Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (p. 4)

If you're just joining in progress, we're making a detailed survey of the Acorn Software Products, Inc. catalog of TRS-80 releases circa Fall 1981.  We are currently perusing the entertainment section, and we pick up where we left off last time, with a set of traditional-style games on page 4:

Gammon Challenger 2.0 is apparently an enhanced version of a BASIC-language backgammon game called Gammon Challenger, originally published in type-in form in Personal Computing magazine.  There were a lot of backgammon games on early personal computers -- it didn't take a lot of horsepower to simulate the gameplay, and the TRS-80's limited graphics capabilities were capable of presenting the game credibly.  I think these were popular because AI computer opponent play wasn't too hard to implement -- the number of possible moves for consideration was much more constrained than in, say, a game of chess.

Basketball is a fairly typical example of the early approach to the sport on home computers -- there wasn't enough computing power to display an entire team or a scrolling playfield, especially in single-player-vs.-the-computer mode with AI eating up cycles, so one-on-one action on a static trapezoidal court was the order of the day.  I was able to track this one down in the online archives -- despite the squarish ball, blocky players, and irritating clicky dribbling and ear-piercing whistle sounds, it's still pretty bad.  These were the pre-joystick days, so two players had to gang up on the keyboard, with the "shoot" button placed infuriatingly in the center of the movement keys:

The players move very slowly, and the keyboard controls are largely unresponsive, making it almost impossible to maneuver around the computer opponent even on the lowest difficulty setting.  What makes the game hilarious is that the ball is clearly not inflated to regulation standards -- if we try to make a three-point shot from the far end of the court, it arcs clumsily through the air, thuds to the floor like a ball of cement, and just sits there without bouncing even once, as both players look on, dumbfounded:

Pigskin appears to be an attempt at football -- I found this one online as well, but could not get the image to boot up.  Given the limits of Basketball on this level of technology, it's hard to imagine a game of football faring well at all, and the designers wisely opted not to go the action route.  From the description, it sounds like a pigskin-themed game of rock/paper/scissors -- you choose an offensive play, your opponent chooses a defensive play, and the computer determines how it all turns out, updating the statistics and player/ball positions onscreen afterward.  77 possible play options in all! -- that is, 7 x 11 unique combinations of offensive/defensive plays -- sounds like a lot, but isn't really enough to provide a dynamic sports simulation.

We didn't find much to treasure from the Acorn archives on page 4, unfortunately.  Tomorrow, we'll move on to page 5!

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