Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International Spring 1981 Catalog (pp. 11-12)

Our pagethrough of a vintage computer software catalog continues, as we come to pages 11 and 12 of the Spring 1981 Adventure International catalog.

Page 11 reminds us of the small scale of the computer game industry at the time -- magazines were just getting off the ground and dial-up bulletin board systems could only transmit so much information.  So there was a certain community theatre/high-school booster club feel about everything, with various small companies advertising in each others' catalogs.   Here, SoftSide pushes its disk magazine (which ran a monthly adventure game around this same time, not mentioned here for understandable reasons) for Apple II, TRS-80 and Atari home computer users.  This is the only published reference I recall that calls the TRS-80 the "S-80" for short; I don't think that ever caught on.  I think even enthusiasts (myself among them) found the affectionately pejorative "Trash-80" more appealing.

And if we needed any reminders about the state of the computer game industry in 1981, we have page 12.  Even a puzzle-focused publisher like Adventure International needed to stock a healthy selection of arcade-style games -- most of which were unlicensed, slightly renamed imitations of existing arcade games.

The TRS-80 was not an audiovisual powerhouse by any means -- it didn't have built-in audio capabilities, and its black-and-white graphics were limited to a chunky 128x48 matrix.  And the market was too small (and safely under the radar) to make official licensing the standard.  That didn't stop enterprising programmers and publishers from implementing lots of arcade-style games on Radio Shack's popular little box -- here we have ripoffs conversions of Gremlin's early Blockade and Atari's Missile Command and Lunar Lander (this one without so much as a name change.)  Missile Attack developer The Cornsoft Group would later pioneer more legitimate titles on the TRS-80, with Sega's official Frogger.

There are some notable programmers from the early days involved here too.  Bill Demas' Frog is not a Frogger rip-off, but a semi-original fly-tongue-shooting game, and Jeff Jessee's Deflection for the Atari was a simple arcade contest bolstered by Simon Says for value purposes.  Planetoids for the Apple II was, of course, a version of Asteroids, and apparently was originally published as Asteroid before someone got a little nervous and offered an "upgrade" to this slightly safer title.

More arcade games to follow on page 13, next time!

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