12. E.T.: The Extraterrestrial

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial
Atari 2600
1982

Oh boy.

This is not the worst video game ever. It ain’t as awful as Barnstorming, for instance. But it sure is a big piece of shit. 

You play as E.T., an extraterrestrial. E.T. came to Earth, apparently to fall into holes. Randomly. Repeatedly. On occasion you will find piece of a telephone in one of the holes. Immediately after finding this piece, Dick Tracy will steal that piece from you, hiding it in some other fucking hole. Presumably, this is because Dick Tracy hates phones. 

That is normally the point in which I scream with frustration and rip this worthless goddamn game from my Atari, swearing to never play the game again. But today was different. Today, I was a man on a mission. I was going to beat this stupid freaking game, no matter how many damn holes I had to fall into. 

The first step of making this fantasy a reality was to read the manual. This actually did a lot to explain the non-intuitive control scheme the game used. What I had always thought was a broken radar system at the top of the screen, turns out to actually be a key to using E.T.’s magic powers. I didn’t even know E.T. had magic powers.

Armed with magic powers, and schooled in how to not immediately fall back into the hole E.T. just climbed out of, I returned to the game confident that I could spank the hell out of Dick Tracy and phone my Extraterrestrial ass home.

Obviously, I’m kind of stupid.

Three hours later, I have managed to build a phone, I have actually phoned home, but just when my spaceship is about to show up, Dick Tracy blunders into the forest, scaring them off. Then Dick Tracy takes part of my phone. This game is bullshit.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

12. E.T.: The Extraterrestrial

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial
Atari 2600
1982

Oh boy.

This is not the worst video game ever. It ain’t as awful as Barnstorming, for instance. But it sure is a big piece of shit. 

You play as E.T., an extraterrestrial. E.T. came to Earth, apparently to fall into holes. Randomly. Repeatedly. On occasion you will find piece of a telephone in one of the holes. Immediately after finding this piece, Dick Tracy will steal that piece from you, hiding it in some other fucking hole. Presumably, this is because Dick Tracy hates phones. 

That is normally the point in which I scream with frustration and rip this worthless goddamn game from my Atari, swearing to never play the game again. But today was different. Today, I was a man on a mission. I was going to beat this stupid freaking game, no matter how many damn holes I had to fall into. 

The first step of making this fantasy a reality was to read the manual. This actually did a lot to explain the non-intuitive control scheme the game used. What I had always thought was a broken radar system at the top of the screen, turns out to actually be a key to using E.T.’s magic powers. I didn’t even know E.T. had magic powers.

Armed with magic powers, and schooled in how to not immediately fall back into the hole E.T. just climbed out of, I returned to the game confident that I could spank the hell out of Dick Tracy and phone my Extraterrestrial ass home.

Obviously, I’m kind of stupid.

Three hours later, I have managed to build a phone, I have actually phoned home, but just when my spaceship is about to show up, Dick Tracy blunders into the forest, scaring them off. Then Dick Tracy takes part of my phone. This game is bullshit.

11. Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong
Atari 2600
1982


With Donkey Kong, I once again find myself playing a mediocre port of a great arcade game.  Jump over barrels.  Jump over ducks.  Repeat.  

It always feels somewhat strange to be playing this game on the Atari.  Mario is the Warrior Prince of Nintendo, a self-made man who has crushed any and all foolhardy enough get between him and his goal world conquest in the name of the Famicom Family. So it is a bit unnerving to see him on a non-Nintendo cartridge.  

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

11. Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong
Atari 2600
1982


With Donkey Kong, I once again find myself playing a mediocre port of a great arcade game.  Jump over barrels.  Jump over ducks.  Repeat.  

It always feels somewhat strange to be playing this game on the Atari.  Mario is the Warrior Prince of Nintendo, a self-made man who has crushed any and all foolhardy enough get between him and his goal world conquest in the name of the Famicom Family. So it is a bit unnerving to see him on a non-Nintendo cartridge.  

