3 DECADES OF CLASSIC GAMING
Table Of Contents
Happy New Years
everyone! As we enter into yet another new decade we leave
behind the '00s which at some point will become "retro"
themselves. It sure will be interesting to see if Retrogaming
Times Monthly is still around at the end of this decade, and if
so what systems it will be covering. I can only imagine that
many of the games that we play today will be looked back at as
being "the good ol' days" of classic gaming. It's scary, yet fun
to think about! Anyway, as expected this issue is shorter
than normal, especially the Retroworks section. I expected this
considering both Christmas and New Years were fast approaching
when the article deadline for this issue came around. No matter,
there is still a ton of fun to be had this month and I do
believe that compared to other January RTM issues that this is
one of the bigger ones, so that's something to be proud of right
This month you
will notice that we have a guest columnist by the name of Doug
Dingus who hails from Classic Video Gamer Magazine. Back in
November Doug posted a message on AtariAge reminiscing about his
days on rec.games.video.classic and I wrote to him asking if he
would be interested in writing a column about
rec.games.video.classic for us. Little did I know that it was
Doug Dingus from ClassicVGM, as we all use handles on AtariAge
that conceal our real identities. Needless to say, Mike (the
editor of ClassicVGM) got word that I was trying to coax one of
his best writers to our magazine and a bidding battle ensued for
Doug's services. In the end Doug decided to defect to RTM and
write for us for a mere $20 an hour. Actually, I'm just kidding
about that bidding war part! Mike was actually very cooperative
and in the end urged Doug to have his column appear both here
and ClassicVGM for the January issues. In the end it might help
get word out about both of our magazines, since the retro gaming
community is small and could use all the sharing of resources it
The final bits of
information I want to mention in this introduction is that
Retrogaming Times Monthly will soon be getting a new looking
main page. That should appear in January or February, so keep an
eye out for that. Also, we now have out very own
Facebook Page, so come and join the fun there. It's a place
where columnists and fans can comment or make suggestions for
the magazine, as well as discuss retro gaming in general or keep
up to date when each new issue comes out (which is always the
1st of the month, but it's nice to have a place to go to remind
you of that fact!). I encourage all retrogamer's to join us
there and hang out and talk about anything retro! Now on to this
The annual Carolina Games
Summit is being held on 2/6/2010 from 10am-9pm at the Wayne
Community College in Goldsboro, NC. It looks like it is going be
quite an awesome event with an appearance by the Entertainment
System Band, a costume bash, gaming tournaments, as well as
countless speakers. It is mainly a modern gaming show, however there
are things for the retrogamer to like, such as a the Freeplay Arcade
Lounge that will include arcade cabinets from the '70s, '80s, and
'90s. If you are a retrogamer that also enjoys playing modern games
then this is one to check out. The 2009 show set an attendance
record, so there should be a good turnout this year as well! Visit
their official site to
see and read more.
you know about an upcoming classic gaming event, let us know by
e-mailing Bryan at
firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post it here for you!
On Tap? Rec.Games.Video.Classic Is!
Doug Dingus is a columnist for
ClassicVGM magazine and agreed to do a write-up that would appear in
both ClassicVGM and Retrogaming
Times Monthly for January. I figured that it couldn't hurt for the two
magazines to connect since we are all part of the classic gaming
community. I hope you enjoy this article that Doug wrote for both
The year was 1992 and I had been on the
Internet since late in 1991. Many people were still dialing BBS systems.
One of the CAD software products I used regularly back then had a big
BBS: 16 lines, lots of activity. Here in Portland, Oregon Computer Bits
magazine would regularly publish lists of BBS numbers, an increasing
number of them offering Internet gateway services, for a fee...
I was one of the more lucky ones. My ISP,
Techbooks.com, was still sorting out the move to teleport.com, and some
of that exists today at spiretech.com, where it's still possible to
telnet in, get a shell, and do Internet the old school way.
Alternative music was on a huge roll. Sire
records, among others, produced some great sounds many of which are
still heard regularly today. Our local AM Stereo station, KBBT AM 970
“THE BEAT” was a work commute drive time staple. I was a lot younger
then, unencumbered with the usual family things that we all must do,
free to scour flea markets, junk yards, thrift stores, and anywhere else
I thought I might find some throw away tech goodness. My first, and
until very recently last, AM Stereo radio was found in a thrift right
along side a Color Computer 3 and some Amiga goodness. It's not hard to
see I was absolutely born to love retro tech.
I'm writing this for the two fine editors
of “Retrogaming Times”, the longest running retro web-zine and something
I read religiously and am pleased as heck to have something appear
there, and ClassicVGM, our small, but passionate and growing print
effort, maybe looking to be the next Retro Gamer here in the United
States. One can wish right? Of course we can!
A lark on an AtariAge forum thread saw two
requests hit my inbox. Both were requests to write something about one
of the best times in retro gaming...rec.games.video.classic..
