Friday, May 1, 2009

Unsung Heroes: Winky

Winky, a red smiley face armed with a bow and arrow, made his debut in Exidy's early-1980's coin-op game Venture.

The game was very impressive in its day -- its dungeon rooms had variety in layout and monsters, AND multiple musical themes, which was a rarity then. The game started out with Winky viewed from above as a small red dot, exploring the dungeon and avoiding the giant spider creatures roaming the hallways. When he entered a doorway, the view zoomed into the room -- the zoom-in effect was pretty impressive, though it wasn't smooth and I suspect a quick series of screen displays built out of progressively more detailed blocks was used to simulate a zoom. Within each room, Winky tried to shoot or avoid the monsters and grab the treasure; more points were earned for taking the risk of leaving the monsters alive and maneuvering around them. Dead monsters remained deadly to the pixel-touch until they decayed away, which added additional time pressure, as the giant spiders would invade the room if Winky was too long at his task. There were also rooms with moving walls instead of monsters, another nice touch for variety's sake, and the treasures were unique to each room.

Venture was reasonably popular in the arcades, and the Colecovision home version was very faithful to the original. Coleco also released less-faithful versions for the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision, so Winky got his day in the sun; I would bet more people have played one of the home versions than the arcade original.

Exidy is apparently no more, which means we're not likely to see a commercial re-release or update of Venture any time soon, unless whoever owns the rights comes out of the woodwork. And that's fine -- like Pac-Man, Winky has such a distinctively 2-D design that I don't think he could even be made recognizable in 3-D. And the basic game concept has been built on and redone to the point that anything that actually PLAYED like the original would seem woefully out-of-date if it were released today.

But I do miss Winky's smiling face beaming broadly in the face of danger. He had personality, or what passed for it in the early days, and the game was a lot of fun. What bothers me most is the naggingly persistent memory that, at the time, Exidy promised a sequel or series of games starring the circular red adventurer; I'm fairly certain I read this in the pages of Electronic Games magazine, or one of its competitors. But as far as I know, no further Winky games ever saw the light of day.

So here's to Winky. Link owes you an unacknowledged debt.

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