10. Barnstorming

Barnstorming
Atari 2600
1982



So I’ve been slogging through my large supply of Atari games for a while now, so naturally my best friend gives me a box fulla even more Atari games. This means, that two weeks into this project and I’m back to the letter B. I’m never going to reach the N.E.S. Never.


Instead I’m going to play “games” like Barnstorming until I die of internal bleeding.


Seriously, Barnstorming, what the fuck? Who the hell made this? Who conceived this? Is this a joke? A game made as a dare? I’ve played some bad Atari games in my time, but this one leaves me with an uncomfortable burning sensation. 

This is the whole game: You fly a biplane above barns, trying to avoid geese and windmills. If you hit a goose or windmill, you are momentarily slowed down. You just keep going until you get bored and turn off the game in bitter frustration. 

I refuse to even classify this as a game. Barnstorming makes me yearn for yesterday when I was bitterly dying from Crystal Castles. Those were damn good times compared to this load of cartridge. The time I spent playing Bowling was productive and enriching compared to the time I spent playing Barnstorming. 

Barnstorming makes me want to set fire to my Atari for having ever been exposed to such a waste of time. Barnstorming wants me want to punch myself in the face for having ever seen this game. Barnstorming makes me want to track down the designer of the game, and write him a letter saying simply “you suck.” 

I’m going to kill my copy of Barnstorming.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

10. Barnstorming

Barnstorming
Atari 2600
1982



So I’ve been slogging through my large supply of Atari games for a while now, so naturally my best friend gives me a box fulla even more Atari games. This means, that two weeks into this project and I’m back to the letter B. I’m never going to reach the N.E.S. Never.


Instead I’m going to play “games” like Barnstorming until I die of internal bleeding.


Seriously, Barnstorming, what the fuck? Who the hell made this? Who conceived this? Is this a joke? A game made as a dare? I’ve played some bad Atari games in my time, but this one leaves me with an uncomfortable burning sensation. 

This is the whole game: You fly a biplane above barns, trying to avoid geese and windmills. If you hit a goose or windmill, you are momentarily slowed down. You just keep going until you get bored and turn off the game in bitter frustration. 

I refuse to even classify this as a game. Barnstorming makes me yearn for yesterday when I was bitterly dying from Crystal Castles. Those were damn good times compared to this load of cartridge. The time I spent playing Bowling was productive and enriching compared to the time I spent playing Barnstorming. 

Barnstorming makes me want to set fire to my Atari for having ever been exposed to such a waste of time. Barnstorming wants me want to punch myself in the face for having ever seen this game. Barnstorming makes me want to track down the designer of the game, and write him a letter saying simply “you suck.” 

I’m going to kill my copy of Barnstorming.

9. Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles
Atari 2600
1984


In Crystal Castles you play a Teddy Bear collecting power pellets while trying not to be killed by trees. That is the only good thing about this game. The rest of it is an exercise in frustrating unplayablility. Once, years ago, somebody took a look at Q*Bert and decided that the problem with the game was that it needed to be crappy.  That person made Crystal Castles.  Then they ported it to the Atari. 

There is a mindstate you can slip into when playing a certain type of game, wherein you refuse to quit playing because you know you could blow through these simple stages if only you could overcome the incredibly awkward controls. This is a textbook example of such.  Crystal Castles has painfully simple mazes that kill you because successfully jumping is a taxing challenge. This game also makes an often fatal challenge out of the mere act of successfully spotting the pellets that you are supposed to collect.  

This is the worst video game that this project has caused me to play, so far.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

9. Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles
Atari 2600
1984


In Crystal Castles you play a Teddy Bear collecting power pellets while trying not to be killed by trees. That is the only good thing about this game. The rest of it is an exercise in frustrating unplayablility. Once, years ago, somebody took a look at Q*Bert and decided that the problem with the game was that it needed to be crappy.  That person made Crystal Castles.  Then they ported it to the Atari. 

