The Game for Today!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Missile Command - Can You Save Us?

Missile Command, the 80’s classic, was immensely popular and profitable for Atari, and still out-performs many contemporary games today. Missile Command remains a reminder of the threat of Nuclear War when the United States and Russia were locked in a fierce “Cold War.”

The original idea for Missile Command began with a story about satellites that captured the attention of Atari’s president who passed the idea to Lyle Rains. Rains in turn asked Dave Theurer to lead the project.

In the first proposal for the game, originally called Armageddon, there were missiles attacking the California coastline. According to Theurer, "Part of creating a great game is knowing what to strip away. Some of the first baggage the developers dropped was geographic identifications because of the frightful scenario of the game. And then they stripped away more. The original suggestion also included scanning radar, but I immediately said, no way! It would be just too hard for the player because he wouldn't be able to see what was going on. We chucked that idea. And when we first developed the game, we added railroads to transport missiles from the cities to the missile bases. That got to be too complicated and people got confused... if you get too complicated, people won't play. We also had submarines for a while but that didn't work out so we ripped them out, too.”

Missile Command has made its way into popular culture and appeared in a 1981 episode of the TV Sitcom Barney Miller. The game was also featured in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when John Connor is seen playing the game in an arcade just before the T-1000 shows up.

The world record was set as recently as March 9, 2006, when Tony Temple (AKA TT), a UK based gamer and banker, set a new world record in Tournament mode on new tournament settings. His score of 1,967,830 points beat the record previously held by Roy Shildt, who set his record on the factory default settings. Temple's new record has been recognized by the Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Duck Hunt - Nintendo's Zapper Classic

The game for today is the old home video arcade game classic… Duck Hunt. Originally developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game console in 1984, the game utilized the NFS Zapper to shoot ducks on screen for points. Duck Hunt was one of the two original “pack-in titles” for the first release of the game system - the other game was Gyromite.

Duck Hunt was not often reviewed due to the mid 1980’s release date. Even today, most critics have not reviewed Duck Hunt. Despite the lack of reviews, several user groups have rated the game positively.

Despite the games lack of acceptance with critics, the characters in Duck Hunt have gone on to appear in several other video games. The dog has appeared in Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting and can be shot in the “Balloon Saloon” game. In Super Smash Bros. Melee, a trophy can be unlocked displaying the ducks. Finally, the WarioWare, Inc. series feature several microgames based on Duck Hunt.

In addition to the characters appearing in other games, Duck Hunt has weaved its way through Pop culture including film, television, music, and the Internet.

Its film credits include Boyz N the Hood and the short film titled Duck Hunted.

On television, it has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and the Drawn Together cartoon series.

The original music was composed by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, who has also scored several other Nintendo games. The music was what you would expect for 1980’s video game music (awful by today’s standards), but it is still considered a classic. The game soundtrack is featured in the “Classic Games Medley” on the Video Games Live tour in 2005. Duck Hunt game effects and portions of the sound track were also used in at least one music video…

After Vice President Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of Harry Whittington, Duck Hunt made a return to online Internet games with Whittington replacing the dog and/or the ducks.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moon Patrol - Patrol Sector Nine of Luna City

Moon Patrol is the classic arcade game distributed in the early 1980’s by Williams in the United States. Originally developed by Irem in 1982, the game allows users to take the role of a Luna City police officer assigned to Sector Nine – home of the “toughest thugs in the galaxy.”

The player controls the moon buggy (viewing it from the side) as it travels over the Moon’s surface. While driving, obstacles such as craters and mines must be avoided. The buggy is also attacked by UFO’s from above and tanks on the ground. Moon Patrol is one of the first linear side-scrolling shoot’em games and the first game to feature parallax scrolling.

Game play was straightforward for the day; the top portion of the screen shows a timeline-style map of the current course, and three indicator lights. The top light indicates upcoming enemy aerial attacks, the middle one indicates an upcoming minefield, and the bottom one indicates enemies approaching from behind.
The map shows five different checkpoints labeled E, J, O, T and Z. Similar to racing games, the time spent during between each checkpoint is compared to the average which determines the amount of bonus points allocated to the player.

Moon Patrol was so popular that the game has been ported to several platforms of home computers and game consoles including: Atari 800, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Apple II, Commodore 64, TRS-80, ColecoVision, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation, TI-99/4A, ZX Spectrum, and Mobile OS.

