Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. An indie developer gets their start making and publishing digital games for the Wii U. Yeah, I never heard that one either, but apparently that’s just what happened with Petite Games, the maker of Super Destronaut DX and Super Destronaut: Land Wars.Continue reading Super Destronaut Games
My Atari 2600 has been getting some love this week! Now that I’m done with Vanguard, I’ve returned to Phoenix, which I was playing beforehand. In fact, it’s the reason I’m playing these games at all; my recent acquisition prompted me to hook up the console and try it out. Like Vanguard, it’s a space-themed shoot ‘em up (you want me to stop there, right?) although being a fixed shooter, it has more in common with its contemporaries, such as Space Invaders and Galaxian. I enjoyed this game’s fast-pace and responsive controls, the most important factors causing my return to it.
As was the case with Vanguard, Phoenix was originally released in the arcades courtesy of Centuri. At least, in the United States; elsewhere it was published by Taito. It was introduced in 1980 and as best I can tell, was the sole output of developer Amstar Electronics. After obtaining the rights to produce a home console version, Atari outsourced development to General Computer Corporation and the final product was released in 1982. A little research reveals Michael Feinstein to be one of the port’s programmers and likely, the project lead.
The objective of Phoenix is to destroy the adversarial mothership. To reach it, players must defeat four waves of birdlike enemies. The first two waves are host to rudimentary foes that could easily be mistaken for Space Invaders fodder. The next two waves feature enemies that move faster along less predictable paths. These foes are larger and have wings that can be destroyed, but they regrow if the core of the creature isn’t shot. Finally, the penultimate stage hosts a large alien vessel that has to be whittled away until the player can eventually strike its alien pilot. With the leader destroyed, the game recycles these stages in perpetuity.
At this point, the game becomes about setting a high score. I wasn’t drawn into playing the game for so long because of this element per se, but having a competitive nature didn’t hurt! I found this to be a challenging game and I believe I’ve only been able to make it past two full sets of stages thus far. Each time I die, I feel like it was totally on me. Because the player’s spaceship moves quickly and is so responsive to input, I’m always left feeling as though I could’ve evaded the shot that killed me. This draws me in and makes me want to continue improving in an effort to get just a little farther. So even though it’s challenging, it feels like the scales are evenly tipped between the player and computer.
Phoenix is a stellar shoot ‘em up and as described is a challenging, fast-paced, responsive game that I wanted to continue playing in spite of the constant death. There’s more to it then my brief descriptions highlight, such as reaping more points for destroying closer enemies, but this tactical element didn’t factor into my sessions. That’s the sort of element that I foresee giving the game a longer tail once I move beyond just trying to see new waves and convert over to strictly score chasing. Until that point, I’m content to continue enjoying the game and my Atari 2600 as I have been.
Steve Cartwright’s second game for Activision, Megamania, riffed off of the formula popularized by Space Invaders and seen in practically every other game in the early eighties. Megamania was released in 1982 for the Atari 2600 and bears a close resemblance to Sega’s Astro Blaster arcade game.
Piloting what looks like the USS Enterprise, players must blast through waves of enemies zigzagging across the screen. These take the shape of seemingly random objects such as hamburgers and bow ties. Each enemy class has a unique pattern and typically, the difficulty increases with each defeated wave.
I found a few interesting mechanics at work in Megamania. Firstly, after firing I could control my shot, moving it to the left or right. This was beneficial as Megamania was pretty tough. Secondly was the energy meter which effectively provided a time limit for defeating a wave and provided points if any was leftover. Lastly, some of the waves descended towards the ground (all the while zigzagging) but would keep cycling through from the top, meaning I had to defeat every enemy.
Activision Anthology unlockables included a commercial, a patch, and a gameplay mode which were unlocked with scores of 5,000 to 45,000 points. The trippy commercial features a theme song of sorts performed by The Tubes. The starfield gameplay mode attempts to be as wondrous but doesn’t quite make it.
An armada of bomb-dropping aliens will wreak havoc on Earth’s defenses unless players take them out effectively. The bunkers can withstand a formidable amount of damage but they won’t last forever. The fleets are never-ending and they’ll require more skill as time flies by. This is Space Armada, a blatant clone of Space Invaders. It was released for the Mattel Intellivision in 1981 and developed by John Brooks and Chris Hawley, programmers at APh Technological Consulting.
John: Wow, this is unashamedly a clone of Space Invaders; a hard one to boot. I like that the game is very colorful and it plays well, but it’ll take a lot of practice to make progress.
Jeff: This was a clone of Space Invaders; very simple and somewhat responsive. I just didn’t like how the first stage appears to be impossible to pass. I know it is possible, but just not worth the effort. The arcade industry didn’t have much reason to worry about home consoles at this point in time and I can see why.
Earth is being pelted by falling rocks, bombs, guided missiles, and UFOs and it’s up to players to protect it as best they can in Astrosmash. Released for the Mattel Intellivision in 1981, Astrosmash plays like a cross between Space Invaders and Asteroids; fittingly the game is all about getting a high score. John Sohl from Mattel Electronics developed Astrosmash. The only other game to his name on the platform was B-17 Bomber.
John: An interesting arcade style game that was relatively fast-moving game, although it seemed quite easy up to the point where we finished. Because we kept earning lives rather than losing them, we decided to award the game to whoever got the most points using one life. The falling rocks breaking apart into smaller pieces and the hyperspace features were reminiscent of Asteroids and the game in general had a lot in common with Space Invaders. It turned out to be one of the better games we played on the INTV and it was one of the best looking.