There is a mindstate you can slip into when playing a certain type of game, wherein you refuse to quit playing because you know you could blow through these simple stages if only you could overcome the incredibly awkward controls. This is a textbook example of such.  Crystal Castles has painfully simple mazes that kill you because successfully jumping is a taxing challenge. This game also makes an often fatal challenge out of the mere act of successfully spotting the pellets that you are supposed to collect.  

This is the worst video game that this project has caused me to play, so far.

8. Combat

Combat
Atari 2600
1977

Sun Tzu wrote “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”  He was probably talking about Tank-Pong when he wrote that. 

War may be hell, but Combat is just plain fun.  You and a buddy try to kill each other in tanks.  Or you and a buddy try to shoot each other down in a dogfight.  In tanks, you can play with guided missiles (awesome), invisible tanks (awesome), or ping-pong shells (awesome).   In the skies you can play with jets (awesome) or biplanes (not all that awesome).

  

Despite the fact that the tank stages can be pretty imbalanced, with one side quickly racking up consecutive kills, Combat never stops being fun.  When I play Combat with my roommate, we play a lot of Combat, as cycle through one game mode after the next.  If this game has taught me anything, it is that Combat breeds more Combat. 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

8. Combat

Combat
Atari 2600
1977

Sun Tzu wrote “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”  He was probably talking about Tank-Pong when he wrote that. 

War may be hell, but Combat is just plain fun.  You and a buddy try to kill each other in tanks.  Or you and a buddy try to shoot each other down in a dogfight.  In tanks, you can play with guided missiles (awesome), invisible tanks (awesome), or ping-pong shells (awesome).   In the skies you can play with jets (awesome) or biplanes (not all that awesome).

  

Despite the fact that the tank stages can be pretty imbalanced, with one side quickly racking up consecutive kills, Combat never stops being fun.  When I play Combat with my roommate, we play a lot of Combat, as cycle through one game mode after the next.  If this game has taught me anything, it is that Combat breeds more Combat. 

7. Centipede

Centipede
Atari 2600
1982

Here’s the thing about ports of games that were meant to be played with a trackball:  They are never worth playing without a trackball. This rule is always true. So even though this is a pretty good port, the Atari doesn’t have a trackball, so they should have never bothered.

Also, the game is some serious ugly.  I mean the mushrooms look like rectangular dots.  Check it:

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

7. Centipede

Centipede
Atari 2600
1982

Here’s the thing about ports of games that were meant to be played with a trackball:  They are never worth playing without a trackball. This rule is always true. So even though this is a pretty good port, the Atari doesn’t have a trackball, so they should have never bothered.

Also, the game is some serious ugly.  I mean the mushrooms look like rectangular dots.  Check it:

6. Carnival

Carnival
Atari 2600
1982

A truly good Atari game is one that leaves you with the compulsion to play over and over again, trying to beat your high score and/or the high scores of your friends. By this metric, Carnival is a good Atari game, the first one in my collection. 

Carnival is a shootinggallery game and it is all about ammo conservation. Every shot counts and you are under constant attack from bullet-eating ducks, which is a refreshing departure from most shooting galleries.  This game is a really nice mix of strategy, precision, and making every shot count. 

Honestly, years later, this game still feels refreshingly unique, although as is so often the case, it does suffer in comparison to the arcade original.  Also, it loses a little bit of its luster once you figure out the optimum approach to clear stages, effectively allowing you to repeat the same pattern until you slip up.  This keeps it just a little too solveable to be truly great. 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

6. Carnival

Carnival
Atari 2600
1982

A truly good Atari game is one that leaves you with the compulsion to play over and over again, trying to beat your high score and/or the high scores of your friends. By this metric, Carnival is a good Atari game, the first one in my collection. 

Carnival is a shooting gallery game and it is all about ammo conservation. Every shot counts and you are under constant attack from bullet-eating ducks, which is a refreshing departure from most shooting galleries.  This game is a really nice mix of strategy, precision, and making every shot count. 

