Illinois Smith

You’re probably familiar with various methods of software distribution from over the years.

In the Atari 8-bit era, we had a lot of public domain software that was freely distributable, often sold for the cost of a disk or two from user groups, local software outlets and national publications. But “Begware”, a twist on public domain that literally begged you to pay what you thought the game was worth according to some specific criteria, is a new twist on the formula I’ve not seen in quite this form before.

Illinois Smith, possibly the first (and last?) Begware game, is a mildly entertaining if simplistic romp through a maze as you hunt for treasures. Would I pay up in support of creator Greg Knauss’ unashamed (and rather amusing) begging? These days, sure. Back in the ’80s? Don’t be ridiculous, no-one paid for software back then!

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Asteroids

It’s that time again: the time when we strap ourselves into a small triangle and blast some space rocks into increasingly smaller space rocks until they disappear.

Yes, it’s Asteroids again, this time in its Atari 2600 incarnation. This was a well-regarded port at the time of original release, and noteworthy from a historical perspective for being one of the first games to make use of “bank-switching”, allowing for higher-capacity cartridges that made use of more data. Asteroids for 2600 is twice the size of earlier 2600 games at a mighty 8K!

It also offers “66 video games”. Can’t say better value than that, can you? Even if there’s actually only 33 video games, and they’re all very similar to one another…

Borrowed Time

“Sam, you’re a dead man.” And how; Activision’s Borrowed Time, an “illustrated text adventure” from 1985, really, really, really wants you dead.

An early game from Interplay with involvement from Brian “Wasteland” Fargo, Borrowed Time is an early attempt to break out of the pure text format of adventure games with a graphical, mouse-driven interface. It’s not quite a full-on point and click adventure just yet, but it’s a first step in that direction.

It’s also a monstrously difficult game, fond of murdering its protagonist at regular intervals right from the very outset. You’re doing well if you manage to survive just leaving your office for the day…

Hijack!

We’ve come across English Software a few times previously on this series; they were a real mainstay of the Atari 8-bit scene throughout the ’80s.

Over their lifetime, they released a wide variety of games — some of which, like Elektra Glide, have an enduring legacy of being well-regarded, even if their flaws are all the more apparent from a modern perspective.

And then they also released stuff like Hijack!, which isn’t a bad game so much as it’s a relatively unremarkable one. It’s still fun for five or ten minutes at a time, though, so let’s take to the skies and rescue some VIPs!

Armor Ambush

With a few exceptions, Mattel’s “M Network” label was established to port a number of well-received Intellivision titles to Atari’s 2600 platform.

Due to the disparity in capabilities between the two platforms, however, this porting process wasn’t necessarily completely straightforward. The Atari controller had considerably fewer buttons than the Intellivision’s weird monstrosity, for one thing — and the system itself was much less powerful.

Still, while technically inferior to its Intellivision counterpart, Armor Ambush for Atari 2600 (known as Armor Battle in its original incarnation) is an enjoyable take on the two-player tank battle genre — and offers a few interesting twists not seen in Atari’s classic Combat.

Alcatraz

It’s back to “A” again for the Atari ST series, and it’s another technically impressive title from Infogrames.

Alcatraz is the sequel to Hostages (or The Embassy Mission as it’s known in some territories on some platforms) and is very much a game built around two-player cooperative gameplay. So much so, in fact, that they didn’t really bother to make a proper single-player mode — when playing solo you have to take control of both “players” yourself!

It’s a cool-looking, atmospheric game… but if you’re going to give it a go for yourself I strongly recommend bringing a friend!

Gateway to Apshai

Role-playing games have been part of home computing — and indeed mainframe computing — pretty much from the very beginning.

The fact that there’s considerable crossover between “nerds who like computers” and “nerds who enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons” certainly helps, of course. But adapting a tabletop, social experience for solo home computer play carries its own challenges… and its own possibilities.

Gateway to Apshai is what happens when you blend the conventions of arcade games with those of tabletop roleplaying. And the result is an incredibly addictive, compelling game that I still love, love, love playing today.

Atari games, software, hardware… and memories