December 1987 - Crossroads, Snake Pit, Root Race (Bonus Review: Animal Match)

This issue, appropriately enough, has a feature about the best selling games on the Commodore--but more importantly, it features what I suspect will end up being the best game published in this magazine... and in the running for best on the system, period.

(To celebrate this terrific game, I think I'll switch gears and provide links to direct disk images of all games I rated as 4 stars and up, though I'm going to have to go back to the previous picks)

Crossroads - Steve Harter

What a brilliant game this is! (If it wasn't for this game, this blog might not exist, my childhood interest in Gazette games a mere barely-remembered hobby.) This game is 28 years old, and 14 years ago I reviewed this game for the now sadly defunct (though the Internet Wayback Machine still has a copy) At the time I made this GIF of the player and the enemies:
Though to be fair, I like the more artistic version that came in the magazine itself:
The monster names were picked by the magazine's staff... and I know, because I interviewed the author via e-mail in 2006. (I got his contact info from indie game maker Anna Anthropy who made her own tribute page to this game.)

Anyway, onto the game... it's one of the few that stands up terrifically well as both a one player game and as a head to head game (like in Joust, you have the options to cooperate or compete.) Combining the creepy dungeons of Wizard of Wor with the fearsome crowds of Robotron, you play a gunner, roaming the halls... along with dozens of enemies, ranging from the nearly harmless Blue Fleas to the fellow shooting Red Human Mutants, the ravenous (and vaguely Pac-Man-ish) Yellow Lemonsharks to the perplexing Rubberheads.

A great feature of the game that, unlike many others of its ilk, is that the many of the monster types hate each other as well! It gives you a terrific feeling of being one monster among many, rather than the special character for whom the game world was created. Later, DOOM had a similar concept where you could get enemies enraged at each other, and here it suggests one of the primary strategies: when the level starts you can watch as the monsters zoom in, one wave type at a time, and that should inform your tactics... if one monster type is over-represented, you might want to focus on killing members of the breed and letting more of its enemies survive, so that the sparsely populated end game (that has the monsters tremendously sped-up, ala Space Invaders) isn't a death trap.

I've seen so few games of this era with such attention to general the more monsters there are the faster they go, but the player's speed is never affected. The game uses character graphics (allowing for a truly terrific number of enemies at once) but movement is handled in half-character steps, avoiding the coarse-grained movement that curses most character-based games. However explosions (and monster warp-in) are handled with beautiful sprites, splaying out over the neighboring characters, and again transcending the usual boundaries of this type of graphical system. There's emergent gameplay: a player might accidentally shoot themselves in the back, only to realize they can use the Pac-Man like wraparound corridors to lay traps of bullets that travel forever until they hit an unsuspecting beast. When a player starts the level or comes back after dying, a "cleansing bullet" flies out of the origin spot, thus preventing cheap deaths. Even the attract mode is lovely: besides the scrolling text with point values of the beasts, you can use the number keys to send in various gladiators and observe how they interact with the other monster types.

What more can I say? Rating: 5/5 (Download Crossroads)

Snake Pit - Michael L. Hall

Overshadowed but still decent, a 1 or 2 player game that adds to the typical "Surround" formula by the addition of little tasty mice that move around on their own accord (unlike the apples in Nokia Snake). As you eat them little mousies you grow a bit, increasing the challenge, plus there's a timer. Need to see how the two player stacks up... Tentative Rating:4/5 (Download Snake Pit)

Root Race - Sean D. Wagle

A very pretty but lacking puzzle game.... though you can play against a human, the computer, or even watch the computer play itself.  Players take turns selecting one of their trees to grow its roots. The rules for which tree can grow are oddly arcane... you can't grow into a taken spot, but there's some rule where you can't move to a lower level until all your trees have made all their legal moves on the current level?  So you spend away too much time listening to the unskippable sound blurbs proclaiming illegal moves, or no move available. Rating:2/5

Animal Match - David Wright

A straightforward "Concentration"-style pair matching game, but with lovely sprite graphics and a great interface, mapping the keyboard to the laid out cards. The game has two modes (confusingly called "Keys Only" and the second "Keys and Shapes") - the first is the simple matching game, in the second you can only match the animal currently on large display on the top right. (In the first mode, the animal still displays there but I don't think it affects the game play.) It also has an interesting title screen, cycling colors on the main keyboard display and with an odd techie-sound playing on loop. While stuck under "Education" instead of "Game", I could totally see this being a big hit to play with a kid. Rating:5/5 (Download Animal Match)

November 1987 - Litterbug, The Gumball Rally

Big talk about Sketch Pad, the featured drawing program.