Honestly, years later, this game still feels refreshingly unique, although as is so often the case, it does suffer in comparison to the arcade original.  Also, it loses a little bit of its luster once you figure out the optimum approach to clear stages, effectively allowing you to repeat the same pattern until you slip up.  This keeps it just a little too solveable to be truly great. 

5. California Games

California Games
Atari 2600
1987



California Games is a package of four “extreme” “sports” “games” for the Atari.  They are Skateboarding, Biking, Surfing, and Hacky Sack. That’s right, there exists a hacky sack simulator for the Atari. I spent today playing it. This is how I’m choosing to spend my life, playing virtual hacky sack running on an Atari VCS. 

I will share with y’all the best thing about this game. From the manual “After each event, ‘Louie, Louie’ will play, signifying the end of the event.”  That is the bes way to end a timed video game event I’ve ever heard of.  That is the best way to end anything ever. Louie Louie should be the signifier for the end of all things, not just “extreme” “sport” competitions. If you have to fire someone, just call them into your office and play Louie Louie. It will soften the blow. What could some lame eulogy communicate that couldn’t more eloquently be said by Louie Louie?

When my girlfriend dumps my ass for some Italian haberdasherer, I hope she break the news to me by way of Louie Louie. I’ll understand. 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

5. California Games

California Games
Atari 2600
1987



California Games is a package of four “extreme” “sports” “games” for the Atari.  They are Skateboarding, Biking, Surfing, and Hacky Sack. That’s right, there exists a hacky sack simulator for the Atari. I spent today playing it. This is how I’m choosing to spend my life, playing virtual hacky sack running on an Atari VCS. 

I will share with y’all the best thing about this game. From the manual “After each event, ‘Louie, Louie’ will play, signifying the end of the event.”  That is the bes way to end a timed video game event I’ve ever heard of.  That is the best way to end anything ever. Louie Louie should be the signifier for the end of all things, not just “extreme” “sport” competitions. If you have to fire someone, just call them into your office and play Louie Louie. It will soften the blow. What could some lame eulogy communicate that couldn’t more eloquently be said by Louie Louie?

When my girlfriend dumps my ass for some Italian haberdasherer, I hope she break the news to me by way of Louie Louie. I’ll understand. 

4. Boxing

Boxing
Atari 2600
1980

As Bowling illustrated, the phrase “Atari sports game” rarely leads to a happy ending, but Activision’s Boxing is an awesome 2 player game, a fast and frenzied game of finesse and fancy footwork. Really. Kudos to Activision and to game designer, Bob Whitehead.

It is a very simple game: One player is the white guy, one guy is the black guy. You can punch with your left or right fist and who ever lands the most hits in one round wins. Sounds dull, but somehow it isn’t.   The single player game is worthless, but get a friend to play this game with you, and there’s an elegance to the game that endures decades of advances in boxing game technology. They say that boxing is a just like ballet, only with no music, no choreography and the dancers try to hit each other. This game captures that feel perfectly.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

4. Boxing

Boxing
Atari 2600
1980

As Bowling illustrated, the phrase “Atari sports game” rarely leads to a happy ending, but Activision’s Boxing is an awesome 2 player game, a fast and frenzied game of finesse and fancy footwork. Really. Kudos to Activision and to game designer, Bob Whitehead.

It is a very simple game: One player is the white guy, one guy is the black guy. You can punch with your left or right fist and who ever lands the most hits in one round wins. Sounds dull, but somehow it isn’t.   The single player game is worthless, but get a friend to play this game with you, and there’s an elegance to the game that endures decades of advances in boxing game technology. They say that boxing is a just like ballet, only with no music, no choreography and the dancers try to hit each other. This game captures that feel perfectly.

