Atari Corporation, © 1979
Original PC Platform: Atari 400/800
Ported Platforms: Atari 2600, Atari 5200
Collecting Fact: In early production runs, Star Raiders cartridges were actually labeled "Star Raider." Since it was one of the first games available for Atari computers and because of its popularity, neither version is particularly rare.
Summary: Star Raiders is the seminal space combat simulator. Innovative, fun and addictive, Star Raiders is not only one of the earliest mass-market computer games, it is also one of the biggest early success stories. Although the first commercially viable home computers were released in 1977 (Apple II, TRS-80 and arguably the Commodore PET), the computer gaming industry didn't take off until Atari entered the market in 1979 with the Atari 400 and 800 computers. Star Raiders was the flagship game for those systems, and anyone involved with computer gaming in 1979 likely holds a special place in their memory for Star Raiders.
The object of Star Raiders is to lead the Atarian Federation to victory over the deadly Zylon Empire. Star Raiders is unlike anything the home gaming world had seen previously. It is a mixture of arcade and strategy and uses innovative first-person graphics to really involve players in the game. First-person perspective was originally used by Atari in the 1976 Night Driver arcade game, but it had never been applied to a home space shooter before. The first-person perspective and the vast array of controls (radar, shields, navigation, etc.) made possible by using the computer's keyboard combine to make Star Raiders the first space combat simulation and not just another arcade game.
Temple of Apshai
Publisher: Automated Simulations/Epyx
Developer:Jim Connelley, Jon Freeman
Original PC Platform: Commodore PET
Ported Platforms: TRS-80, Apple II, Atari, C-64, Atari ST, Amiga, Intel
Collecting Fact: There are several other games in the Dunjonquest family (Morloc's Tower, Sword of Fargoal, The Datestones of Ryn, Hellfire Warrior, Gateway to Apshai, Curse of Ra, Upper Reaches of Apshai, and the Temple of Apshai Trilogy), but Temple of Apshai is the original. Many of the boxes have deceiving copyright dates on them. For example, Temple of Apshai's box says 1980, but the media inside usually says 1979.
Summary: The version most early computer gamers are familiar with is probably The Temple of Apshai Trilogy, which was a 1985 re-release from Epyx of three Apshai games (Temple of Apshai, Upper Reaches of Apshai and The Curse of Ra). Aside from better graphics, the games remained basically the same. All of the Apshais are prototypical early computer RPGs -- nominal plot and lots of monsters to kill and treasures to collect. As you delved deeper into the dungeon, your weapons, armor and personal statistics improved.
Apshai had to outshine some serious competition in this category -- Akalabeth, A.K.A Ultima 0. While both games were landmark titles, Apshai won because of its relative polish and attention to detail. Ironically, one of the most detailed and interesting parts of the game has nothing to do with the computer. Apshai is accompanied by a manual that describes each room of the game (all 233 of them). For example, level 1, room 26 says, "A shallow pond fills most of the room. The surface of the water is covered with a white mold, except in the northeast corner where a clump of golden-brown seaweed is visible." Quality RPGs and adventure games during the Golden Age often came with much better manuals, maps and trinkets (especially games from Infocom and Origin) than their modern counterparts. One reason might be that older games often made up for a lack of computer power with a larger focus on documentation and extras. Regardless, this attention to the WHOLE package is one of the best reasons to play and collect older games. But Apshai also stands on its own as a game with great features: different forms of attack, breaking weapons, haggling, secret doors and talking your way out of a fight. Even more impressive was the fatigue system, which restricted players from carrying unlimited amounts of treasure, fighting at full strength and running endlessly. This attention to realism would be a welcome addition to many modern RPGs.
Zork I: The Great Underground Empire
Publisher: Personal Software/Infocom
Developer: Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Bruce Daniels, and Tim Anderson
Original PC Platform: TRS-80 Model I
Ported Platforms: Many
Collecting Fact: The original personal computer Zork was distributed by Personal Software for Infocom. It was called simply "Zork" and came in a 226x320x5 plastic zip-lock bag containing a disk and 36-page instruction booklet as opposed to the famous gray boxes full of documentation and goodies that most collectors are used to seeing. However, the game itself is unchanged.
Summary: The famous Zork series of text adventures was originally written by Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Bruce Daniels, and Tim Anderson while studying at MIT. It was originally one large adventure written in a programming language called "MUDDLE" for the PDP-10 mainframe and was an attempt to improve upon its famous predecessor, Adventure (Colossal Cave). However, this GOTCHA is not given to honor Zork (or its early pseudonym, "Dungeon.") It is given to Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire, the first commercial release of the product for PCs. The original mainframe Zork was broken into three parts so it could easily fit on the personal computers of the day. The MIT students founded a company, which they called Infocom, to produce the commercial game. Zork 1 was the first and easiest of the trilogy.
Aside from being a great example of interactive prose with wit and depth, Zork 1's text parser was a leap in technology. Prior text adventures only allowed simple two-word phrases like "get stick." Infocom's text parser allows for a much richer interaction with the game. For example, "Get the big stick and drop it in the water." In Zork 1, players use the text parser to collect treasures and navigate the treacherous, but great, underground empire.
The copyright for Zork 1 is still a bit fuzzy. The original Zork was written in 1977 at MIT. The game was released commercially in 1980, and the Infocom re-releases are generally dated 1984. However, Infocom was founded in 1979 in order to produce Zork 1, so it is a safe bet that this is the actual year of copyright. It is also a safe bet that Zork 1 would unanimously win the Adventure category in any year it was placed.
Broderbund Software, © 1979
Although the screenshot says 1980, the instructions say © 1979.
Atari Corporation, © 1979
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