Outpost: Atari. (The 1983 Outpost: Atari Computer Game Awards). (evaluation) Arthur Leyenberger.
Our awards for the best and worst of 1983.
It is that special time of the year. Time for New Year's resolutions, wild orgies, and other behavior that most sane people would not be caught doing during the rest of the year. It is also a time for journalists, critics, and other soothsayers to come up with a list of the year's best. Whether the topic is movies, football games, or software, there is a surfeit of lists from every imaginable source.
At the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon I will add my own list to the bevy. The topic will be light so that you can concentrate on the important things like partying and carrying on. We Atari owners know we have the best game playing computer on the market. Its sound and graphics capabilities are rivaled by none. Although our machines are capable of more serious endeavors, we of the faith take gaming seriously. In the next few pages will be the 1983 Outpost: Atari Game Awards, or as I call them, the "Outies.' But before we get to that, allow me to take care of a little business.
Look Out Adam, It's Eve
The Coleco Adam has been getting a great deal of press for the past several months. First they could meet their original deadline, then they couldn't, then they changed the deadline. I got tired of trying to keep up with the Adam saga. Apparently I was not alone. An enterprising retailer in Cedar Knolls, NJ has been selling since mid-October a packaged Atari system he has dubbed Eve. For under $600, Gemini Enterprises is offering an Atari 600XL computer, Atari 1027 letter quality printer, Atari 1010 cassette recorder, and the Atariwriter word processor. Atari has an official version of a similar system package called the Writer, but it does not include the 1010 cassette recorder.
Eve is a nifty package. Not only is the price right, Atariwriter is, in my opinion, the best word processor for the Atari. (For a thorough description of Atariwriter see my review in the November 1983 Creative). When using Atariwriter with the 16K Atari 600XL, you still have about 10K of memory in the machine available for text. This translates to about 20 double-spaced typed pages-- more than enough for most term papers and reports.
Normally, using a cassette recorder is not the preferred method of data storage because the speed of loading and saving files is terribly slow. But here it is no problem. There is no reason to access the recorder while you are performing your word processing. Only when you want to save a file or load a previously created file will you suffer the speed penalty.
Another plus for this particular selection of components is that the Atari 1027 printer does not require the Atari 850. Interface Module. It attaches directly to the serial interface daisy chain. And it has a good quality output for an inexpensive printer.
While the speed of the printer is almost an order of magnitude slower than the fastest dot-matrix printer, it will probably fit the needs of many users. It may be best suitable for someone who is not sure he wants to do a great deal of word processing and therefore does not require high speed output. At the same time, the results are truly letter equality. The Atari 1027 printer offers bidirectional printing, underlining capability, a speed of 20 characters per second, and 12 fully formed characters to the inch.
I have only two criticisms of the Atari 1027 printer. First, it lacks pinfeed paper capability. It handles only single sheets of paper. This is fine for typing a letter to Aunt Emma, but is somewhat inconvenient for program listings. My other complaint is the prince. It generally sells for about $300. This is about $100 to much considering a generic dot-matrix printer can be had for about the same sum. A lower price would be more competitive and perhaps win back some of Atari's sagging sales.
All things considered, I believe this Eve package to be very tough competition for the Coleco Adam. When you throw in the thousands of existing Atari programs that are available, I don't think Coleco has a chance.
Atari XL Compatibility
There has been much talk about the new Atari XL computers. Rumors have been more prevalent than facts. One of the major points of concern (even in past Outpost columns) has been the question of compatbility. The type of operating system for the new machines was unknown. Would they have the 400/800 Operating System, or would they have the less than popular 1200XL Operating System? All existing software can run on the former, but much of it cannot run on the latter.
The facts are in, and there is some good news and bad news from Atari. The bad news is that the XL computers have the 1200XL Operating System and therefore a great deal of software will not run on them. The good news is that there will be a "Translator disk' (and cassette version) available from Atari that will modify the Operating System in the XL machines to look like the 400/800 OS. If this comes to be, one of my Christmas wishes from last month's Outpost has been granted.
John Anderson, my predecessor as author of this column, was quite vocal in past Outpost columns about Atari products and practices. His critical comments were intended not to slander Atari but rather to stimulate them to change. I share many of his views, but Atari has taken exception to certain points. In an effort to be fair and to present their opinion, column space this month is being made available for Atari to tell their side of the story (see the sidebar). I will wait until next month to comment on their remarks.
