The world is a small map with 12 territories, each containing a castle. Surrounding the land portion of the map is an ocean perimeter. The land part of the world gets divided up among the players and everyone gets an equal number of castles. The object of the game is to take over everyone else's castles using your armies. You can attack any castle if it is immediately adjacent to one of your castles. After capturing a castle you get to draw a loot card which gives you gold. Use the gold to buy more armies or to buy a ship which you can use to transport armies to attack castles that aren't immediately adjacent to your already conqured land.
To Attack a castle there are two phases. The External Battle and the Internal Battle. The external battle by land can be either a Direct Attack or a Sneak Attack.
The Direct Attack is the only time you directly face-off against an opponent using the Odyssey. The duel is simply this: The Attacker sends the BallSpot across the screen at the highest speed possible, and attempts to wiggle it, using ENGLISH, past the Defender who can only use their Vertical Control to block it. It IS a bit more challenging then, say, Tennis or Football, because of the high speed of the BallSpot. Really, the game is mostly on the game board and in this case, the video component is used when dice or even Rock, Paper, Scissors would have sufficed. Each successful attack kills two defenders, while failing the attack kills one attacker. You attack until you lose enough armies to make you decide to pull back or until you wittle down the defense to two or less armies.
The Sneak Attack is an all-or-nothing affair. If successful, you're in and all the defending armies are dead, otherwise, all of your attacking armies are toast. The Sneaky part involves maneuvering your player spot, while it is invisible, from the bottom center of the screen to either north corner of the on-screen castle so that it covers the door there. It isn't very easy. We didn't try this too often (because we didn't play for that long) but this is something that would become easier with practice.
Once you are in the castle, either by Direct or Sneak Attack, you must conduct an Internal Battle, which oddly enough, does not intricately involve your opponent. Using cart #6, the same cart as Roulette, by the way, you start the spot in the center of the screen. Your opponent blanks the spot (by holding down their reset button) while you shift your horizontal/verticle controls enough so that you think that spot will now materialize on top of one of the four guard towers of the castle on the overlay. The reset button is released and the Ball Spot slides in from off-screen to, hopefully, symbolize a destruction of all the defenders. You have as many chances to try as you have surviving attackers from the initial external battle.
We kind of enjoyed the internal battles, because we found ourselves getting better at predicting where the BallSpot would land. This didn't save the game, however. We realized, like we did in Football, just how many times we'd have to perform these frustrating and mostly un-fun little video stunts to finish the game. Having just two of us playing meant there were at least 6 castles to capture meaning there would be at least 6 External Battles consisting of one Sneak Attack or multiple Direct Attacks and at least 24 internal battles. At least! We gave up after capturing and recapturing the same castle three times, deciding that the rest of the game would take a really long time and return a proportionately small amount of fun.
It should be noted that this game uses carts #4, #5 and #6 for the various attacks. It comes with a game board, two overlays, a deck of loot cards and at least 300 little tokens representing your armies. The video component detracts from the board game and we found ourselves wishing we could actually resolve conflicts with a short round of Rock, Paper, Scissors instead. We were bored and frustrated by the time we decided to quit. Maybe this game would be more fun with more players, (It can have up to four) but maybe that would just frustrate more people at the same time.
Ultraman gets the point.
Ultraman: 8, Odyssey: 11
Next entry we'll look at the Ur game of racing videogames, Wipeout
I always thought the Odyssey's approach was interesting. I think their vision was a glorified board game with a computerized component. I guess it didn't always work out (and ultimately the model seems to have failed), but I'm not sure if that's the end of the matter. It seems like a boardgame or some kind of fun external components could be a good way to recoup some losses from illegal distribution. I guess people wouldn't be interested in moving pieces on a map around or whatever, but it seems that there is surely some way to utilize external pieces in a fun and realistic way.
The only people I can think of who recently pulled this off was some kind of stuffed animal with a big online component--webkins. I wonder if something has been tried with toys like Transformers or G.I. Joe. Maybe if you "upgrade" your toy, say by adding a rocket launcher, that would show up in the game as well.
My daughter plays a great deal of Webkins. They have a very smart business model. Every time she gets a new Webkin stuffed animal, she gets another room on her virtual house for her new friend to live in. She can play games and participate in activities to get currency to buy additional accessories and other items. Though she can only control one Webkin at a time, each of her Webkins can visit her other Webkins. They put a lot of thought into the modularity of all of this, for instance when a land creature visits a fish, the land creature will have a breathing apparatus and vice-versa when a fish visits a land creature (sort of like what they do on Spongebob Squarepants). It seems that corporate greed/intelligence is helping to drive at least a little of the innovation (for lack of a better word) in online gaming and shows a lot of the good/bad potential of the future.
I have several board game/video(computer)game hybrids, including the most famous such games for the Odyssey2 (inspired by what was on the Odyssey perhaps?), right up to the PS3's The Eye of Judgment. To my mind though, the more real-world external elements you introduce - be it game pieces, boards, etc. - the less casual and more involved the play experience becomes, resulting in potentially fewer sales and play sessions. Still, the fusion of real world/virtual world has always intrigued me and certainly - as evidenced by our long-running motion controls/tracking discussion thread - the future of this also looks bright.
I *finally* ran my Odyssey (it's a run-2 in the case) in order to capture footage for the documentary. Luckily, the system worked perfectly. As a videogame historian, it was quite a profound experience for me to have a system from the year I was born start up as if it were 1972 all over again.
It truly is positively prehistoric in capabilities, but the basic design elements of the system are extraordinarily forward thinking, giving much credence to Ralph Baer as an unequivocal engineering genius and definitely unsung hero of the videogame revolution (that is, he should be exhalted much more than he has been). From the well-built removable controllers, to the TV switch box, to the practical plasticy design of the main unit, it truly would not look out of place into the early 1980's, which says something for a system first unleashed on the world in 1972 when NOTHING ELSE WAS OUT THERE and there was no videogame arcade to reference. When you play Table Tennis and Tennis, you see how obvious it was that Bushnell ripped the idea off (though he and Alcorn did make it arguably better and better for general consumption to make it the first hit mainstream videogame).
And the overlays? They work quite well. Again, the actual gameplay of the unit is very "manual" and basic, as Michael's blog posts have shown - and the lack of scoring and any type of sound are major detractors from the experience - but in short "wow". It's one thing to read about a system and know about a system, etc., but nothing beats first hand exposure to something.
That will teach me for sitting on a purchase for over three years before trying it out...