Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cover to Cover: Aardvark Ltd. 1983 Catalog (pp. 5-6)

Our review of Aardvark Ltd.'s 1983 computer software catalog continues, with a number of arcade-style action games.  Unlike Aardvark's text adventures, which could be ported to multiple machines fairly easily, these push the hardware more and are therefore more platform-specific.  But the home computer market was fragmented in 1983, with many players in the field, and so at least a token effort was made to get these games out on at least a couple of platforms.

Page 5 begins the lineup, with ripoffs of several established arcade games and one original game that was the closest thing to DOOM I encountered when I was a kid:

It's not always easy to tell what these games, many of them lost to the ages, actually were without screenshots.  But from the text descriptions, it's safe to speculate that Zart Invaders (are games art?) was Aardvark's de rigueur clone of Space Invaders, Seawolfe apes Midway's periscope-equipped coin-op Sea Wolf, and Concentration is the standard object-matching game of Concentration.  The odd one out is Labyrinth, which I actually bought and played on the TRS-80 Color Computer back in the day.  It was written in BASIC, so play was sluggish, but the game's randomly generated maze and the minimalistic slow, steady beeping as each monster gets nearer, while the player tries to hunt it down in 3-D, first-person perspective, was pretty engrossing and effective.  It didn't inspire the yelps of surprise and dismay that some of DOOM's more dastardly traps would a decade and a half later, but it's the first game I can recall playing that invoked the same basic fight-or-flight instinct that makes id's games so scary-fun to play.

Page 6 takes a break from the game lineup, with a couple of multiplatform utilities (written in BASIC) focusing on the TRS-80 Color, Commodore 64, VIC-20, and... OSI?  Ohio Scientific Instruments put out a series of kit computers in the late 1970s, and Aardvark got its start by supplying software and documentation for this true hobbyist machine.  Eventually Aardvark would drop OSI support from its catalog, but it was still supporting it circa 1983 -- that's impressive dedication to an aging platform.

The Tiny Compiler was a pre-compiler of the sort common in the days of interpreted BASIC -- BASIC was slow primarily because it was designed to be edited and executed on the fly, in memory, and so didn't require a disk drive.  The idea here was to translate the user's BASIC code into speedy machine language -- but the aptly-named Tiny Compiler doesn't handle anything close to the full BASIC language, was fairly memory-hungry, and was apparently so limited that Aardvark offered a money-back plus bonus offer to anyone who would enhance it!  The Tiny Compiler itself was written and sold in BASIC, which suggests that it was not capable of compiling itself; a good concept, hampered by poor technology.

Maxi Pros was "a great word processor" promoted with copy from the era of casual sexism, referencing the "new girl" who would presumably be the user of said software, because, apparently, real men don't type.  At least we have some evidence of the product's existence and workability, as it was reportedly "used to typeset this entire catalog."  That dot-matrix typesetting looks just fantastic, doesn't it?

Next time, we'll look at pages 7 and 8, with more games!

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