I've told you something about the year,
but not the place. That place was USENET, and the hub of activity that
hinted at the rage that would become of our on line lives.
USENET was the killer application before
we had the World Wide Web. Yes, there was a time before browsers, point
and click, banner ads, flash games, animation, and all the other stuff
we take for granted today. USENET was the place for sharing files,
having great discussions, holding auctions, yelling, flaming, learning,
and everything else. USENET lives on today in some shadow of its former
self, mostly used to shuffle large binary files around the globe, while
still hosting some discussion amidst so much noise that I am reminded of
late nights on my AM radio, tuning between the noise, trying to hear
that signal from far away...
When I first got Internet access, it was
kind of a lark really. A company I worked for ended up with some
high-tech paperless manufacturing gig. Really, the whole thing was way
ahead of its time, given we are here many years later still trying to
figure paperless out. Today, we are close, with many airplane and
automotive parts actually being done in 3D with little to no paper, and
it all just works! Back then, it was a pioneering effort when the net
was young and barely able to sustain the activity.
My ISP provided a nice shell interface to
the Internet. Looking back, I have to say that was the first “portal” I
had ever used, and it was sweet. Menus took users to faraway places,
using GOPHER, ARCHIE, FTP, and the daddy of them all...USENET.
There were other places too. IRC, Internet
was and still is
where people to this day do all kinds of things while connected over a
simple text interface. Gopher was a text only WWW pre-cursor, where you
could visit a site and navigate information offerings. One of the best
of all was MUD dungeon games, a variation of the often ignored text
adventure game genre, but for multiple users at one time. I won't
divulge how much time I spent in a few of those.
Moving on then, another event occurred at
one of those thrift stores. I was late to the party PC computing wise.
My Atari 800XL, recently replaced, was in use as a word processor and
game machine. I had an Apple ][, well equipped for writing and
programming, and a Color Computer 3. The Color Computer had the most
potential for me programming wise because I loved the 6809, and because
I discovered it would do a nice 256, well almost 256, color screen at
160x200 through the artifacting technique. All I ever did then was
program fractals, wait days for them to render, modify the program, and
generate another one. I was happy in my little retro bubble, but I
didn't have that many people to share it with.
That was about to change big. I had no
idea how big. At this thrift store I ran into an Amstrad DOS PC with the
full complement of RAM, an impressive 640K, co-processor, and CGA
graphics capability. The whole thing was $20 with Hard Card and was a
lot of money for me then, but it was definitely a must have. Though I
did want to play some TREK or ROBOTRON on it, the real attraction was
that $20 plus a modem got me on the Internet proper!
I had been sneaking some 9600 baud access
to USENET at work, when nobody was looking, and was absolutely
fascinated with what I saw going on at rec.games.video.classic and other
places! What I saw were people talking about old game consoles, ACTUALLY
PROGRAMMING on them, and doing it worldwide where I could see it all go
down! I wanted to know more. A lot more!
For an 80's kid, this was nirvana!
Everybody wanted to program the VCS, or 2600 as it is better known
today. We all grew up programming goofy games on our VIC, C64, Atari,
TI, Color Computer, Spectrum, and every other old-school home computer,
but none of that ever came close to being able to make a game for a
console. Consoles were special things then, closed, but fascinatingly
close to the computers we had.
Consoles were also very highly
differentiated! A trip to a flea market in 1992 was a complete blast,
with all manner of games, old computers, and everything else, cheap and
easy to find and play, but once a console was done, it was done. The
spark was gone, nothing new was ever going to happen, or would it?
The answer to that question was the spark
I found on USENET that drove me to get on the Internet as quickly as I
could! Not only was new stuff going to happen, but it was happening, and
there were lots of people around the world that felt the same way I did!
Retro was in, if a bit early, and the ticket to the show was an Internet
account, which I had! The show was not over for our favorite machines,
but just beginning!
So I took that old Amstrad home, set it
up, and then began to save for the best modem I could get. This was a
careful balance between savings and missing out on the goings on
USENET...I settled on 9600 baud which made it quick to read on-line
text, and a download might only take an evening, or I could do a few and
pick up my files at the ISP the next day.
Yes, the better ISPs used to do this! You
got a home directory, quota, and the whole deal. A few nice words to the
admin saw that quota lifted, and that opened the door to FTP archives
around the world. Most people would fill up, and then carry diskettes to
the building to copy files down and talk a little shop, or they waited
Frankly, either was fine! The idea of
downloading from an archive in Finland, for example, was so exotic to me
at the time, I simply didn't care how I got the stuff, I just wanted it!
Once in a while I could take a day off and go fill up at the University,
archiving a ton of text to read and games to play.
