Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zaxxon

It seems fitting that my final A to Z blog post for this year be about more than just an appropriately named arcade game.  I fondly remember where I first played this particular game, so I'd like to reminisce a little about it, as well as a related gaming topic for classic arcade games from the 1980's.

I first encountered Zaxxon at World of Burgers, which was an independently owned burger joint near the barbershop where I got my hair cut as a kid.  World of Burgers, as the name suggests, served all kinds of themed hamburgers inspired by world locations; e.g. the Mexican burger had guacamole and spicy salsa.  My favorite kind of burger, which I honestly haven't found the equal of anywhere else, was their bagel burger, which utilized bagels instead of the usual hamburger buns.  They were so good that for a time I was able to talk my mom into using bagels for the buns for burgers we'd have at home.  World of Burgers has long closed, but I always remember it fondly.  In addition to Zaxxon, I remember playing games of Pacman, Rally X, Donkey Kong, and other classic arcade games there.  The owner never complained about us coming in to get change to play the games either, for which I was always thankful.

Video game-inspired board games were also produced for several of the classic 1980's arcade games, and I ended up owning several of these, including Pacman, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Qbert, Centipede and, believe it or not, a Zaxxon board game.  The Zaxxon board game was a lot of fun, and I recall some fun rounds of it with family members.  Truth be told I suspect these games, and my sister's Ms. Pacman board game are probably at my folks' house somewhere.

As for Zaxxon the arcade game, I typically had problems judging the position of the plane in the fortress areas, usually resulting in me crashing into walls or getting shot by a missile rising up from the ground.  The game's initial toughness and resultant short games were a deterrent to me playing it enough to get good, which was a similar problem I had with other games like Defender.  My strongest memories of Zaxxon are the place I first played it and the related board game, which in some ways I actually liked more than the arcade game lol.

I had a lot of fun this year taking on the 2013 A to Z blogging challenge with my chosen theme of classic arcade games.  I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the games I grew up playing in the various arcades, pizza joints and restaurants.  I invite you to go back and read and comment on any of the earlier posts you may have missed.  As for what comes next in blogging, let's just say that when the writing itch strikes, I will scratch it on this blog.  Stay eclectic.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yie Ar Kung-Fu

Yie Ar Kung-Fu was one of those games that I enjoyed watching other people play (who played it well) more than attempting to play it myself.  Granted, I first encountered this game as a younger kid at the local A&W restaurant, and I had yet to start developing my skills at fighting games.  However, Yie Ar Kung-Fu disappeared off my radar right around that time, so I had little actual playing exposure to it.  I have tried the game when I randomly found one in the wild or at an expo, but I still remain pretty amateurish at it.

One of the things I always liked about Yie Ar Kung-Fu was the way the characters would fly around the screen while fighting.  If you've seen the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and recall the tree fighting scenes, the action seems similar in some ways.  I also liked the whole "against all odds" aspect, whereby your character is always fighting against characters who have some sort of weapons, making victories attained seem that much more incredible.

Looking back at Yie Ar Kung-Fu, one can see the foundation of game play which eventually became the the root of such fighting games as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and the like, though the latter games improved on features, graphics and added player versus player combat.  Still, for what it was, Yie Ar Kung-Fu had exciting game play.  After all, I was very much entertained by watching others play the game.

What games did you enjoy watching other people play more than playing them yourself?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xybots

Xybots was another in a line of interesting games I discovered at the local Scandia Fun Center.  It was a 3-D first person shooter with a lot of interesting twists that kept the gameplay fun (and encouraged players to spend their quarters).

First, the game seemed to borrow elements of Gauntlet, an earlier maze game with a Dungeons and Dragons-esque theme.  In Xybots, you also navigated mazes and needed to destroy enemies in an effort to find the exit.  Also as in Gauntlet, you were able to collect money.  The interesting variant, though, was that you were able to spend money collected on various powerups.  Interestingly, succeeding versions of Gauntlet also eventually adopted the "spend money for powerups" model thereafter.  Xybots also allowed for two people to play simultaneously (another Gauntlet-like feature), which allowed for cooperative or somewhat competitive play as players vied for limited money and decided whether they would work together to destroy the enemies (or not).

One of the more novel features of Xybots was the joystick control.  The joysticks on Xybots both moved players in 8 directions and also rotated left and right, thereby allowing players to rotate their bodies 90 degrees left or right.  This allowed for players to potentially be moving in one direction and shooting in a completely different direction while traversing a 3-D maze.  Depending on the player location and orientation within the maze, the game play could provide some novel situations, such as the player on the "far end" of a corridor shooting towards enemies located at the "near end" of the screen (e.g. towards the person playing the game).

The other interesting aspect of Xybots was the split-screen display.  Since both players are wandering through a 3-D maze (and could be in different parts of the maze at the same time), the display is split so that each player sees the maze from their individual perspective.  There is also an overall map showing the locations of enemies, the exit, etc., and a status for each player showing energy, coins, powerups, etc.