Litterbug - Paul Choquette

Guess I can't blame them for making a big deal about their drawing program, because this issue's flagship game is a dud. Roam across the playfield picking up litter. 2 "litterbugs" chase you- they're slower than you but one can move diagonally, unlike you. If you press the button (but only while not moving, oddly) you can drop a "decoy" that will attract the bugs until one of them touches it. Maybe if the playfield weren't just a solid grid, this could be a better and less tedious game? Rating:2/5

The Gumball Rally - Louis R. Fernandez

This C-128, 2-player only program is a weird game. Each player starts with $2.05: 5 of each of Quarters, Dimes, Nickels, and Pennies. Your goal is to amass as many gumballs as possible... each gumball is a penny a piece, so I guess the maximum is 205 gumballs? The only way you can lose money is if you put too big of a coin in a machine that doesn't have that many gumballs, but any machine that goes to zero (or negative, so to speak) is reset to 26. And you can "Sell Gumballs" (which give you the highest denomination coin) or "Change Machine" which breaks your higher coins into smaller ones. The other odd thing is the game isn't over until each machine is stuff with ten coins. Not playing this against a human yet, there may be a neat trick to it I'm not seeing, but for now, Tentative Rating:2/5

October 1987 - Chopper Pilot, Schnip

Editor Notes the way technology is getting cheaper and better, as seen in purchasing power for home computers. If only they could see us now...

There's an article for programming for GEOS, which is an interesting change of pace.

Chopper Pilot - Christopher R. Boss

Press the firebutton to get your copter's rotors moving (and ultimately control speed), press up to descend and down to ascend (which makes sense for planes, not sure if its really how helicopters work). You soar over a simplified landscape, knocking flags over with your landing struts for points and trying to avoid crashing into other things (you get 25 "errors" before the game is over.)  Not a lot to say about this game... a little too simple, maybe. Rating:3/5

Schnip - David Florance

A two-player only game of... squash, I think. Plays rather Pong-like, though the return angles seem rather limited. The magazine article tries to explicate/generate the strategic depth... it's kind of interesting that the ball changes color based on who has to hit it next, but of course a player is free to hit it twice or more in a row. Tentative Rating:3/5

September 1987 - Bee Zone, Sub Attack

Editor's Notes on the new tech of Laser Printers I'm sure The Onion's version of Tim Cook would approve- though seriously, this comes back to thinking about how weird a pre-WYSIWYG world must have been. (My favorite response to a reader's letter (in the "simple answers to common questions" article answers the metaquestion of what's their most common question? Random printer issues.)

Bee Zone - Kevin Black and Michael Wiens

Oof, fancy title screen, playing a version of flight of the bumblebee. (Press run/stop (capslock on my OSX VICE) to start) Like Q-Bird, this game feels a bit like a Q*bert clone, climb over each of the giant hexagon honeycombs to collect the honey. The 3 bees move in relatively interesting patterns (attacking if they see you) Rating:3/5

Sub Attack - Tai Bush

A 2-player only shoot-at-eachother game. In some ways, not dissimilar to last month's "Front Line's" one on one fight mode, but with subs in a minefield. And sometimes a destroyer floats across the screen dropping depth charges. Weirdly, this doesn't happen every game. I think with some inertia, with anything making this feel like subs (rather than a cigar vs cigar version of Atari 2600 Outlaw) and making avoiding the mines more of a challenge they might have had something here, but as it is: Tentative Rating:2/5

August 1987 - Give 'N Take, Front Line (Bonus Review: Bounty Hunter)

Editor's Notes talk about superconductors. It seems like you don't hear so much about those these days.

"Sprite Magic" gets a 3-year-anniversary reprint, and well-deserved in my opinion.