USENET carried about 2GB of conversation
and files per day back then. If you think about the transfer speeds of
the time (a few kilobytes per second max), this was an absolutely huge
number! There was a hierarchy of discussion broken down into groups.
alt. was the freak show, with anything and everything not easily
classified, or low brow, or profane, etc., rec. was the branch of
the tree where hobby people gathered and did things. There were other
top level branches too, and if you want to know more, Google is your
Rec. was where I first heard about
home brew retro gaming and where I put some of my first words on the
Internet! Bob Colbert was working on Stell-a-Sketch and was using paddle
controllers. The discussion was about the driving controllers and I
chimed in with what I knew about them and how they would be perfect for
the program. Had that moment not occurred, there is a chance that Stell-a-Sketch
would have been released paddle only! Bob didn't know they were just
like one axis of a trac-ball, and I did having tinkered with them on my
Atari at home. We exchanged info, and Stell-a-Sketch was released to
great effect a short time after that.
There is a little life lesson there. What
you write on the Internet can continue to exist for a really long time.
I was able to find a conversation or two from those times. Isn’t that a
little spooky, if you think about it some? I think so. Be nice… You just
Click Here To Go To Page 2 Of Article
Press Play On Tape: Denial Collection 3
Hello, and welcome to my new column for Retrogaming
Times Monthly, where I will delve into those boxes of musty old C-20 cassette
tapes to find software off the beaten path. You won't find most of these games
on rarity lists or collector's guides, and many of them are all but forgotten in
the modern age -- but back in the proverbial day, the one-man "kitchen table"
programmers who made and distributed these old programs helped kick-start the
modern computer and video game era.
Before we start, I'll introduce myself briefly. I'm a 37-year-old
father of two, and like many of you I cut my teeth during the heady
days of Atari, Intellivision, Apple IIe, and Nintendo. My dad never
liked computers or video games -- I asked for a Colecovision one
Christmas and got a marked-down Bally Astrocade instead, and I had
to buy my first TI-99/4A with my own paper route money (they'd
already been discontinued for three years). But I did a lot of
programming at school, first on TRS-80's and then on Apple IIe's,
and I was always at friends' houses playing on their Commodore 64's
and dreaming of the day I could have ALL the systems I wanted, all
Somewhere along the way I got distracted by rock and roll and soon I
was saving for drum kits instead of video games. I became a pretty
casual gamer as an adult - I liked Doom, didn't have time for
Warcraft, and hated Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. I worked, rocked, got
old, went into debt, and only occasionally did I spare a thought to
the computers and video games I so enjoyed as a kid.
I don't remember exactly when I got back into it -- eBay and Usenet
helped though. I was selling music online through a record store I
owned and found myself browsing the classic game listings when I was
supposed to be grading rare LP's. Eventually, I wound up with
another TI-99/4A system, then a Commodore 64, and then an Atari and
a Colecovision... you get the idea. Fast forward to 2010, and not
only am I fully in the throes of retro game addiction, but I'm also
-- gasp -- a grown-up, with my own house and my own rules. I now
have a dozen systems up and running in my basement, I'm re-learning
how to program, and I've begun accumulating all kinds of the
esoteric old stuff that you, if you're reading this, understand
completely. The rest of the parents at the PTA may not get it, but I
think they're just jealous.
There are actually a lot of similarities between the early days of
computer gaming and the underground rock and roll scene where I
spent my reckless youth. Both fostered a DIY (do it yourself)
aesthetic documented in photocopied, stapled fan-zines and
newsletters. Bands released their basement demos on cassettes with
Xeroxed or handwritten inserts, just as plucky programmers issued
their BASIC creations on tapes in Ziploc baggies. More than
anything, there was the gleam of endless possibility, a bold and
egalitarian notion that you -- yes, you, the dweeb in the Starsky
and Hutch t-shirt in your mom's basement -- had as much business
realizing a creative dream, and releasing it to your fellow
dreamers, as did a big record label or software firm. We weren't
just consumers of the pre-packaged -- we could be part of a vibrant
and shared community.
Of course, this high-minded concept led to a lot of crappy punk rock
demos and grade-Z Frogger clones getting dumped into the public
commons. And the frontier spirit in computers and music both quickly
gave way to the larger marketplace. But it was nice while it lasted
-- and we retro enthusiasts still hold onto a little of that spirit
even today. You see it in the people who release homebrew carts, or
the guys making new hardware cards. In every new project for these
"dead" platforms, you get a little bit of that DIY enthusiasm, the
creativity for its own sake and for the benefit of a community of
Normally, this column will document software from "back in the day,"
but I'd like to start it out by spotlighting one of our modern-day
DIY heroes and the amazing new collection he's just released.
