Andrew Newton on the video games we were playing back in February 1980…
The 1980s were a wonderful decade that gave us some of the best music ever, some of the best movies and, more importantly, some of the best videogames. The year 1980 saw the arrival of one of the most important computer brands to hit the UK, the Sinclair ZX80. First released on the 29th January 1980 in both kit form and ready made for less than £100, the ZX80 proved so popular that there was a waiting list for a good few months. Games on the ZX80 were very basic (pun intended) but the UK was playing some entertaining games from other (albeit much more expensive) sources. NB. The games listed weren’t necessarily released in February but they would have been played at that time.
Star Raiders was released on the Atari 8-bit computers in 1979 but was one the most popular games to arrive on the platform, in fact it was so popular that it was later ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200 and even the Atari ST. For those fortunate to own an Atari 400/800 this would have been a title they would be enjoying.
This first-person space combat simulator took players into the darkness of space to combat an invading fleet of alien Zylon vessels (the name no doubt taken from the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica). When in this mode players used their cross hair to target and shoot enemies before they could inflict damage on the player’s shield. The game also used a 2D grid which served as both a map and scanner of sorts, known as the Galactic Map. Players would use this to navigate through space and players were able to see which regions of space were clear and which were occupied by enemy ships or a friendly starbase.
Unlike many games of the time, Star Raiders could actually be beat by destroying all enemy ships on the Galactic Map. However, there were no scores to boast to friends about in the playground, instead players were ranked based on performance with an especially poor performance being awarded the rank of “Garbage Scow Captain”.
The video below (kindly provided by Steve Benway) shows gameplay from the Atari 8-bit version.
November 1979 saw the arrival of the long time classic Asteroids into the Arcades thanks to Atari. This was such a popular arcade machine for an exceptionally long time, even being played in my local arcade long into the 90s. It proved to be so popular that every home computer had either a version or a clone made for it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock on Pluto for the last 40 years you’ll all know Asteroids and it’s multidirectional shooty gameplay. What many may not know is the arcade game had an exploit that allowed players to avoid the flying saucer and its attacks by keeping the ship on the opposite side of the screen from the saucer when it appears then moving across the screen boundary and destroying the saucers to accumulate points quick without risk. Atari, being the spoilsports they are, did try and patch it.
Notable Asteroids clones include Acornsoft’s Meteors (1982), Moons of Jupiter for the VIC-20 (1982), Quality Software’s Asteroids in Space on the Atari 8-bit (1980) and MineStorm for the Vectrex (1982).
Although released in November 1979 the Microvision by Milton Bradley would have certainly been played with during the early 80s. If you’ve never heard of this little machine then it’s no surprise, however it is the grandfather of all contemporary handhelds as it was the first handheld device to use interchangeable game cartridges. Despite the system changing the way the world viewed handhelds the small screen and lack of support from software companies it stopped being produced in 1981. Still, former Nintendo designer Satoru Okada says this humble and soon forgotten device was the inspiration for the Game & Watch devices (watch out for Game & Watch arriving in a later month).
Games that were more than likely being played on the Microvision at this time would be:
- Blockbuster – A simple Breakout clone.
- Bowling – A top down game that had players knocking down 10 pins.
- Connect 4 – Just like the age old game.
- Shooting Star (Star Trek Phaser Strike in US) – A shooter requiring players shoot a line that appears from the side of the screen. How this tied in to Star Trek is beyond me!
- Pinball – More of a bat and ball game than pinball so don’t expect any flippers or features.
- Sea Duel – A sea battle game between a battleship and submarine that had players using strategy and skill to outwit either the AI or a friend. This is quite possibly the best of the bunch.
Although the Microvision didn’t last long there is a chance we may not have had the handheld systems of the day without it.
Check out Steve Benway’s video below showing Block Breaker in action.
Lords of Karma
When talking to people nowadays about the text adventure genre there seems to be a bit of a Marmite thing going. People either loved them or hated them, but at the time they did seem quite popular with every software house at the time having at least 1 in their catalogue. In fact, you’d often come across ads in gaming magazines of a new text adventure from Jimmy who lived down the road, such was their popularity.
Lords of Karma for the TRS-80, Apple II, Atari 8-bits and Commodore PET (all expensive computers that the average UK home wouldn’t see) differed from the norm and introduced an element of randomness by slightly changing the gameworld with each playthrough. Encounters with characters and enemies and even the location of items and treasure would vary each time. The game was released in early 1980 in North America by Avalon Hill.
The purpose of the game was to acquire a set amount of Karma points to allow the player to get into Heaven, although the player never knew how many were needed from one playthrough to the next. Points were gained by completing tasks, offering treasures to the gods and praying, but they could also be lost by doing negative deeds such as killing a friend. This is where the game’s randomness failed as some players would simply have to pray a few times and the game would be over thanks to a very low karma point goal.
Still, it was different than the norm and provided players with a slightly different experience each time so deserves to be remembered.
A big thank you again to Steve Benway for allowing us to use his videos. Be sure to subscribe and check in with us next month for more 80s nostalgia.