With that behind us, let's move on and have some fun.
The 1983 Outpost: Atari Computer Game Awards
Some video game magazines present dozens of award categories. I--and most people I know--have difficulty dealing with that kind of video game overload. Instead, I have simply chosen eight categories that best represent the various types of games for the Atari computer. In each category I have chosen a winner and a runner-up. To qualify as an entry, a game had to be available for the Atari computer in 1983.
The following list is based upon my own set of criteria. These include the overall quality and playability of the game, its use of sound and graphics in appropriate ways and the extent to which the game utilizes the capability of the Atari computer. I have spent many hours behind a joystick playing these games and that is reflected in my choices.
Game of the Year
The 1983 Outie for best game goes to Archon by Electronic Arts. Archon has broken new ground in the video games world by combining the elements of a strategy game and an arcade shoot-'em-up.
Archon is an excellent example of what a computer game can and should be. There are already rumors that Archon is attracting a dedicated following and fast becoming a national craze. Tournaments are springing up here and there, and since the game is available for most micros, all can compete.
Runner-up: Choplifter by Broderbund for its challenge, playability and unique non-violent approach to shoot-'em-up scoring: points are awarded only for saving the hostages. The goal of the game is to rescue hostages in your joystick-controlled helicopter and return them to safety. Your purpose is to defend rather than destroy. Memories of the Iranian crisis are brought to mind.
Best Arcade Adaptation
This Outie must go to Atari's Donkey Kong. The scenario is simple: Mario must rescue his girlfriend who is being held captive by Donkey Kong. Mario is at the bottom of a pile of girders and ramps. His goal is to climb a series of ladders to reach the girl at the top. Donkey Kong attempts to thwart him by rolling barrels down the ramps. Mario can either jump over or smash the barrels.
Like the arcade version, there are four screens, each of increasing difficulty. Moving elevators, falling girders, and conveyor belts comprise the advanced screens. The graphics and sound effects are great. Animation is excellent, and the game is exhilarating. To call this game fun would be an understatement. Donkey Kong for the Atari computer is equal to the original in all important respects. It has a catchy tune, too!
Runner-up: Q-Bert by Parker Brothers. Faithful graphics and sound make this game a close second. The movement and playability are almost identical to the arcade version. And besides, Q-Bert is a cute little guy.
Although I am not proficient at this game, the ultimate shoot-'em-up to date is Atari's Defender. This is a highquality rendition of the popular arcade game. Your mission is to defend the last humanoids from the alien kidnappers. You maneuver the laser-equipped ship up, down, left, and right. Smart bombs are used to destroy everything on the screen when the pace gets too hectic. Horizontal scrolling is the name of the game, with the radar display at the top of the screen always showing the whereabouts of the enemy.
You really have to experience the excitement, intensity, and playability of this excellent arcade adaptation for yourself. Defender can easily be played for hours at a time.
Runner-up: Super Cobra by Parker Brothers. Another arcade adaptation, this challenging game has attractive graphics and life-like sound effects, especially when heard through an amplifier and speakers. If you like Caverns of Mars but require more challenge, then check out Super Cobra.
Necromancer by Synapse is an atypical game. The three game screens are more like acts of a play. Each has its own theme, yet are all part of a larger story. The animation throughout the game is unmatched by anything I have seen for the Atari, and the hauntingly beautiful music adds to the overall effect of the game. Necromancer gets high marks for playability, too.
Runner-up: Worms? by Electronic Arts for its good-looking graphics that are both fascinating and relaxing. We are talking mind-expanding games here. The game is also educational in that principles of geometry are readily demonstrated.
This Outie must go to the game that essentially duplicates the user interface of an Apple Lisa: Pinball Construction Set by Electronic Arts. This unique interface is comprised of a split screen, containing a blank pinball field on one side and a variety of little pictures (icons) representing flippers, targets, bumpers, etc. on the other. A handshaped cursor is moved around the screen with a joystick to point to a particular icon, say a flipper. The object is then picked up and dragged over to the play field where it can be placed anywhere you want. All of the objects are assembled on the play field to create your very own pinball games.
All aspects of a pinball game can be created, edited, and saved for future use, including ball characteristics such as speed, elasticity, and gravity, title screens, scoring logic, and sound effects. You even get five complete sample games that you may play, modify, or simply use as examples of what can be done with this wonderful package.