Chances are, if you've dabbled at all in the world of the Commodore
VIC-20, you're familiar with Jeffrey Daniels. This Chicago-area
educator runs the
Denial Forum, the most active gathering place for Vic
enthusiasts online that I've yet found. And while the Vic has had a
banner year, with megacarts and dazzling new large-scale games being
released by the community, Daniels has a passion for the bare bones
of the system -- he creates programs for the unexpanded, 3.5K VIC-20
He recently released the "Denial Collection 3," an
elaborately-packaged, cassette-based offering featuring six of his
creations. The packaging alone is amazing -- the tape has a
half-black, half-white shell and it comes in a small metal box with
a clear window on top. Printed instructions are included, which
leave tantalizing hints about the strategy one must deduce for each
game, and there's even a small board game - with tokens and dice -
to play during your cassette load times!
Daniels is the master of games that, on first glance, look stupidly
simple, but then perplex and infuriate you within a few minutes of
play time. Take "Go Left" -- as the instructions say, "the object of
the game is to go left. A player may fail by not going left. Points
are scored by correctly going left. Go left. Follow the on-screen
directions. Look at the cute bunnies. Go left." But not only is
everything on the screen (including your score, the text, and the
title screen) backwards, but the object - moving your rabbit through
an on-screen series of directional commands - quickly becomes a
"The Improbable War" is an intriguing mix of rock-paper-scissors and
Stratego and its interface is so smooth and well-designed, it takes
a while to realize just how slick this little game is. "Night of the
Ninja" looks the most like a game from the old days, with its blocky
maze and small, scurrying guards, but even it has layers of clever
gameplay and strategy that reward the patient player. "You Count" is
a clever and fast-paced observation game that has you racing the
clock to answer simple questions. "Pillow Fight" has you bouncing
off the walls, literally, as you alternately pick up red and blue
"elements" while avoiding obstacles and collecting various
power-ups. It's possibly the most addictive of the batch.
"Ten Ten" is the masterpiece of this collection, though. Two
different mazes appear on the screen, and in both you have a dot (or
a "ten") in one corner which must reach a goal at the other end of
the maze. The catch? Every move of the joystick moves BOTH of your
little guys. Simply moving the "ten" on the left to his goal will
leave the other "ten" somewhere completely wrong. The trick is to
use walls and boundaries so that each "ten" arrives at the same goal
through different paths. It's one of those "a minute to learn, a
lifetime to master" concepts that will have you cursing at your VIC
well into the night!
Daniels is some kind of Zen master of game coding. Any of these
deceptively simple exercises would make a great "Brain Age" style
game for a modern-day handheld, and if he'd released them in 1981,
these would be considered retro classics. They look as good as they
play, and their design is uncluttered, intuitive, and sharp. Daniels
proves here that in gaming, concept rules all -- the most basic
building blocks can be used to create a timeless experience if the
actual guts of the game are fun. Isn't that what retro gaming is all
"Denial Collection 3," in its limited edition, was sent out by
request (for a user-determined donation to the website), but Daniels
has suggested he may put several of the remaining copies up for sale
on eBay to lure in a few VIC users who may not be aware of the
modern community's existence. The games are well worth checking out
even if you download them for your favorite emulator, but I believe
the Collection is best appreciated on original hardware, in its
physical form, lovingly created and hand-made by Daniels himself as
a Christmas greeting to the VIC scene.
That's it for this inaugural edition - I'd love to hear your
comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism of the column.
Next month, we'll be discussing several TI 99/4A games that, due to
their unique memory-conserving design, have never been available on
disk and could conceivably be lost forever in the emulator age.
Until then, keep your heads clean and your volume and tone control
within system parameters...
II Incider - Thexder
Happy Holidays everyone! As I write this, it is a couple of days after
Christmas. I spent my Christmas
weekend with friends and family doing all sorts of activities. I saw
Avatar (in 3D) and had a wonderful dinner with several of my friends on
Christmas Eve. I hung out with my family on Christmas Day, and even did a
little shopping and played basketball with one group of friends the day
after Christmas. All in all, I stayed busy and interacted with many
different groups of people.
The Robot on the run!
Thexder: The Jet in the sky!
Switching gears, the game I am focusing on this month will be very
popular among fans of the Transformers cartoons (1980's) or movies
(recently). The game is called Thexder, and like the Transformers, it was
initially conceived in Japan and released in 1985 for the NEC PC-8801
computer. Sierra Entertainment, more known for adventure games such as
King's Quest and Space Quest, acquired the rights to the game and
released it for multiple computers including the Apple IIGS and
the Apple II 8-bit machines in 1987.
The reason that Thexder might be popular among Transformers fans is its
main character. By default, the main character is a standing robot, but
in order to navigate certain locations while playing, he can transform into a jet. Both modes can fire
lasers at enemies.