The Games

Give 'N' Take - Mark Tuttle

(The magazine is inconsistent about how many apostrophes the N gets) I admire the attractive presentation of this game but the interface is lacking. Players (2 humans or human vs computer) take turns picking a piece, and depending on the game variation (Give vs Take) they want to minimize or maximize the number of pieces they are touching. I guess it seems awkward to me that to figure out how many pieces you're getting "credit" for, you have to look at the display surrounding the main playfield, rather than having an at a glance way to tell from the board itself. Anyway, this game might deserve a better score, but it's just not my cuppa. Rating:3/5

Front Line - Georg and Paul Zimmer

This game makes me realize how unusual multi-screen games were in this magazine! Anyway, this 2-player-only game is a bit like Archon light. Players take turns moving one solider at a time, each with different speed and strength characteristics. If you claim all 3 hilltops, you win. If you move onto the square of an enemy solider, the game zooms in to a more action-y one-on-one battle to the death:
That's it! Points off because it's so hard to read the strength/speed characteristics from the little guy icons (you get a reading when you put the cursor over one) and because the characters lack the diversity of the source material... each one is just a dude with a gun, vs Archon's menagerie. Putting on the list of 2-player games to try out. Tentative Rating:4/5

Bonus "Game"

Bounty Hunter - Dan Aven

This is listed in the education/home applications section that I generally have been ignoring, but it seemed very well done, and I liked it's character graphic maps of the USA. In the core game, you have to travel from state to state to hunt down the bad guy- you travel simply by typing the name (or capital, depending on mode) of a state neighboring your current position. Unlike a lot of games of this type, there's a real-time element: the bad guy is moving even as you are slowly typing. Bonus Rating:4/5

July 1987 - Basketball Sam & Ed, Squeeze

Editor's Notes compares new smart electronics in cars (like the ABS) to Ripley's exoskeleton lifter rig from the end of Aliens.

There was an article on input devices, including my personal favorite joystick, released in the USA as the "Epyx 500XJ"...
so clicky and comfortable!
 Reader's Letter of the Month:
Every now and then I have problems with prank phone calls. I own a Commodore 1600 modem. Can I trace a call with the modem? If so, how? If not, why?
I was interested (but not enough to load up, since the menu encourages saving to a different disk)  "Easy Full-Screen Animation" which let you make 3D rotating wireframes on the humble C=64.

The Games

Basketball Sam & Ed - Rhett Anderson and David Hensley, Jr

Now this game is a hoot, and one of my fond memories of my previous collection of Gazettes. It's 1-on-1 basketball... but each player is a basketball. The trouble is neither has a strong enough jump to make it to one of the three baskets, and so has to finagle bouncing off the other player to get enough vertical movement. It's pretty fun, despite (or because) of the frustration of not controlling your movement once you're airborne. I'm also really impressed that there's a moderately decent AI opponent to make up a one player mode. 

Oddly, this game was gussied up and ported to the Sega CD system, under the name Bouncers (Youtube reviewed here in Italian, but it was the best footage I could find.) Rhett Anderson has been active online, including his stackoverflow bio page which says "A game Sega published was based on a dream I had."

At 4-ten "minute" quarters (though with the clock running faster than real time) a game goes a little long. There was a utility program "Basketball Sam & Ed Customizer" that let you tweak that. (along with the ball colors (useful for the case of b+w TVs) and the somewhat messages that scroll by over the billboard (which I guess are meant to be funny, but not really))

Haven't tried this two player lately, but am impressed enough by the originality, the gameplay, and the one player mode to happily say Rating:5/5 (Download Basketball Sam & Ed)

Squeeze - Stephen Shull

A slightly tweaked "Surround" variant, though feature wrapping screens, and the ability to turn off the deadly trail your bug is having coming out of its butt. Annoying beep-beep-beep soundtrack, but this deserves a closer look with two players. Tentative Rating:3/5

June 1987 - Going Up?, Play Bingo

Editor's Notes praises the PET on its tenth anniversary - I guess the aricle's prediction of someday "everyone easily controlling all the dots of light on the screen" is upon us.

My favorite response to a letter from readers gamely (heh) tries to outline the BASICs of writing an adventure program.

