Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
Computer Game #1: Robosport (1991)
I contend that Robosport is the greatest computer game ever, because it can only be played on a computer. Equal parts chess and S.W.A.T. tactics, players control a squad of programmable robots armed with machine guns, grenades, missile launchers and time bombs. Each turn, you and your opponents plot out all your moves ahead of time, ordering your robots to take actions in advance without knowing for sure what they’ll run into. This guarantees that a) you are forced to think carefully about your strategy each turn, and b) your best laid plans will usually, hilariously, go awry. Robots cackle gleefully as opponents are blasted from ambush, only to be vaporized seconds later while shouting “Ow!” ‘Bots with attack orders bound around corners and instantly annihilate one another, while those with move orders bounce straight past enemy units. Turns play out as mini-movies, and at the end of the game you can watch the fight unfold in one big exploding replay.
Cheeky and eminently replayable, Robosport is the thinking man’s Battlebots. In fact, I keep nursing along an old Mac with System 7 just so I have a machine on which to play it when my brother comes to visit.
Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Video Game #15: Xevious (1982)
In retrospect, this is just a really good scrolling shooter where you (again) shoot down hordes of invading aliens intent on conquering Earth. (This seemed to happen a lot in the early ’80s.)
At the time however…
Xevious came out at the very peak of the first great wave of video games — Atari even produced TV commercials announcing its arrival (unheard of at the time) — and incorporated every lesson Japanese and American companies had learned up until then about what made a successful and addictive arcade game. It was fun, challenging, rewarded successful hand/eye coordination, and its oversized cabinet came with booming speakers that bathed the player in an array of mesmerizing, cascading sound.
Xevious also introduced a number of concepts — such the idea of defeating a “big boss” to win the game — that have been thoroughly incorporated into other game designs over the last 30 years.
What I remember most though is the strange joy my brother and I felt whenever we walked into the Space Port (the arcade at the Colonial Park Mall) and didn’t see anyone playing Xevious. The game was hugely popular when it first came out, and for the longest time you had to queue up to play. It was in the prime spot at the front of the arcade entrance, and you would hover about hitting lesser games, trying not blow your precious horde of quarters on something you really didn’t want to play while waiting your turn. So if, after riding your bike all the way out to the mall, you turned the corner into Space Port and saw the machine was free, you knew it was going to be a really good day.
Speaking of free, you can apparently now play Xevious here online — no quarter, and no queueing, needed.