Unlike most action games, there is a goal players have to accomplish in
Thexder. According to a strategy guide I found online (http://strategywiki.org/wiki/Thexder),
this was what the player had to accomplish: "Your goal is
to pilot exder through 15 stages, until you reach the central computer
that you have been assigned to locate and destroy, in order to save the
planet." Note that I read elsewhere that there are actually 16 levels in
I can't claim a lot of personal experience playing Thexder. I remember
that the game was fairly hyped in Apple II magazines before its
introduction for the Apple IIGS. I saw it in stores every now and
then but the chances to play it was minimal. I do remember the game
getting great reviews from Apple II magazines though. Interestingly, I
never realized that a version for the Apple II 8-bit computers was
released. I only discovered it in recent years while playing with Apple II
emulators. However, I am not complaining. I was originally intending to
look some Apple IIGS games but ran into some technical problems.
Fortunately, Thexder is a good fallback, though I couldn't specifically
look at the Apple IIGS version due to the technical problems with
I played the version for the Apple II 8-bit and came away with mixed
feelings. Without the manual, it took me a little while to figure how to
play and transform from a robot to the jet. Once I
figured that aspect of the game out, the rest fell into
place. The game play is very well done and I enjoyed maneuvering around
trying to shoot all the enemies. I managed to get past the first level
but got killed on the second.
On the flip side, I felt the Apple II 8-bit version was a little lacking
in the graphics and sound department. While the animation for the game
was solid and the action very fast, I felt the graphics weren't very
colorful and looked very blocky. As for sound, there were
minimal sound effects and music. The lack of music is not a surprise,
though some better sound effects would have been nice. Thexder seems to
be one game where the developer didn't spent a lot of time trying to
refine it to the best of the Apple II's capabilities.
Weaknesses aside, it is playable and worth many replays. If you
really want to get your money's worth in the graphics and sound
department, you may be better off playing the Apple IIGS (or other)
versions. From a long time Apple II user's perspective, I play the 8-bit
version since that's all I had for many years!
See you next month!
Obscure Output: The Rainbow Goes Digital
Author's note: My New Year's
resolution is to take this monthly look at retrocomputing's more
obscure offerings into a mostly more positive territory than the
merciless pummeling I've given in the past. Accordingly, this
month's column pays tribute to a massive project putting a
long-running magazine on-line and reviews of some of its best
type-in games ever.
of bidding, begging and scandalous amounts of money are invested in
the library of an old computer magazine cherished in my youth. So
it's hard to know if I should be infinitely grateful or eternally
resentful toward some folks who are digitizing every issue and thus
making my collection largely worthless.
The Rainbow covered the TRS-80 Color Computer from
1981 to 1993, the longest-lasting magazine dedicated to a single
computer during the retro era. Its coverage was frequently
excessively rosy and riddled with inaccuracies (a curse of many
platform-specific magazines in the day), but there's also no
question it was an invaluable contributor to a rabid fan base that
kept a machine alive for a decade past its projected three-year
Editor Lonnie Falk started the thing by
photocopying a four-page issue (two sheets of paper, front and back)
at a local drug store. Within a few years it ballooned into a nearly
300-page monthly before doing a Flowers For Algernon thing,
shrinking in size and quality back into near nothingness before
giving up the ghost.
As a youth I had little interest in the various
hardware projects (especially since corrections often ran a couple
months later, which probably didn't help those who'd already wrecked
their machines). More interesting were a few dozen product reviews
that ran monthly during The Rainbow's heyday, but it was hard to
trust the vast majority of writers who were reluctant to criticize
advertisers and unable with frightening regularity to recognize
conversions of common arcade games ranging from Robotron to Arkanoid.
The big thing were the type-in program listings
even though, as many a retrogeek can attest, those hours at the
keyboard produced far more disappointments than triumphs. The
Rainbow offered its programs on cassette and disk at extra cost, but
the $80 or so for an annual subscription was too rich for a kid on
Those tape and disk files found their way onto the
internet years ago, but the magazines containing instructions often
needed to run them remained elusive as Falk kept a tight chokehold
on his copyrights until his death in 2006. Those copyrights still
exist, but during the past year The Rainbow has joined the vast
library of other old computer publications that can now be read and
downloaded online – if you're willing to accept the legal
questionableness of doing so.
Since I've bought nearly complete collections of
The Rainbow twice, I have no qualms.
Digital PDFs of every issue scanned at a resolution of 100 DPI are
available in the welcome area of the forums at
CoCo3.com (the person
with them has requested direct links not be posted to keep them from
showing up in search engines. For the same reason I'll give him a
massive, but anonymous, tip of the hat for coordinating a Herculean
effort). Another project is creating a text-searchable archive in an
ingenious way (maybe it's common, but I haven't seen it before). Anyone
can visit the site (http://cocomag.dyndns.org/TheRainbow.shtml) and
complete tasks that take about a minute each. This might involve a small
amount of typing, proofreading, or just drawing a box around some text.