Big feature on the history of BASIC, including the Commodore flavor:
Some computer experts [in 1965-1975] predicted that by the year 2000, most Americans would have a home terminal that was connected to a central city computer. However, that concept would have required wiring a city with computer cables similar to phone lines, which would have been a large and expensive project.
The article is looking back at an old guesstimate and the context doesn't quite give a read on if it's being held as a good or bad prediction. I guess bad, since presumably that's talking about dumb terminals, but even dumb terminals could go over a phone line...

Going Up? - Rick Kilbrai

Elevator Dodge 'Ems... a bit like the road part of Frogger, but turned on its side and you have to go back and forth. The only challenge seems to come at the bottom and the top, where the lag before the elevator winds around might get you. Also, it looks like the main character was directly copied from Atari 2600 Pitfall! Rating:2/5

Play Bingo - Louvan and David Wood

This is as much a utility as a game. It's a board printer and Bingo caller. It might be ok for what it is but this blog is judging with a different set of standards of game, so Rating:1/5

May 1987 - Unscramble, Powerball

Sorry for the privacy intrusion, Mr. Jason Gravelle, but people apparently appreciate your collection of COMPUTE!'s Gazette...

Favorite start to a letter to the editor:
I don't seem to understand what download means. When you download a program, is it from your disk drive or from the other person's drive? I don't understand uploading either.
It would be a totally reasonable question, but somehow that final sentence just moves into a new realm of "Grampa Simpson".

Some tech review stuff of voice synthesis and even recognition. It doesn't mention "SAM" (and I have some neurons reminding me that that stands for "Software Automatic Mouth") which was a nifty pure-software toy to do voice synth.

They have some "Dazzlers" along with a construction kit, a colorful charactermode screen-savery thing, a bit hipnotic. The other emphasis is on their recurring word processor "Speedscript". So tough to remember a world before WYSIWYG.

Unscramble - Mark Tuttle

Good lord, this nothing this "game" does that a set of scrabble tiles and a timer glass couldn't do. Players take turns entering five words that get mixed up and the other person has to figure them out. Rating:1/5

Powerball - William Chin

A solid -- if frustrating and graphically minimalist -- version of Arkanoid (aka "Breakout with powerups and random dudes floating around" -- the article references Breakout but not Arkanoid.) You control the bat to bounce the ball back up to clear out the bricks. Little flickery dudes float around to try and confound you. There are normal bricks, tough bricks, and white invulnerable bricks. Powerups are 'S'low, 'C'atch, 'L'onger Paddle, 'F'iring Laser Beam, 'P'owerball (blasts through everything), '3'-balls, 'N'ext Stage, and * for an extra life. There are 10 levels, but even #2 and 3 get pretty tough. Rating:4/5.

April 1987 - Omicron, Skidders

Editor Notes praise the continued strength of the Commodore line, and the feature is Winter CES - including the Amiga 500, which had a much better price and more power than the 1000 that preceded it.

There was also an interesting little toy called "Improviser" included in this, using some math to try to the C=64 to make tunes that were a bit better than purely random...

Omicron - Sean Wagle

Sean, Sean, you're killing me! This game is one tweak away from being a 5. It's a cousin of the arcade game Omega Race, sharing that game's Asteroid-y physics in a distinctive bouncy arena with the game info inside the center. A surprisingly large amount of enemies (Wagle did Star Dragon in June of the previous year, a terrible game but a good multi-sprite tech demo) do a slow orbit around, generally harmless but dropping a variety of mines, but some transform into a fierce warrior, firing in all directions, and if the level goes on too long the fierce warrior is even more of a berserker. (Also, the background tiles with the arrows flowing up is appealing.)

Now, arcade Omega Race (Oddly, my church in Cleveland had one in its rec room) had an interesting control scheme: a spinny dial for direction (with infinite rotation, no stopping points) and Asteroids-y thrust and fire. This control scheme is a challenge to port to joystick-based consoles: in fact, the Atari 2600 came with a special "booster grip" to attach to the top of the standard Atari controller to give it an extra button. Omicron compromised in the ability to "fly one way, fire another" by letting you change momentum in any direction at will, and if you hold the fire button you're firing in a constant direction - until you press the button and hit the joystick at the same time. I feel this would have been a much more joyous game if you were always firing (there's never a reason not to, really), able to change your position while keeping down a steady flow of bullets, and then only using the button to change your firing angle. This game has a terrific kinetic bounce to it, but with the control scheme as it is, you have to rely too much on that bounce to strafe and hope, and can't adjust your position without throwing off your angle. (Possibly the current control scheme is masking some trouble in setting difficulty otherwise?) Rating:4/5