2. Berzerk

Berzerk
Atari 2600 
1982

Like Asteroids, Atari’s Berzerk is a port of a popular arcade game. Unlike Asteroids, actually, unlike most Atari games, this is a prety close port of the original. Unfortunately, what’s being ported is a fairly crap game. 

I guess you’d say that Berzerk is an overhead run ‘n gun game. You are a dude in a maze shooting robots that are trying to shoot you, which is the sort of scenario I like to encourage. This game was probably mindblowingly cool in 1982. 

But this is 2008, and I can’t help but notice that there is only one kind of robot. And the maze is generated randomly. And if you touch anything, you die. And the random generation means you will die cheaply sometimes. And by “sometimes” I mean “often.” And if you die the game makes an unusually annoying electrocution sound. Seriously, that annoying sound effect is the most memorable part of this game. 

Y’know, this is a game that is simple enough to feel boringly easy, while also being cheap enough to feel unfairly difficult. That’s a good trick. 

Despite being a pretty crappy game, Berzerk does have some charm. For one thing, the robots are extraordinarily stupid, constantly shooting each other and walking into the death walls. I choose to view that bloody-minded robot behavior as a feature not a bug. The really crazy thing about the game is that if you dally too long in one room, you will be chased by an unkillable bouncing smiley face. The smiley face is named Evil Otto. I dare you not to love that. 

In recent years we’ve made gains in technical capabilities and in game design allowing for much better robots-in-a-maze-scenarios. However, we’ve lost something along the way, and that something is evil unkillable smiley faces. Designers, take note.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

2. Berzerk

Berzerk
Atari 2600 
1982

Like Asteroids, Atari’s Berzerk is a port of a popular arcade game. Unlike Asteroids, actually, unlike most Atari games, this is a prety close port of the original. Unfortunately, what’s being ported is a fairly crap game. 

I guess you’d say that Berzerk is an overhead run ‘n gun game. You are a dude in a maze shooting robots that are trying to shoot you, which is the sort of scenario I like to encourage. This game was probably mindblowingly cool in 1982. 

But this is 2008, and I can’t help but notice that there is only one kind of robot. And the maze is generated randomly. And if you touch anything, you die. And the random generation means you will die cheaply sometimes. And by “sometimes” I mean “often.” And if you die the game makes an unusually annoying electrocution sound. Seriously, that annoying sound effect is the most memorable part of this game. 

Y’know, this is a game that is simple enough to feel boringly easy, while also being cheap enough to feel unfairly difficult. That’s a good trick. 

Despite being a pretty crappy game, Berzerk does have some charm. For one thing, the robots are extraordinarily stupid, constantly shooting each other and walking into the death walls. I choose to view that bloody-minded robot behavior as a feature not a bug. The really crazy thing about the game is that if you dally too long in one room, you will be chased by an unkillable bouncing smiley face. The smiley face is named Evil Otto. I dare you not to love that. 

In recent years we’ve made gains in technical capabilities and in game design allowing for much better robots-in-a-maze-scenarios. However, we’ve lost something along the way, and that something is evil unkillable smiley faces. Designers, take note.

Swag Report

Last week my friends threw a birthday part for me, er, at my house. Ever since, some of them have been harassing me to post a Swag Report. So they can read about the presents they gave me. 

My lovely girlfriend gave me a toy Cyberman with awesome sculpt and nice articulation. Actually, she gave it to me weeks before the party and birthday because she is crazy. 

My friend

, has, over the past two years, given me Star Trek: The Next Generation How to Host a Murder Mystery, Star Trek Guess Who, and Doctor Who Operation. I wasn’t sure that this was a trend that she could sustain, but she went and gave me this: 

How awesome is that?  She also got me bacon salt and an autographed portrait of Bert and Ernie. Seriously, I get the best presents from her.  

I also got Lego Star Wars for the Xbox.  Which rocks.  

That does it for the swag.  Here’s some pictures of those friends in attendance:

There was also a lie.  It was penguin shaped!

It was a good day.  Except for the fact that I was terribly sick. 