There is a bootleg version of this game called Moon Ranger that made its way to the arcade. This is not related to the unlicensed NES game by the same name developed by Bunch Games.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Star Castle - Another 1980's Classic!

The game for today is Star Castle, the 1980 arcade game designed by Tim Skelly for Cinematronics. The game is your classic vector based monochrome game, ala Asteroids and Tank Hunter. Like many of the Cinematronics titles, the game was ported to the Vectrex video game console in 1980.

Star Castle was not the most popular game, however, it was the basis for the Atari 2600’s Yars’ Revenge, which became a huge success.

The object of Star Castle is to destroy an enemy cannon which sits in the center of three concentric, rotating energy shield rings while avoiding or destroying 'mines' (enemies that generate from the core, pass through the energy rings, and then home in on the player's ship).

The player-controlled spaceship can rotate, thrust forward, and fire small projectiles. The cannon's shields are composed of twelve sections, and each section takes two hits to destroy. Once a section is breached, rings beneath it are exposed to fire. Once the innermost ring has been breached, the central weapon is vulnerable to attack from the player. However, the player is also more vulnerable at this point, as with the shield rings eliminated, the gun can fire out a large projectile. Moreover, the central core tracks player movement at all times. If the player manages to hit the cannon, it explodes violently, collapsing the remnants of the shield rings, and the player is awarded with an extra ship. The next level then starts with a new gun and fully restored shield rings, with the difficulty increased (the mines move faster, the rings rotate more quickly, and the core tracks the player faster).

If the player completely destroys the outermost shield ring, the cannon will create a new one. The middle ring expands to replace the lost outer ring, the inner ring replaces the middle, and a new ring emerges from the core to become the inner ring. In order to penetrate the cannon's defenses, one must be careful not to completely obliterate the outer ring.

The three homing mines will destroy the player's ship on contact. The mines can be destroyed, but they are very small and difficult to hit, and the player does not receive points for destroying them. Mines are revived when shield rings regenerate (some variants keep three mines churning constantly so that a new mine regenerates from the core as soon as one is destroyed). As the player progresses through the levels, the mines get faster and faster, forcing the player to keep moving to avoid them.

At approximately every 182,000 points, game play slows down.
As opposed to some games, the points will not roll over at 1 million (approximately four hours of game play). It is unknown if the score might roll over at 10 million.

Trivia: Star Castle was featured in the 1986 cult movie “Maximum Overdrive” which stared Emilio Estevez and was written and directed by Steven King.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Connect Four - The Captain's Mistress

Connect Four, also known as Plot Four, Four in a Line, and The Captain’s Mistress, is a two player board game made popular by Milton Bradley in the mid-to-late 1970’s.

Based on Tic-Tac-Toe, Connect 4 is a simple “connect four” in a row game that adds the element of restricted placement by requiring the players to “drop” game pieces vertically down the board.

Beginners will often overlook a simple threat to connect four pieces, that’s why it’s always important to check all vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines before making a move. In more advanced play, one aims at forcing a win by making two threats simultaneously.

As a general rule of thumb, discs played in the center columns are more valuable than border column discs, because they participate in more potential four-disc lines (and accordingly limit the opponent's opportunities).

Among good players, the short term goal is to connect three discs, thereby preventing the opponent from playing in a certain column and creating a "threat" in that column. A player who manages to create two threats immediately on top of each other wins directly.

Towards the end, the game often turns into a complex counting match: both players try to win by forcing the other to play a certain column. In these situations it is useful to realize that every column has an even number of places.

Try your luck and see if you can Connect Four!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Putt-Putt - from the St. Andrews to the United States

Putt-Putt, also known as miniature golf, mini golf, midget golf, goofy golf, or crazy golf is modeled after the sport of golf. The term Putt-Putt has been generalized (similar to the use of Formica when describing a laminated surface) to mean miniature golf, but is actually the trademark of a miniature golf company.

The first miniature golf course is often confused with the two earliest U.S. courses: the 1916 backyard Thistle Dhu ("This'll Do") course in Pinehurst, North Carolina, or; the 1927 Tom Thumb patent of Garnet Carter from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Neither of these courses - though each unique on their own - was the true "first" miniature golf course. The Ladies' Putting Club of St. Andrews, Scotland was the first miniature golf course, formed in 1867.