Skidders - I.J. Lyles, Jr

Huh... another 128 BASIC game, terrible in some of the same ways last December's "Moon Rescue" was terrible - sprites that move semi-smoothly but in chunks, emphasizing the collision detection, or rather, not having the collision animation shown until it was time for the next "chunk". (You know, looking into it a little, there was a 128 MOVESPR command, so I think these programmers are using that rather than moving and detecting collisions in frame-size bites.) Anyway, the instructions say you're 1 of 5 "skidders" trapped in a "closed universe", and your friends have gone crazy throwing themselves across looking for an exit, and if they hit you you die. Cheery! But you "win" if you survive 'til the timer reaches 100% (the instructions don't explain what cosmic freedom that represents.) Also you're slowed down tremendously if you hit the yellow boundary lines, though your insane friends are not affected. Rating:2/5

March 1987 - Tile Trader, Ringside Boxing

Nothing too exciting in this issue, the fundamentals of graphics on the C=64. There's a "make pictures via shape rubber stamps" called "Color Craft", and a "Sprite Manager" suite that kind of adds some BASIC Sprite and Joystick commands or something.

Tile Trader - Michael Wiens and Kevin Black

Boring 128 sliding tile puzzle. Press the key corresponding to the tile you want to shove and try to make the original image. Plus it seems glitchy, maybe, like I couldn't make the final finishing move. Rating:1/5
Ringside Boxing - Anthony Bertram
I assume this is some kind of rushed port of October 1986's "Ringside Karate". You have energy bars instead of one hit kills, but the constant "footwork" animation is terrible, I think there are only two punches (awkwardly accessed via diagonals) and a block, and while I haven't given it a fair test, I'm saying Tentative Rating:2/5

February 1987 - Collision Course, Pick-A-Letter

Editor Notes Commodore bringing its PC clone to the United States, mentioning the clones (that would totally dominate the landscape for the next generation after Amiga and ST)... also a vague reference to what was likely the ill-fated PS/2 venture, an attempt to make less clone-able hardware.

One thing I've noticed that I've had to fireup the C=128 emulator from time to time is how prominently "Microsoft" is displayed, in a way it wasn't on the C=64 boot screen...
So it's amazing, even without Microsofts' genius deal with IBM to keep control of MS-DOS, which let the PC/clone dominance happen, they and their BASIC would be remembered as a dominant force in the home computer era. (Of course, BASIC was one of Gates' big hands-on programming achievements...)

Also, I'm sort of amused by the sincerity with which some reader went and underlined passages in this month's article on printers. They were really giving it a lot of attention and thought!

The Games

Collision Course - Mark Tuttle

"You've never seen road conditions like this" says the front cover... unless of course you've played Dodge 'Em on the Atari 2600 or one of like a dozen clones of Sega's 1979 Classic "Head On". So this is a very attractive version of a rather bad game. You drive counter-clockwise, a computer opponent drives clockwise and wants to crash into you, you can switch lanes when at the middle of any of the 4 sides, and press fire to go faster. And you're picking up dots. (I wonder if this was one of the first "dot collection" games, the genre Pac-Man mastered? If nothing else it's a decent way to force a player to move all the way around a maze...) Rating:3/5

Pick-A-Letter - Michael Blackmon

A Wheel-of-Fortune variant, though instead of a wheel the arrow zips along the row of points, and the card symbols are bonuses or hazards. I guess if someone typed this in they'd have a slight advantage since all the solutions are unencrypted in the DATA statements. Rating:3/5

January 1987 - Decipede, Connect 'Em

A new year! I know from memory that this year ends on an extremely high note, so I'm hopeful for the rest.

Editor Notes the Winter CES. It seems like year after year these two shows (it used to be twice annually) provide a bulk of fodder to go on about in this column, and for a number of the feature articles. And I guess it is an exclusive, insider peek, but still. Maybe I'm jaded because I'm going through the years relatively quickly, so the patterns of repetition (for printers, modems, online services (This month: The Fundamentals of Downloading") etc) is all too obvious.

