March 26, 2013
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is the sequel to one of the most popular and prolific games on the Atari 2600. Released in 1984 for that platform and a handful of others, Lost Caverns is even more advanced and expansive than its predecessor.
While the core gameplay of tracking down treasure via exploration and platforming is the same, there are many differences from the first game. Players are no longer racing against the clock to complete the game, nor are they limited by a set number of lives. This time around, when the player is injured, they’re taken back to the most recent checkpoint; Harry has an infinite life as it were. This makes it less of a burden to explore the caverns that Harry has found himself in, although that doesn’t make it an easy game.
Thanks to the game’s setting, it’s logical that the environment is deeper than it is wide. The caverns are eight screens wide but an astonishing 24-plus levels deep; because of this, Lost Caverns offers a style of platforming not seen in Pitfall! – vertical movement. Personally, I found it had a lot in common with Metroid, a game I played through and mapped out shortly before starting My Brain on Games. Again, because of the verticality of Lost Caverns, there’s much tougher navigation due to the increased possibilities for dead ends and tricky ways to enter rooms.
Lastly, just jumping and evading enemies is a challenge. Even in Pitfall!, I was surprised by how accurate players had to be when jumping over enemies. I felt like I had to wait until the very last moment to successfully complete jumps. It’s no different in this game, but it seems like there’s increased risks from flying enemies. Evading these requires a keen eye on their patterns and swift timing to take advantage of their upward movement.
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is very appealing to me. The expansive environment is begging to be mapped out on graph paper and the elimination of a time limit and set number of lives should make it a more manageable task. More than that though, it’d be an entertaining and challenging trial.
When played in Activision Anthology, achieving scores of 45,000 and 99,000 points will unlock a new gameplay mode and patch. Again, this patch requirement matches what player’s originally had to strive for.
March 14, 2013
Designed by David Crane and published by Activision for the Atari 2600 and a cavalcade of other platforms around 1983, The Activision Decathlon hit the market right around the time Konami’s Track & Field was hitting the arcades. Lesser known no doubt, The Activision Decathlon is a fantastic game and a sublime blast with human opponents (up to four!).
As it is a game from the venerable David Crane, there wasn’t really the question of whether or not it would be good. Thus far, I’ve only played one dud from him and that was Laser Blast, which is still a decent game. What makes this game work so well though is the simplicity of the Atari 2600. For most games on the platform, the only control option was the joystick and a single red button. As was the case, this game is easy to pick up and play and I only had troubles with one event – the pole vault, where I needed to press the button twice – once to set my pole and again to eject myself. Even then, I realized what I had to do by my final attempt.
With ten events, the game offers plenty of differentiation while not having to stray to obscure events. Most every event involves rapidly flicking the joystick back and forth while some, as mentioned, require a button press or two. Easily the most difficult event is the 1500-meter race. It takes about four minutes of flicking the joystick/analog stick back and forth. The same motion done for four minutes doesn’t sound so tough, until you pass the 100-meter marker and are hit with a wave of deflation realizing what you’re in for. All events, even that one, are simple and fun so this was a blast to play in the competition.
Unlockable in Activision Anthology are three patches. The bronze, silver, and gold medal patches are unlocked with 8,000, 9,000, and 9,400 points respectively. Not included in the compilation was the original commercial featuring Kim Kardashian’s stepfather, Bruce Jenner.
March 7, 2013
Of the original designers at Activision, David Crane was arguably the most prolific with titles like Dragster and Freeway to his name. But I’m not kidding anyone with that succinct introduction; inarguably, David Crane’s magnum opus is Pitfall!. Originally released by Activision in 1982 for the Atari 2600, it was also released for every major video game console of the day, as well as a few personal computers.
As Pitfall Harry, players are tasked with retrieving a slew of treasures hidden all over an expansive jungle – over two hundred screens! Within twenty minutes, the player is expected to navigate Harry through the puzzle-like jungle and overcome obstacles like quicksand and crocodiles. Traversing the (now) technologically primitive, yet, expansive 2D world makes one wish Harry had a GPS or at least a map, but part of the fun is solving that quandary with a map of one’s own making.
What I found interesting about Pitfall! in some retrospective reading, is its introduction of long-form gameplay. If anyone has actually been following along with these articles, the games I’ve been discussing are very simple. The majority revolve around the concept of score attack or time attack, rather than a quest; they’re more focused on competition. Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort describe this game as “a distinction point between the home and video game markets” in Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. In effect, Pitfall! was one of the first games to bring about what could be considered the evolution of the single player video game.
Anyways, there is an unlockable commercial and patch in Activision Anthology, awarded after 12,000 and 20,000 points which was the actual requirement to get the patch back in the day. If anyone didn’t already know, that’s Jack Black in the commercial.
March 5, 2013
Designed by David Crane and released for the Atari 2600 in 1982, Grand Prix is a very fast moving racing game that I didn’t have enough patience for.