Seventeen issues have been completed as of this writing, so it will
probably take at least a couple more years until the full archive is
Also available in the coco3.com forums are links to the Rainbow disk and
tape files, but like most other type-in magazines, the games tend to be
slow, clumsy and generally uninteresting. There were some, however,
easily comparable to the better commercial offerings of the day. Below
are some favorites, plus a few titles that got a lot of praise for
reasons I never understood since others may enjoy them more than me.
can be played with MESS or other emulators, but my preferred method is
using the browser-based emulator
By clicking the "setup" button, you can load tape or disk files from
your desktop (see the help and FAQ links at the site for details). For
those unfamiliar with Mocha, it also has a wealth of commercial software
you can click and play.
A final round of games, including the best to ever appear in The Rainbow
and some for the harder-to-emulate CoCo 3, will be featured next month.
Beyond that – probably for all of 2010 – will be a look at games from
other CoCo print and disk magazines seen by only a lucky few.
Grades are on a relative scale for all CoCo software, commercial and
otherwise (excluding the beefed-up CoCo 3).
Nuclear Reactor Simulator (C+)
Latham also wrote Donkey King, a clone of the similarly named
coin-op many consider the best CoCo game ever. That alone merits
a recommendation even if the programmers concede it's "not a
state of the art masterpiece." The Rainbow hired Latham and John
Erickson to write this as an example and promotion for the
magazine's first simulation contest, and the result is a simple
but pleasing diversion. The player uses simple keyboard
commands to manipulate pumps, valves and other functions that
control temperatures and other operations. Instructions are
provided in the program, but the article does a far more
thorough job explaining how a nuclear plant functions, and what
had to be left out due to time and CoCo hardware limits. One
important note, which should be kept in mind when searching for
other files on virtual disks and cassettes: I found the program
on the March 1983 Rainbow On Tape file, rather than the April
issue. Presumably it's an archiving error and should be kept in
mind if other files aren't where you expect them.
Rainbow Roach (C+)
This Frogger derivative is what I consider
the first quality arcade game in The Rainbow's history, although I know
others vigorously disagree (see Advanced Star Trench Warfare, below).
The player is a roach who must cross six conveyor belts of pastries
before the baker finishes drinking his coffee and sprays the whole
factory for bugs. Much as you might like to eat the pastries, jumping on
one is fatal since they trigger an alarm that immediately gets the
baker's attention. If this is unclear, just think of it as similar to
the river stage of Frogger. Getting seven roaches to safety advances the
game to a more difficult level. John Fraysee, who later co-authored the
original CoCo's best flight simulator, presents this as an exhaustively
detailed study of how to write a decent game in BASIC. Making it speed
along (too fast, if you select the hardest of four starting skill
levels) is 72 bytes of machine code that scrolls the playfield 25 times
a second. Either you understand the impressiveness of that feat or you
don't. Even though The Rainbow lasted another decade, there aren't many
arcade games with that much BASIC comparable in quality.
Oh, good grief – I'm really including a
snake game here? Yeah, in large part because this may be the only
all-BASIC version I saw that's blazingly fast and a constantly evolving
challenge. The "snake" in this case is a nuclear-powered land cruiser
trying to collect power chips in a post-apocalyptic world. Your cruiser
leaves behind a trail of nuclear waste, which of course is fatal. One
novel touch is the trail doesn't entirely vanish – a few dots remain
permanently scattered about. Collect enough power chips and you go to
the next wave, getting a bonus based on time and the point value of the
last chip collected. The program's speed-up is simple, but clever.
Instead of moving one pixel at a time, you make increasingly large
multi-pixel jumps. While this creates something of a grid-paper
appearance in later waves, I never lost track of my vehicle or
considered it a distraction. Also, radioactive barriers start appearing
and increasing in number after wave nine. Programmer Mike Hall throws in
all kinds of other welcome touches, including keyboard or joystick
control (the latter offering eight-direction movement instead of four),
and a Tempest-like option for starting at higher levels and receiving a
corresponding point bonus.
Instrument Flight Simulator (C-)
This probably gets bumped
up or down a full grade depending on how you feel about the navigation
portion of flight simulators. The display is just what the name says –
an instrument panel with no window view – so the visual takeoffs and
landings that make this genre so popular are absent. But William
Franklin crams an impressive amount of realistic aviation into this 32K
all-BASIC program, including the ability to create up to 26 stations
with varying altitudes, runway headings and so on. Radio Shack punished
CoCo gamers with fragile non-centering joysticks that rank among the
worst controllers ever made, but they're a great fit for the yoke
controls of a simulator like this.
of Fast Food for the Atari 2600 (itself a relative of Kaboom) isn't
great, but worth playing just to see one of the oddest graphics modes
ever offered on any machine. The screen resolution is 64 horizontal by
192 vertical pixels, meaning each "dot" is an absurdly long and skinny
horizontal line. The tradeoff was it offered eight colors instead of the
two at the machine's highest resolution of 256X192. The goal is to eat
fast foods as they zip across the screen, avoiding purple pickles. The
player – a set of teeth – can also take refuge between the rows of food,
but staying still for long will result in a fatal squirt from a mustard
bottle. Programmer David Taylor does better than most with these quirky
pixels visually, but in terms of gameplay it's a scaled-down effort with
little long-term value.