They've started to include some utilities for GEOS... I wonder if any GEOS-only games will show up.

Decipede - James Knesek

A cute port of Centipede ('Decipede' is an arcade-style action game' starts on the article's paragraphs, putting it mildly.) It's a nice exercise in the use of the C=64's basic graphics set... the centi-- err, decipede is made of filled in circles, the player is the spade character from cards, the spider is a large X crosspiece, mushrooms are club characters (diamonds when poisoned), the scorpion is an asterisk and the mushroom-adding flea is pi. The action is very fast, especially the movement of the player, but something is definitely lost. Plus a quibble, the board reset marking the player's death vs. finishing off the centipede is weirdly similar, with the player reappearing in the middle of the board, so you have to wait a second to know "did I get the centipede? or did she get me?" Rating:3/5

Bonus Screenshot: I'm half tempted to go back and make extra screenshots of games that had a nice title screen...
I feel like I spent many content hours making very similar title screens for games that never came to be... it got me noticing a certain kind of typography.

Connect 'Em - Francis Chambers

Unlike June 1986's "Squares" this game is "just" the pen-and-paper game put on screen. Charmingly, to set a computer player you enter its name as "C-64". (You can actually set the computer to play itself this way, which is a nice touch (though you might want to use VICE's "warp" feature to see a game unfold.) The pace is slow, the interface just adequate. Rating:2/5

December 1986 - Q-Bird, Moon Rescue, Pegs (Bonus Review: The Animals Show)

Kind of a slow issue, news-wise... Maybe the Atari ST wasn't selling that much better than the Amiga, Commodore 64 games are getting better, and simulations are getting more popular, yadda yadda yadda.

The Games...

Q-Bird - Mike Sedore

Laughing at the name's winking acknowledgement of the game's inspiration "Q*bert". The cute and detailed sprites really make this game (and come to think of it, the programmer must be juggling the display order, making sure that creatures behind are drawn before the ones in front.) A little disappointed that the enemy's diversity is only in their movement: Coily- err, the cobra- chases, the purple lizards move randomly, a hawk soars left to right and a ball rolls straight top to bottom, touching anything is death, but the collision detection is forgiving. And there's a flashing egg that freezes all enemies and makes them harmless. Hope on each tile to change it's color, later boards requiring more hops, but as far as I can tell it never plays Q*berts "hopping again changes it back" games. Terrible looping music but the bird's hopping chirp sounds nice. I'm torn about the score here... 4 is a bit dangerous given how derivative it is and it lacks Q*berts variety of enemy threats (like changing tiles back) but it's so cute, and plays reasonably well. Rating:4/5

Moon Rescue - Edward E. Boughton

Sigh. On the one hand, I like the egalitarian and empowering nature of this bout of C=128 games in BASIC... and they ARE generally better than most of the C=64 BASIC games, with the silver lining that maybe people would be encouraged to hack them into better games... because man, there are some stinkers. I've never seen a Lunar Lander/Rescue game with control as bad as this... this whole game is strangely quantized so your lander's thrust is in odd spurts, and the collision detection is unforgiving... worse, collisions' effects are delayed, so you think you're safe then your ship expands in weird ways representing its demise. Endearingly, the program starts each game by asking you "MAKE NEW ROCKS (Y/N)"... but then it generates just one new shape which it repeats 4 times. (I wonder if originally all the rocks were supposed to be different, but the generation process was just taking too long...) Rating:2/5

Pegs - Jim and Deborah Chambers

The Commodore 64 was a brilliant game machine, capable of exciting arcade action and various strategic thrills. This game is barely fun when you're waiting for your food at Cracker Barrell. Rating:1/5

Bonus Review!

The Animals Show - Cullen O'Day

This 128 Toy is charming! You pick one of 5 animals (frogs, parrots, pigs, cats, mice) each with its own sound, and then the curtain opens on a stage with 8 of your choice, each tuned to a different note. You can save and load the tunes you then make. This would actually make a decent iOS toy, I think. There are some problems... it's weirdly slow to load, and it would be awesome to be able to mix-and-match the voice, but the presentation was really good, and it was just pleasant to fool around with. Bonus Rating: 4/5