Lacking acceleration off of the starting grid, I wouldn’t have imagined that my race car would attain the speeds it did after a few seconds. This car was booking it to the other side of the screen unlike anthing else I’ve seen on the Atari 2600. Dodging other racers, oil slicks, and traversing bridges was no easy task and this is how I crashed and burned with Grand Prix.
From what little of the game that I played, I couldn’t tell if the four tracks were based on preset patterns of racers and obstacles or if they were random. This would make success dependent on either memorization or luck/skill. When going balls to the wall, these obstacles and competitors appeared on screen with little time to react. Albeit, I didn’t spend the proper amount of time to develop any skills or techniques. Should I have devoted more time to the game, I might’ve unlocked the related commercial and patch in Activision Anthology.
February 27, 2013
Up for discussion today is yet another David Crane game, Laser Blast. It was published by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1981 and in a sense, flips the player’s role in the fixed-screen shoot ‘em up that was so popular in this era.
Rather than controlling an Earth defense force of some type, protecting our home planet, Laser Blast has players controlling the invading aliens. Flying UFOs and destroying the enemy artillery is the task at hand, but after a few rounds the game grows extremely stale. Screens are comprised of three moving enemies and with them destroyed, the player flies to the next screen, with the same makeup. Rinse and repeat forever. There is no end and it makes a good score attack game, but the gameplay is just so tepid. The best thing about Laser Blast is the ability to control the UFO after it has been shot down, enabling players to kamikaze the ground targets.
There are two patches and a commercial to unlock in Activision Anthology. The commercial comes after losing all lives while the patches require 10,000 and 100,000 points. 10,000 isn’t too bad but 100,000 requires a half-hour or so of formulaic shooting. It’s easy to get, but there are better things to spend time on. Unfortunately I realized that after getting the patch.
February 23, 2013
Freeway will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Frogger, but it has a leg or two of its own to stand on. Designed by David Crane and published by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1981, Freeway centers on the timeless question of why the chicken crossed the road. While it provides no answers, it does provide a good time.
Meant for two players but playable solo dolo, the objective is to get as many chickens as possible to the other side of the freeway in a limited time frame – two minutes and sixteen seconds to be precise. Great playability and a fun premise are two positives but this game truly shines with a human opponent. With ten stages of varied difficulty, Freeway is something to crow about.
Unlocking Freeway’s original commercial and patch are two bonuses players can find in Activision Anthology. The commercial requires at least 30 points in game 1, which is attainable after a round or two, while the patch amps the challenge up requiring at least 10 points in game 3 or 7 – much more difficult, but not impossible.
February 21, 2013
What could’ve been a laid back fishing trip to the piers is anything but in 1980′s Fishing Derby for the Atari 2600. In it, two opposing fisherman aim to out fish each other, which in this game means reaching ninety-nine points first.
Fish are arranged in rows and are worth more points depending on how deep they reside. Getting a bite seemed hit and miss in my experiences with the game, but with a human opponent, this wasn’t as much of a detriment since both were facing the same problem. If one person was getting strikes consistently and the other wasn’t, it could be a tad funny, maybe. When a fish was on the line, managing it didn’t simply entail reeling it in as fast as possible thanks to the opportunistic shark roaming near the surface. A cute and easy to pick up and play game that, like Boxing, is at its best with a human opponent.
Fishing Derby was designed by David Crane who was arguably the most prolific designers of Atari 2600 games with titles like Dragster and Pitfall! to his name. He continued developing video games until the mid nineties and is perhaps most known post-Atari 2600 for A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia.
August 3, 2012
Dragster for the Atari 2600 – it’s a drag racing video game designed by David Crane and published by Activision way back in 1980. Burning through the gears and completing a quarter mile as quickly as possible is the aim of the game and with a friend, the few seconds that are spent on a single race stretch into a half hour trying to figure out the optimal shifting pattern while not blowing an engine.
It’s my favorite game on the Atari 2600 partly because it’s so fast. As soon as a race is done, it’s a flick of the joystick and the next race is already counting down. Races already last under twenty seconds but this quick reset makes the proposition of just one more race all the more compelling.
However, being able to get back into the game quickly wouldn’t matter if the underlying gameplay wasn’t enjoyable, and Dragster’s is. The risk/reward gameplay associated with shifting is easy to learn, tough to master, and flexible enough to allow experimentation. It’s not like shifting a daily driver though, unless you’re the type to rev each gear up to the redline, drop the clutch, up shift, and slam on the gas pedal. If so, I need not explain further. Perhaps I should mention that blowing the engine is quite easy and has been the cause of many of my losses.
Like Vin Diesel’s mantra from The Fast and the Furious, playing Dragster is like living your life a quarter mile at a time. It’s fast and fun, but before you know it, time has passed you by.