Maybe it was just my
destiny to live in the North Pole (or at least in the town closest to
it), since this simulation of a submarine expedition to the top of the
world ate up far more hours than it probably should have. Part of the
journey passes Spitsbergen, the island in the Norwegian Arctic I now
call home, so of course its found its way onto my current-day playlist.
A lot of the game, to be fair, is mundane in the way any flight or other
navigation simulation is. You cruise north under the ice, using a few
different screens to make sure you're going in the right direction and
deep enough to avoid the underside of the bergs. The controls for
ballast, steering, etc. are simple, but impressively realistic and
responsive (aided by a few machine language routines to speed up the
mostly BASIC program). If there's no ice above you can surface and take
a look through the periscope, but until you're at the Pole all this does
is give you a look at some severely pixilated icebergs. You have to be
at exactly 90 degrees north and find an area clear of ice (you may have
to circle around for a while and wait for it to shift) to surface and
win the game. The whole thing takes maybe 30 minutes to an hour, which
seems reasonable since presumably you're not playing this for a quick
arcade fix. Charles Springer, the author and a frequent Rainbow
contributor, won the magazine's second annual simulation contest for
Not particularly original or
enduring, but a huge hit among CoCo fans for an unusual reason: the
gotta-play-this-on-LSD soundtrack. The CoCo had some of the worst sound
capabilities of any computer of the '80s, making anything beyond a few
beeps and blips an accomplishment. The idea of continuous music was
absurd and practically impossible since generating sound eats up the
computer's entire processing cycle. But David Billen rises to the task,
and not just with any music. The psychedelic rock crashes into the title
screen like an anvil and builds itself up to some incredible (and
incredibly high-pitched) tension during gameplay. Most people will find
it interesting – or at least worthy of study – once. After that it's
serious "love it or hate it" territory. The game? Oh, yes. The game.
It's a simple three-stage vertical space scroller. You move a ship along
the bottom of the screen during which you 1) try to catch Zonx's coming
down rapidly at you for points, 2) avoid Zug's raining down that will
destroy your ship and 3) face both at the same time. Strictly on those
merits it's good for a couple of games. But if you play more than once
then audio obviously hasn't driven you insane, so maybe it's worth a few
The CoCo Zone (B)
played dozens, if not hundreds, of adventures and this prison escape
thriller is among maybe ten I finished without resorting to hints or
cheating. You find yourself in a prison cell, framed for a murder you
didn't commit, only to find yourself receiving a mysterious note from a
guard one day. This fairly mundane setup develops into a compelling
story, especially given the memory limits of early computers, and the
graphics are first-rate commercial quality. The plot twists thrown at
you feel like part of the narrative rather than pointless punishment to
make things harder. Unlike a lot of adventures where you hope to avoid
the grave, successful completion here means literally burying yourself
alive. I don't remember typing in endless commands trying to guess the
"right" word for a situation or feeling like I was unfairly killed
merely for entering a room for the first time. Actually, there is one
such situation - an arcade-like challenge in a room you must cross with
lasers firing at random locations and intervals. The only way out is
moving fast and hoping randomness doesn't coincide with where you are.
One other flaw occurs toward the end, when the program takes a good 30
seconds or so to draw certain locations from scratch, presumably because
there wasn't room for any more pre-rendered scenes. The first time it
builds up tension, but if you have to leave and come back a few times it
really gets irritating. But having come as far as I did, there was no
way I was going to give up my final quest.
Advanced Star Trench Warfare (D-)
Ugh. This 3D space shooter is not only highly acclaimed, but also
sold for $18.95 as a commercial product during the early CoCo days. In
some ways it's similar to Star Strike for the Intellivision – a crap
game that gets a lot of love because it looks like the Death Star trench
scene from Star Wars (note: the Intellivision game is vastly superior).
Here's the ASTW gameplay: Spaceships appear at random on a 3X3 grid and
the player must shoot them by aiming a laser with similarly limited
movement. The alien "blips" to 10 different locations before killing the
player. Thing is, it does so so fast the game is just a random crapshoot
where you have to hope the alien pops up wherever your crosshairs happen
to be. A minor bit of strategy is you can't just fire continuously
hoping for a random hit, since you have a limited energy supply during
each three-minute wave. I have played a large number of space shooters
on a colorless, soundless 1K ZX81 more entertaining and complex than
this. But hey, it's got that scrolling space trench. In fairness, this
is actually an exceptionally impressive demonstration of how programmers
could use the CoCo's quirky graphics capabilities to write decent hi-res
programs in BASIC. The CoCo could store up to eight "quarter-slices" of
the screen, four of which are displayed at any given time (the concept
is similar to drawing pictures in a notebook and flipping the pages).
