a portable stereo to provide the background music. It is very well designed and intuitive to use.
Next time out, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
been there, but hope to do so the next time my family heads near
Rochester, New York. The National Center for the History of Electronic
Games is located inside the Strong National Museum of Play. The museum
staff consists of Eric Wheeler, Jon-Paul C. Dyson, and Marc Check, and
they boast a collection of 15,000 artifacts.
The Strong Museum http://www.museumofplay.org/ is considered one of the nation's top museums for children and families. They are home for the National Toy Hall of Fame and the world's largest collection of toys, dolls, games and other items that celebrate play. It's unlike anything you've experienced anywhere!
Maybe we'll have to seek an interview with these guys to see how they are doing. Let me know if anyone goes there or knows these guys, or if you'd like me to interview them. Thanks go to my friend Fred Horvat for alerting me about this place.
month's Videological Dig I decided to step back in time to the '70s,
since this is the decade that made video gaming popular and is the
reason why there even is such as thing as classic gaming today. Now
what better way to get a glimpse of the '70s home video game market
than to read up on all the craziness surrounding one of the hottest
items of Christmas '75...that of course being Pong by Atari. Back in
1975 this was THE item to have, I mean it was a way to actually
interact with your TV set instead of being merely a viewer. Even though
the Odyssey by Magnavox was launched in 1972, it wasn't until Atari
came out with a home version of its Pong arcade game that video games
became popular in the home. Considering how much of a milestone this
was, I thought everyone reading this magazine would find it fun to step
back in time and hear first hand what it was like that Christmas, I
know I sure did! I can only imagine what Sears was like back then with
all the parents flocking to the stores to make sure their kids had the
best "toy" on the market at the time.
Business Week, Page 24December 29, 1975
TV's Hot New Star: The Electronic Game
It's a sell-out item," crows a spokesman for Sears, Roebuck & Co. stores in the San Francisco area. "We can't get enough of them," says a representative of Bloomingdale Bros. in New York. "I don't know how many we could have sold if we had had them in stock," wails a buyer for a major West Coast department store chain. The object of these retailers' holiday cheer is yet another consumer product from the high-technology workshops of the electronics industry -- the video game. Still in short supply, electronic games may appear under only a few trees this Christmas. But consumers' eagerness to pay $100 and up to convert their television sets into miniature athletic fields virtually guarantees a rush of competition next year. "The toy and game market is limited only by our imagination," says Scott Brown, consumer marketing director at National Semiconductor Corp. "It can be as big as the calculator market is today."
At the moment only two companies are serious factors in consumer electronic games. One is Magnavox Co., which pioneered the home video game business with its Odyssey system in 1972. The other is Atari Inc., a fledgling company based in Los Gatos, Calif., which up to now has concentrated on the coin-operated amusement business. Atari claims to be turning out more than 3,000 units per day of a consumer version of Pong, its hugely successful coin-operated game. Sears, which so far is the only retailer handling Pong, reports that it is selling "everything we can get." Magnavox introduced an improved version of Odyssey this fall and says it is approaching production of 3,000 units daily.
Follow the leader.
By next year, though, a flood of competitors is expected to pour in
as the integrated circuits that run the games get cheaper and more
powerful. General Instrument Corp. plans to begin producing early next
year an integrated circuit that will control as many as seven different
games at a price comparable to present one-game circuits. Atari, for
one, is designing a product around the new part. And National
Semiconductor, already a power in calculators and watches, is planning
its own video game. "Next year," Brown says, "people like us will
really go to work on this market."
A big question is whether the entry of National and other semiconductor makers will create the same cut-throat price competition that has bloodied the calculator industry. John Helms, electronic games product manager at Magnavox, is hopeful that the direction will be toward more sophisticated -- and profitable -- games. "With a microprocessor," he says, "it could be a very complex product."
Nolan K. Bushnell, founder and chairman of Atari, claims: "The video game is not a watch or calculator thing. Each year the games will be very different and demand new and more powerful components." With shorter production runs, Bushnell believes, the semiconductor producers will lose their cost advantage over assemblers. "The semiconductor components are only 20% of the cost of a game vs. 60% or more in calculators," he adds.
But this view discounts the potential of the microprocessor, the computer-on-a-chip that is rapidly growing in power and falling in price. Although microprocessors are used in several coin-operated games, they are still too expensive for use in home units. "But prices will fall and capabilities will increase until we are in consumer games too," says A. J. Nichols, manager of microprocessor applications for Intel Corp. The big semiconductor maker has already been sounded out by at least one TV maker that is thinking of incorporating a game device in its set.
Ideas seem to be proliferating for games in which computer circuits generate TV images that players can manipulate with a turn of a knob. Atari is thinking about a home version of Tank, its biggest selling coin-operated game, in which competitors maneuver through minefields while they try to blast each other off the screen.
I now feel I have had time to get my feet wet after this month's
publication and am excited for the future. Since publishing the last
issue I've had the chance
to get better aquatinted with the writers of RTM and hope to serve them
well as editor. If anyone out there reading wants to get involved with
us and write some articles, all you have to do is send anything you
write to me,
and as long as it's thought out and well written it will get
published. I just wanted to spread the word that everyone has the
chance to contribute if they want to, and possibly become part of the
staff if they end up doing more than 3 articles. Thanks for a good
issue of Retrogaming Times Monthly
and hopefully even better/bigger things are soon to follow.
Roppolo, Retrogaming Times Monthly Editor
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