Jeff: It reminded me more of Missile Command at first because of the laser gun’s position but I’ll concede that it had more of a Space Invaders vibe. I think the INTV’s disc pad is the biggest downfall to this game. The game was functional and decent overall, but I HATE the INTV’s controller!
More so than ever before, I’ve been researching the designers of the games I’m writing about. The games in question are the Atari 2600 titles I decided to highlight from my collection. I’m fascinated by the stories behind their development and the fact that they were developed either by a single person or a small team. Today I felt like highlighting Maze Craze: A Game of Cops ‘n Robbers.
Maze Craze is a game like those pencil puzzles from childhood, the ones that were mazes where you had to draw your way to the exit. The concept grows dull with no one else around, but two player races are pretty fun. Mocking the pronounced footsteps and occasional user error is part of the game’s charm. Better yet, there are multiple variations on the game that switch things up and keep the game fresh.
Richard “Rick” Mauer was the designer behind Maze Craze and according to him, he was influenced by a Fairchild Channel F game, specifically Videocart-10: Maze.   The only other video game attributed to Rick is the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders. This game went on to sell 2 million copies and provoked a quadrupling of sales of the Atari 2600.  However, Rick reportedly only made $11,000 for his work on the game and abandoned game development. 
It’s a simple game and one that isn’t very fulfilling without someone to play with, but Maze Craze’s use of familiar maze puzzles proves to be an interesting video game.
 Hague, James. “Reminiscing from Richard Mauer.” 5 January 1999. Dadgum Games. 4 August 2012 <http://www.dadgum.com/giantlist/archive/maurer.html>.
 Videocart-10: Maze. 4 August 2012 <http://www.gamefaqs.com/channelf/927671-videocart-10-maze>.
 AgentKane, Alpha Unit and Noble Team 1. Space! List Collab:Alpha Unit, Noble Team 1, AgentKane. 1 March 2012. 5 August 2012 <http://www.screwattack.com/news/space-list-collab-alpha-unitnoble-team-1-agentkane>.
 GameSpy Staff. “#15 Atari Brings Space Invaders Home.” 21-25 July 2003. GameSpy. 4 August 2012 <http://archive.gamespy.com/articles/july03/25smartest/index12.shtml>.
Before I dive into blogging I think an introductory post would be ideal, just so you, the reader, can get a handle on where I’m coming from when I talk about games. I thought this would be cool to do as a post rather than just stick it in the about section.
My first gaming experience was Christmas 1995. My parents bought me a Super Nintendo that came bundled with Killer Instinct. I was only six at the time and having never played a video game before, I just mashed buttons. I remember my mom being distressed about how bloody it was and wanting to sell it, even up until middle school; I also remember my uncle coming over and playing against me. I played a lot of games on the SNES and remember going to Blockbuster all the time and renting games, even searching years afterwards trying to buy the games I used to play. When I think of playing the SNES back then, these are the games I remember: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Family Feud, Goof Troop, Killer Instinct, Kirby Super Star, Ms. Pac-Man, NBA HangTime, Space Invaders, Super Star Wars, Tetris 2 and Top Gear.
My next system was the Game Boy Pocket which I received for my birthday in 1996 of 1997. All I had for it was Black Bass Lure Fishing and I really loved the game, it probably fueled my interest in fishing. It was my only game… until Pokemon Red and Blue came out. They were all the rage at school; the games, the cards, the TV show; I had to get a copy. Around this time I also bought a Game Boy Color, which I think I bought them both in the same trip, so this must’ve been late 1998 or early 1999. Pokemon games were really the only video games I cared about at the time and it was really all I had a Game Boy for. All the Pokemon I played shaped my interest and love for RPGs and I am still a Pokemaniac, though not as much as I used to be. Of course when Gold and Silver came out I had to get one of those as well. Even now I only own seven Game Boy Color games and four of them are Pokemon games.
Moving onwards, my next system was a Nintendo 64. My parents got this for me during Christmas 1998 or 1999. I got Mario Kart 64 and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron with it as well. My sister and I played lots of Mario Kart 64 and I played lots of Rogue Squadron. During this time I still rented a lot of games from Blockbuster and I remember renting a few but I don’t remember them well. I remember my first experience with GoldenEye 007 at a cousin’s house and playing N64 games at another cousin’s house. I played soccer all the time at this point and that was my focus along with Pokemon games, but towards the end of the N64 I started to get more into games. The games I really remember playing during this period are: 1080 Snowboarding, GoldenEye 007, Mario Kart 64, Micro Machines 64 Turbo, Paper Mario, Pokemon Stadium and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.
I’m going to say the next system I got was the GameCube. My parents got it for me for Christmas 2001 along with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. I loved Rogue Leader and was amazed by the graphics but didn’t know what a memory card was so I had to buy one a week or two later. The next game I got was Sonic Adventure 2: Battle and it’s one of my favorites on the system. Early on during this period was when I stopped renting games, I did rent a few for the GameCube but that was it. I also bought a Game Boy Advance in 2002 for Golden Sun and is just strengthened my burgeoning interest in video games. During this console cycle is when I became “hardcore” into games. I started reading gaming magazines often and browsing the internet. I’d have to say the GameCube is one of my favorite systems mostly because it’s the system I started to care about games on.
I won’t delve any deeper as this is already pretty long and it just gets more convoluted from here on out. I will mention I started to get into retro games around the GameCube era as I purchased an NES and Intellivision from garage sales as well as bought a PS2 and many other retro systems; this is really the period when I started to become a collector and an avid gamer.