Any of the "slices" ("pages" is the technical term) can be swapped with
a simple command, so programmer Fred Scerbo drew two trench scenes and
flips them continuously on the third section of the screen. I eventually
found a great use for this technique, writing a very crude MacPaint-like
program where page flipping allowed for scrolling and undo options
(cursed be the like-minded programmer who beat me to The Rainbow with
his submission). A simpler version of this was published in the November
1982 issue of The Rainbow.
Dual Perspective -
Sonic The Hedgehog
this is James Sorge back with Dual Perspective, the column that reviews
games from both the playing and the World Record perspectives. This
month, the victim is “Sonic the Hedgehog”, the famous Sega Genesis
I don’t think Sonic
has the greatest graphics in the world, as
I believe they were designed to fit the super speeds the games
could run on. So some graphics quality was sacrificed to ensure this.
This was rectified later in the series in Sonic Advance when the systems
Some very classic and catchy tunes here. The
sound effects weren’t bad,
and while not SNES quality, they did their job and were enjoyable. No
Difficulty: Basic Run: C Emeralds Run:
This game has enough
death traps and glitches to make it a pain in the neck. It is not the
hardest game in the world on a basic run but it’s not the easiest
either. If you are determined to get all the Chaos Emeralds, good luck. It’s hard to do in a
single-segment and get away from it.
Replay Factor: A+
DO YOU FEEL THE NEED FOR SPEED? This game has
proven its replay value, even on a guy who favors Nintendo more than
anything. The game’s speed will get you going and make you come back
over and over again. You will definitely play this one a 2nd time (or
The World Record Perspective: While there is a points record for this
game, I am going to cover the track everyone expects and
nothing else: SPEED! Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first games to emphasize speed
runs and make them viable. The glitchless Twin Galaxies World Records are 38
minutes, 12 Seconds by Jared Oswald and 1 hour, 3 minutes, 7 seconds with
all the Emeralds. The Speed Demos Archive glitch-allowed run speed record is 15 minutes,
5 seconds by Charles Griffin. These are all based on the original
game on the Genesis. Neither one of these records look overwhelmingly
intimidating, so if you want to take a solid crack at it or set one of
the re-release records, go ahead. I think this game’s up for taking.
The Penguin Says:
"Obviously this is one of the all time classic games out there
that pretty much everyone has played. I mean, it's Sonic the Hedgehog! That cool
video game character that other sprites such as myself have come to loathe due
to his popularity. Even though its taken me 19 years since he first burst on the
scene to admit this, but Sonic and his fast paced world really does rock. Just
too bad I wasn't chosen by Sega for their new creation back then. I mean, I am
one of the best Penguin runners out there!"
"Overall I give the game a
9/10. Considering the world record
numbers are so low and easily beatable, I'll give that a
(go for it!)"
Modern Retro -
It is a great achievement for any title on
the Playstation 1 to stand out of the vast library on the console,
particularly if it’s a Role Playing Game. Sony’s debut console featured
an incredible line-up of RPG's, with well established franchises like
the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy VII & VIII each gained a cult
following and are still labeled by many as two of the best RPG's of all
time. Other popular titles within the genre on the PS1 include Xenogears
and Front Mission 3. All of these titles have something in common – they
were all developed, and often published, by Square (which would later be
absorbed by Enix to form Square Enix). They were also all released
either before or within the first two months of the new millennium.
After a string of very successful titles, often sequels - surely Square
was due for a dud with the reveal of a new IP?
Vagrant Story was first released in North
America in May 2000, with the European release following in June.
Despite initial skepticism, Vagrant Story would go on to sell more than
100,000 units in the first 20 days of release and received near perfect
scores from various video game publications. The game was, however,
overshadowed by later titles released by Square, like Final Fantasy IX
and Chrono Cross. Despite this, Vagrant Story remains a fan-favorite and
has recently been released on the Playstation Network for PS3 and PSP
gamers alike to enjoy.
was developed by the team responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics, the
generally well received RPG with a strong emphasis on tactics…hence the
name. Yasumi Matsuno, the director of Tactics, would serve as producer
and director for Vagrant Story, with director being a role he would
later fulfill in Final Fantasy XII on the Playstation 2 (Final Fantasy
XII actually features many references to Vagrant Story, with terms such
as the Riskbreaker being mentioned). Whilst many projects released by
Square can be placed in the RPG genre exclusively, Vagrant Story is a
game with many different gameplay elements and styles, which allow it to
be put in various other genres. It would be fair to classify it as an
action/adventure RPG with heavy emphasis on the modification and
creation of weapons, as well as a focus on puzzle-solving and strategy.
Another distinctive factor is that the game features no shops and no
player interaction with other characters. It is a solo dungeon crawl
experience, where you will scarcely chance upon another soul who isn’t
trying to attack you.