The Pinball Construction Set is a pinball wizard's dream come true. An example of state-of-the-art software on the Atari computer. A virtual graphics tour de force and a video game classic.
Runner-up: M.U.L.E. by Electronic Arts for its animation, challenge, and ingenuity. This imaginative game is really an economic simulation. Up to four players complete in an effort to monopolize the natural resources of an alien planet. The players buy, sell, and trade property in an attempt to amass the greatest wealth, and win. Animation is excellent, and there are many interesting complexities to the plot.
The design is well conceived and executed. The theme song has a good beat; you can dance to it; I'll give it a 98.
To earn this coveted Outie, a game must not only be challenging but also repeatedly playable. In fact, the game should be so good that the Game Over display of one round automatically prompts another round much like the reaction of one of Pavlov's dogs.
Miner 2049er by Big Five Software is such a game. In this climbing and jumping game, you move your player, Bounty Bob, throughout 10 different levels of a mine. Each screen increases in difficulty as you race against time to complete all of the levels. Even in you finish all ten levels, you begin again at a faster pace. There are various hazards throughout the mine, and your goal is to traverse all of the platforms in each screen.
The graphics are very colorful and the joystick control is responsive. Miner 2049er is one of the few games that I have played all night long. And I still go back for more!
Runner-up: Jumpman by Epyx. A very close second, this similar jumping and climbing game has 30 screens worth of play. Although the graphics are less polished than Miner's, Jumpman is very playable and offers continuous challenge.
This Outie is simply for the game with the best graphics. Playability and other variables are not being considered. There is a tie for the award between A.E. by Broderbund and Astro Chase by Parker Brothers. Both are shoot-'em-ups, but A.E. offers a little more variety. However, both offer dazzling graphics and animation. The best animation in Astro Chase occurs during the intermissions every four screens. The best animation in A.E. is the swirling and diving alien ships.
To be fair, each of these games should also get another award. The Outie for the most difficult game should go to A.E. It is really a tough game, and only the serious Atari gamer will put in the time to master it. The Outie for most hype should go to Astro Chase (with Zaxxon by Datasoft a close second). This game was originally marketed by First Star Software and was written by Fernando Herrera, winner of the first Atari Star Award. The latter fact was over-used and the game was advertised continuously for six months prior to its actual release in most of the computer magazines. Their slogan was "There is No Escape.' What they did not mention was, from what? I now know--there is no escape from their hype.
The Atacky Award
The Atacky goes to the grossest Atari computer game we saw in 1983--the one that more than any other merits an airline sick sack. I am happy to report that it is no contest this year. And the winner is Orc Attack from Thorne EMI.
Not to say that Orc Attack is a bad game, because it is not. It is really quite playable. You control a medieval army, protecting the parapets of your castle from seige. Below, enemy hordes raise ladders and fire arrows at your defenders. The animation is gripping and the pace of the game is exciting.
It's just that a carefully aimed swing of your sword decapitates attackers, and you have the pleasure of watching their heads sail slowly back to earth in the breeze. Especially fun for the little ones.
Orc Attack is fun to play while eating, and sure to appeal to critics of the violence in video games. "Hats off' to Thorne for this heads-up approach.
Firms Mentioned In This Column
Atari Box 50047 San Jose, CA 95150
Big Five Software Box 9078-185 Van Nuys, CA 91405
Broderbund 1938 Fourth St. San Rafael, CA 94901
Datasoft 9421 Winnetka Ave. Chatsworth, CA 91311
Electronic Arts 2775 Campus Dr. San Mateo, CA 94403
Epyx (Automated Simulations) 1043 Kiel Ct. Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Parker Brothers 50 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA 01915
Synapse 5327 Jacuzzi St., Suite 1 Richmond, CA 94804
Thorn EMI 1370 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10019
Photo: Pinball Construction Set
Photo: Miner 2049er
Products: Archon (computer program)
Choplifter (computer program)
Donkey Kong (computer program)
Q-Bert (computer program)
Defender (computer program)
Super Cobra (computer program)
Necromancer (computer program)
Pinball Construction Set (computer program)
M.U.L.E. (computer program)
Miner 2049er (computer program)
Jumpman (computer program)
A.E. (computer program)
Astro Chase (computer program)
Orc Attack (computer program)