Miniature golf rose to popularity in the late 1910s and early 1920s as a way for early golf fanatics to replicate major golf courses on a small scale. The game was commonly called "garden golf," and was played with a putter on grass.

In 1922, Thomas McCulloch Fairbairn, transformed the game with his formulation of a suitable artificial green (a mixture of cottonseed hulls, sand, oil, and dye). With this discovery, miniature golf became accessible everywhere; by the late 1920s there were over 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone. Mini golf became a popular culture craze in the first years of the Depression but its popularity faded dramatically by 1935 or so.

In 1938 Joe and Bob Taylor from Binghamton, New York started building and operating their own miniature golf courses. These courses differed from the earlier courses of the late 20s and early 30s; they included obstacles, such as windmills, castles, and wishing wells.

Impressed by the quality of the courses, many customers asked if the Taylors would build a course for them. By the early 1940s, Joe and Bob formed Taylor Brothers, and were in the business of building miniature golf courses and supplying obstacles to the industry. During both the Korean and Vietnam Wars the Taylor Brothers prefabricated course that the U.S. Military had contracted to be built and shipped overseas.

In 1961, Bob Taylor, Don Clayton of Putt-Putt, and Frank Abramoff of Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf organized the first miniature golf association known as NAPCOMS (or the "National Association of Putting Course Operators, Manufacturers, and Suppliers"). Their first meeting was held in New York City. Though this organization only lasted a few years it was the first attempt to bring miniature golf operators together to promote miniature golf.

In 1955, Lomma Enterprises, Inc., founded by Al Lomma and his brother Ralph Lomma, led the revival of wacky, animated trick hazards. These hazards required both accurately aimed shots and split-second timing to avoid spinning windmill blades, revolving statuary, and other moving obstacles.

Today, miniature golf is played at a highly competitive level. In the U.S. there are two organizations offering tournaments at the professional level. The Professional Putters Association (PPA) and the US Pro Mini-Golf Association (USPMGA). The USPMGA is the only mini golf sport organization which represents U.S. in the World Minigolf Sport Federation (WMF).

In Europe, competitive miniature golf has also become very popular. Top national players compete for the European Champion title in individual and team competition. The European Minigolf Sport Federation (EMF) also organizes European Junior, Senior championships and Nations cup (a prelude to European Minigolf Championship). Northern European countries also have their own Nordic cups.

Try your hand at a round and maybe you can set a new course record!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Freecell - The Game that Baker Built...

In the June 1968 edition of Scientific American, Martin Gardner wrote an article in his “Mathematical Games” column about a card game by C. L. Baker called Baker’s Game. His game is built by suit and is considered the father of Freecell.

Paul Alfille changed Baker’s Game by making the cards build according to alternating color (not suit), thus creating Freecell. He implemented the first computer version of it on the PLATO educational computer system in 1978.

Alfille’s game gained worldwide popularity thanks to Jim Horne who created a version with color graphics for the Windows environment. It was first included with Microsoft Win32s as a test program, and was made a part of the Windows 95 operating system and has been included with every version of Windows since.

Today, there are FreeCell versions for every modern platform, including some as part of commercial solitaire suites. However, it is estimated that as of 2003, the Microsoft version remains the most popular, despite the fact of its limited features such as retraction of moves.

The original Microsoft package included 32,000 games generated by a 15-bit random number seed. These games are known as the "Microsoft 32,000". Later versions of Microsoft FreeCell include more games, of which the original 32,000 are a subset.

While it is believed that every game is winnable, there are approximately 2.00x1063 possible games. Some games maybe similar to others because suits assigned to cards are arbitrary. When a card is black, for example, it may be assigned to clubs or spades.

In later implementations of FreeCell for Microsoft Windows, there are 1,000,000 games. Of these, 8 have been found to be unsolvable. They are games No. 11,982, No. 146,692, No. 186,216, No. 455,889, No. 495,505, No. 512,118, No. 517,776, and No. 781,948.

One way to "win" at any Microsoft FreeCell game was added as a way to help the original software testers; one must push the following key combination of Ctrl-Shift-F10 at any time during the game. When the dialog box appears on screen click 'Abort' to win, 'Retry' to lose, or 'Ignore' to cancel and continue playing the game as originally intended. Double-click any card for the results. However, this does not actually provide a correct solution to the game.

Try your luck and see if you can win…