Did you ever play Xybots?  If so, what did you think of it?

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Wizard of Wor

Wizard of Wor was another arcade game whose discovery for me was bass-ackward of how the game was actually released.  I played many, many games of Wizard of Wor on a friend's Atari 2600 as a youth.  It was only as an adult that I was privileged to be able to play an actual Wizard of Wor game at one of the California Extreme video game and pinball game expos.

Wizard of Wor was another Dungeons and Dragons inspired type of game, like Venture (the previous game I blogged about), which also focused largely on the dungeon experience.  Unlike Venture, though, Wizard of Wor had no rooms and no treasures, just smallish dungeon mazes and endless supplies of monsters to shoot.  There is a wizard (of Wor), who is able to teleport around the maze while going after the heroes, hence the name of the game.

Wizard of Wor also utilized the element of competition/cooperation, similar to Joust, where two players could play simultaneously, and could either work together to destroy the monsters, or could engage in direct competition including shooting each other's warriors.  I recall the latter behavior often being the source of my friend and I arguing when playing the Atari 2600 rendition of the game.

I always found Wizard of Wor to be a fast paced game, like Venture, and as such, one was able to look past the somewhat simplistic graphics to concentrate on the exciting game play.  I preferred to play cooperatively with other players rather than competitively.  I look forward to hopefully being able to play the game again at a future California Extreme.

What games did you first discover in ported form and later discovered the actual arcade game from which the port was made?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Venture

Unlike many of the games I've already blogged about, Venture is one that I actually encountered in non-arcade game forms first.  My first game of Venture was actually on the Atari 2600 at a neighbor's house which was hooked up to a black and white TV.  Later on I "discovered" the arcade version of Venture when I learned about the MAME arcade game emulator and had the opportunity to play the "arcade" version on my PC.  Eventually I found an actual Venture arcade game at the California Extreme expo and got to play it for real.

Venture's graphics were fairly minimal, as per the norm for many games from the early 1980's.  The poignant role of Venture for me was that it's a fairly fast paced fun attempt at simulating the dungeon adventure (hence the name) of Dungeons and Dragons, which I used to play from upper elementary school up through college.  Getting to run around racking up treasure, shooting monsters, avoiding traps and trying desperately the dodge the hall monsters made the game exciting despite the less than gripping graphics.  It was all about the game play.

I suspect that if I had managed to find an actual Venture arcade game as a youth I would have spent quite a few quarters on it.  Fortunately we have expositions and emulators so that games like this still exist.

What Dungeons and Dragons-esque arcade games have you played?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Up'n Down

Folks familiar with classic arcade games of the car variety where the car is able to jump will usually think of either Bump 'n Jump or Jump Bug.  My favorite of the genre, though, happens to be Up'n Down, which I encountered at a local skating rink growing up.  I always found it to be a challenging but fun game, and I imagine if I had more pocket money at the time I would have spent quite a bit on this little game.

In Up'n Down you drive around a dune buggy which looks somewhat similar to a Volkswagen Beetle to my eye.  You race around trying to run over ten colored flags.  Along the way you have to avoid crashing into enemy cars or squish them by jumping your car on top of them.  You have to be careful though as you must navigate hills which speed up and slow down your car and bridges which have to be jumped over.  You have to make sure to not accidentally jump off the road into the grass or water.

As mentioned, I just found the gameplay on this game fun.  The first level isn't too bad to get through even for a beginner, so you quickly get that sense of accomplishment.  As the levels progress, though, the strategic use of speeding up, slowing down, choosing which fork to take in the road, etc., decries the challenging nature of a seemingly simple game.  The thing about this game, though, is that even when I was dying, it was a cute, entertaining game.

What did you think of Up'n Down, or what was your favorite classic car racing arcade game?

T is for Tron

I actually had a tough time choosing what game starting with T to write about because there are so many.  However, after some pondering, the game Tron stood out as being retro (given the recent Tron movie remake), multi-genre'd (given movies and video games), and ultimately iconic as a representative of the 1980's and 1980's video games at large, given its enthusiastic reception upon release.

Tron was the quintessential computer nerd's video game.  The plot of the video game loosely followed the plot of the Tron movie, during which a hacker was abducted into a computer world and forced to play video games for his survival.  The levels of the game all have names tied to computers, most of which are programming languages (albeit mostly dated ones by current standards).

The controls for Tron always stood out as somewhat unique and high tech at the time the game was made, given that you had a joystick with a trigger fire button that you worked in concert with a rotating dial for aiming.  The color schemes of the cabinet mimicked the neon blues, etc. of the movie.  The game play also got very hard very quickly, as you'd expect an enemy computer to do.  In all, the game seemed pretty futuristic for 1982 when it was released.  The music and sound effects were great as well.

To this day, Tron still remains a favorite of mine and I make sure to play it when I run across one at expos like California Extreme.  Given the control scheme described above, it's hard to emulate such a game; you really need to play the actual game in an actual cabinet to get the full experience.

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