Taking inspiration from Pitfall!, Bob Whitehead’sPrivate Eye is a video game with simple gameplay mechanics, built around a larger, single-player orientated adventure. As one would suspect from the title, this game is about sleuthing.
Pierre Touché is on the trail of Henri Le Fiend but to book him properly, he needs evidence. Controlling Pierre, players travel through an expansive (in Atari 2600 terms) version of New York City tracking down the required items to proceed with a criminal prosecution. There are five cases in the game and they’re outlined well in the manual. Also outlined in the manual is a rough sketch of the city, helping players navigate without getting lost or being forced to make their own.
I think a big factor in my preference of Pitfall! over this game is platforming. Conceptually, both games are practically identical. I wouldn’t say it’s reductionism to call these games fetch quests in a large environment. A core conceit of the former is platforming. While the objective is to collect treasures, the platforming involved in this task takes up the bulk of the game. It’s challenging and getting timing down can be fun. I don’t see the same emphasis placed on platforming in Private Eye, and without it, I don’t find it as fun.
Originally getting the “Super Sleuth” badge required players to complete the third case in Private Eye. In Activision Anthology, all that’s required is to start it. So yeah, games are way easier than they used to be.
Designed by Bob Whitehead and published by Activision in 1982 for the Atari 2600, Sky Jinks is a time attack video game in which players race their P41 airplane around a few courses. It’s a game not unlike the Red Bull Air Race World Championship that has sprouted up in the past decade.
Flying to the far sides of cones, placed on opposing ends of the game screen, Sky Jinks plays like Skiing, another Bob Whitehead game. Avoidance still plays a large part in posting increasingly better scores but the obstacles are different, well some are; there are still trees but players must also avoid hot air balloons. In what seems to be a slight technical edge over Skiing, Sky Jinks has objects that cast shadows, providing a sense of depth to what players are seeing. Great in short bursts and better yet with a friend, Sky Jinks is another solid Atari 2600 game from Activision.
Lacking an unlockable commercial or even a new gameplay mode, the only goal for players of Activision Anthology to strive for is the unlockable patch, award after completing game 1 in 37 seconds or less, the original requirement.
If you imagine that Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe was tasked with filling the cowboy boots of a rancher, it might play out akin to Activision’s Stampede. Then again, this game would be a one-dimensional look at the multi-faceted career that being a rancher entails. Plus, it looks so old!
Designed by Bob Whitehead and released for the Atari 2600 in 1981 (it was also ported to the Intellivision in 1982), Stampede is right ol’ good time. Lassoing cattle is the objective and beyond that, it’s simply about getting the highest score possible. Letting three cattle pass means the end of the game and time to start anew. I didn’t like Stampede initially but with the realization that bumping into to the cattle prevented them from going off-screen and made them giddy up allowed me more of a chance to perform and this newfound mechanic turned me around on Stampede.
With scores of north of 1,500 in games 1 and 3, players will unlock a commercial, patch, and a gameplay mode in Activision Anthology. The commercial really plays off of the game’s theme whereas the multi-screen gameplay mode screams MTV circa 1987.
These Activision games I’ve written about recently originate in an era that was ripe with many forms of inspiration. As everyone was learning how to design video games at the same time, it wasn’t uncommon to take inspiration from other designer’s games and remake them wholeheartedly or riff off of their design. Bob Whitehead’sChopper Command is one such game.
Released for the Atari 2600 in 1982, Chopper Command strongly resembles the arcade classic Defender. As the pilot of a military helicopter, it is the player’s responsibility to protect convoys of transport vehicles from enemy aircraft; the player is a defender in other words. As the player zooms and booms through stages, the camera follows their actions just as it does in Defender. When the player switches directions, the camera quickly follows suit and swivels to allow ample viewing to that particular side of the screen. These resemblances do not make Chopper Command less of a game though. I thought it played fantastically; it’s reportedly much better than the Atari 2600 port of Defender.
There are three related unlockables in Activision Anthology: a commercial (seriously lacking R. Lee Ermey), a patch, and a gameplay mode. They require 4,000, 8,000, and 6,000 points respectively and getting all three isn’t too hard.
Qualifying as both a great score attack and time attack game, Skiing was, personally, an unexpected pleasure in Activision’s Atari 2600 catalog. Designed by Bob Whitehead and released in 1980, Skiing was an exemplary game for my friend and I’s ongoing competition, the Game-a-Thon Olympics.
In the early going, the skier seemed awfully stiff because movement was limited to slight degree changes either left or right. Soon enough though, this was a boon. Rather than holding a direction to avoid obstacles, I could instead push in the direction once (or more if needed) and change direction. In my mind, this lent to more “twitch” style gameplay which had me addicted.
Beyond the simple design and addictive gameplay, Skiing had two types of downhill races, multiple difficulties, and even random courses so there was a lot to do before growing bored. A simple game, like Dragster, that’s deceptively enjoyable and replayable. Finally, included alongside it in Activision Anthology is an unlockable patch (awarded upon completion of game 3 in under 32 seconds) and its original television commercial which includes a faux-Frenchman and lots of cheese.
As is the case with most every game on the platform, Boxing for the Atari 2600 is a simplistic version of the real thing. Fortunately, it’s easy to pick up and play and well suited for multiplayer.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, the boxers appear to be two Geodudes in a pigpen in the eyes of Pokemon fan such as myself. The boxers are almost magnetically attracted when they near each other, locking gloves and making it difficult to get a punch in. Only through a side to side shuffle does the opportunity present itself to land a punch; hopefully prompting a long combo, but if the other boxer isn’t against the ropes, there’s slim chance that’ll happen.
The first boxer to score one hundred points is deemed the winner and this roughly translates to one hundred landed punches. When I’ve played it though, I noticed points increasing in value during a combo. Then again, my opponent has had me seeing birdies more than once too – only human counterparts though, the computer boxer is a chump. Without a human opponent, Boxing wears thin fast and I can’t imagine playing more of it without one.
Bob Whitehead designed Boxing, and a healthy list of other games for the Atari 2600 that I’ll discuss in the coming days. He was one of the four designers who cofounded Activision who originally published this game in 1980. Included alongside Boxing in Activision Anthology is a corporate commercial that highlights a few commercials interspersed with commentary from some of Activision’s designers.