1. Asteroids

Asteroids
1981
Atari 2600

Thanks to the quirks of the alphabet, I get to begin this exercise with one of the true classics of the field, Asteroids. Asteroids is a timeless game, worthy of inclusion on any Greatest list, as fun to play today as it was 29 years ago.

The arcade original, that is. However, I’m playing the Atari 2600 port.

This is a game I’ve played off and on for my entire life without it ever leaving a strong impression. Usually when I start a game of Asteroids my reaction is, “why am I not playing Space Invaders?” I then swap out my copy of Asteroids and play Space Invaders. But not today. This time I keep playing Asteroids.

If you somehow don’t know, the entire point of Asteroids is to shoot giant space rocks from your space ship without being hit by the rocks as they crumble into smaller rocks. The winning strategy for the Atari version is to never move your space ship from the center of the screen.

On my very first play attempt today, I maxed out my extra lives and rolled over my high score. This consumed about 45 minutes of my life. It turns out that this game is as much fun as you’d expect from a simulation of shooting rocks while standing still.

Fortunately, I have options, for the coolest thing about the Atari is that almost ever game for it comes with alternate versions. Asteroids, for example, has 132 seperate variants. That means I can make it harder. Much harder. After some tinkering, I find that variant 6A (Fast Asteroids, Hyperspace, exra life every 20,000 points, flying saucers) makes for a solid game, a rough but passable imitation of the classic original.

I’d still rather play Space Invaders.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

1. Asteroids

Asteroids
1981
Atari 2600

Thanks to the quirks of the alphabet, I get to begin this exercise with one of the true classics of the field, Asteroids. Asteroids is a timeless game, worthy of inclusion on any Greatest list, as fun to play today as it was 29 years ago.

The arcade original, that is. However, I’m playing the Atari 2600 port.

This is a game I’ve played off and on for my entire life without it ever leaving a strong impression. Usually when I start a game of Asteroids my reaction is, “why am I not playing Space Invaders?” I then swap out my copy of Asteroids and play Space Invaders. But not today. This time I keep playing Asteroids.

If you somehow don’t know, the entire point of Asteroids is to shoot giant space rocks from your space ship without being hit by the rocks as they crumble into smaller rocks. The winning strategy for the Atari version is to never move your space ship from the center of the screen.

On my very first play attempt today, I maxed out my extra lives and rolled over my high score. This consumed about 45 minutes of my life. It turns out that this game is as much fun as you’d expect from a simulation of shooting rocks while standing still.

Fortunately, I have options, for the coolest thing about the Atari is that almost ever game for it comes with alternate versions. Asteroids, for example, has 132 seperate variants. That means I can make it harder. Much harder. After some tinkering, I find that variant 6A (Fast Asteroids, Hyperspace, exra life every 20,000 points, flying saucers) makes for a solid game, a rough but passable imitation of the classic original.

I’d still rather play Space Invaders.

From 2600 to 360

I own a lot of console games. Maybe 200 games over 18 systems,
including hand-helds. I’m not a collector. I don’t buy games I don’t
intend to play and I don’t keep games I don’t like. I’ve tried to
maintain my collection to only games that I’m likely to play or replay
at some point, but fact is, many of these games have sat on my shelf
for years. Some have never been played.

That all changes now. Starting today, I’m going to play every game I
own, in order, starting with my oldest systems and working my way
forward. I’m going to include hand-held games as part of this series,
and I’ll probably include Xbox Live Arcade games once I get to the
current generation of gaming. However, I intend to exclude PC and MAME
emulated Arcade boards. Maybe after I’ve played and reviewed every
game in my library I will go ahead and review every Arcade game ever
made. Maybe that’s stupid.

First up is my catalog of Atari 2600 games. The Atari is noteworthy
as being the system I’ve had parents throw away without my consent 3
times. Despite undergoing multiple involuntary purges, I’ve still got
a lot of Atari games, many of them awful. I can’t wait to dive into
them.