Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (p. 7)

You know the drill by now -- on to page 7, with more games from the Acorn Software Products Fall 1981 catalog:

I was able to find all three of these titles online -- machine-language games and Leo Christopherson's work seem to have sold rather better than some of Acorn's other titles.

Space Rocks is, per tradition in the wild-and-woolly early days of computer gaming, a wholly unauthorized version of Asteroids.  You'll note that no screenshot is featured in the catalog, possibly because the game's biggest limitation is the massive size of the player's ship -- it's rendered as a square with a fat aiming point that rotates around it.  Movement is sluggish, and the net effect is that the player's ship feels almost as large as the incoming asteroids, making survival a matter of chance more than skill.

Duel-N-Droids is by the TRS-80 graphics master Leo Christopherson (Dancing Demon), who managed to put large, well-animated characters on the Model I screen when everyone else was struggling to get tiny spaceships moving around.  This game introduced an interesting if not entirely successful new technique -- using rapid flickering of black and white on a three-phase cycle, Christopherson was able to simulate two distinct, flickery shades of gray between the TRS-80's normal black and white pixels.  Emulator screenshots can't really capture the effect -- Acorn's catalog photo on this page does a much better job.  The effect is wearing on the eye after a while, but it's a novel idea that I don't recall seeing elsewhere.

Space War is a version of (what else?) Space War, a.k.a. Computer Space, where two players orbiting a dangerous gravity well try to shoot each other down for points.  The Space War name was apparently never copyrighted, nor was the academia-spawned design protected, so myriad versions of this game appeared in arcades, on the Atari 2600 and on many home computers under the same "official" unlicensed name.  This version of the game was produced by Device Oriented Games, also responsible for the 4K Haunted House TRS-80 adventure published by Radio Shack.

We have one more page of games ahead, and then we'll pick up the pace a bit as we delve into personal productivity software circa the early 1980s.

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