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Christina Loguidice's picture

Ms. Pac-Man: The Sexiest Videogames of All Time (04)

In Armchair Arcade's fun new series, we ask the provocative question, "What makes a particular videogame sexy?" Each week's feature will explore some of the many intriguing approaches game designers have taken over the years to make their games more sensual, not just with increasingly detailed graphics, but also with romantic and seductive gameplay. While some of the games we'll be looking at are unabashedly low brow, displaying their raw sexuality like a badge of honor, other games in contrast are remarkably subtle, often downplaying their suggestive themes.

This week's entry, written by Christina Loguidice, features one of the first female videogame characters and is also one of the biggest quarter gobbling arcade games of all time, Ms. Pac-Man. Enjoy, help spread the word, and of course, let us know what you think:

Bill Loguidice's picture

Crazy Climber - The Second Bally Astrocade Homebrew in the Modern Era!

RiffRaff, aka Mike G., sent word via the ballyalley Yahoo! Groups group that his second Bally Astrocade homebrew, Crazy Climber, is nearing completion. Mike is the author behind the limited edition, War, which turned out to be a superb Warlords clone (I still need to do a full review at some point). As you can see in Mike's video, it uses a refreshing color palette for an Astrocade game and excellent sprite detail.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Playing ICBM Attack Using the MESS Bally Astrocade Emulator

Adam Trionfo, who runs Bally Alley, a Website dedicated to the "Bally Astrocade" family of systems, has posted an excellent how-to written by him and Paul Thacker. The how-to explains how to play the Astrocade's ICBM Attack, which was released in 1982 by third party developer Spectre Systems. What makes this Missile Command-inspired game special is that it requires the Spectre ICBM Attack Handle, an analog controller that was released in even more limited quantities than the cartridge game it was designed. Naturally, this makes playing ICBM Attack near impossible, which is where the MESS emulator comes in. Using MESS, you can emulate the functionality of the analog controller using mouse, trackball, Xbox 360 controller or any other similar analog device. Check out the PDF of the how-to here. For those interested in the Astrocade platform, be sure to check out Bally Alley or join the Yahoo Group mailing list.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Home Computer Designations of the Late 1970s: A Feature Article

So, do you think today's computing landscape of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones, tablet computers, and netbooks - among other designations - is confusing? Imagine a computing landscape with no particular point of reference outside of mainframes and terminals. That's exactly what it was like in the world of personal computing from the mid-1970's to the start of the 1980's. The terms "laptop" and "notebook" were still several years away, with "portable" computers describing those systems you carried about like an overstuffed suitcase and ran off of AC power (like the Osborne 1 [1981], Compaq Portable [1983], or the Commodore SX-64 [1984]), a form factor many of us more accurately refer to today as "transportable" computers.

In any case, continuing along the same line of thinking started with my blog post, "Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?", or my related segment on Armchair Arcade Radio - Episode 1 (and with which I will pursue a somewhat similar theme in Episode 2), I thought I would describe how the 1979 book by noted writer Steve Ditlea, Simple Guide to Home Computers, classified the personal computing landscape of that time.

First off, in Part I, Home Computer Fundamentals, under Chapter 1, The Home Computer Revolution, it calls the Altair 8800, the "world's first home computer". In Part II, Choosing a Home Computer, and specifically Chapter 7, it starts off with "Programmable Video Games" (which is the name of the chapter). The systems he designates as programmable video games (and in the last part of the chapter refers to them as "starter units") are the "Odyssey2 Computer Video Game System", the "Bally Professional Arcade", "Cybervision 2001", and the "VideoBrain". Ditlea calls the Odyssey2 a "price breakthrough", though it's arguable to me if the North American version of the Odyssey2 ever really qualified as a computer in the traditional sense. It does in fact offer a very nice Computer Programming cartridge - which is mentioned in the book - but never any ability to save your output. If it qualifies under that scenario, then the BASIC Programming cartridge for the Atari 2600 would also make that console a computer, albeit even more primitive than what was offered on the Odyssey2. At least in the case of the Atari 2600, though, Spectravideo did eventually come through in 1983 with the CompuMate add-on, which not only added a keyboard and a reasonable BASIC, but the ability to save your data to tape.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?

Commodore PET 2001-8Based on a lively discussion over at AtariAge, I finally have what appears to be independent confirmation of what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with the BASIC programming language was. For purposes of definition, "first recognizable modern day personal computer" means a pre-assembled (non-kit) computer with a built-in display output (typically to a monitor early on and later to a TV) and full keyboard. The BASIC part means having some type of operating system with BASIC commands, preferably (though not required to be) in ROM. Now, we all know the holy trinity of 1977, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80, which were released (meaning not just announced, but actually available to buy and, more importantly, use) in that magical year, in that order, and each of which set the standard for all others to follow. Logic would dictate then that the first computer to fit our definition would be the Apple II. However, as the French would say au contraire mon frere. After some total misses were brought up, one computer in particular began to generate some legitimate consideration, the Processor Technology SOL-20 (SOL 20; NOTE: Though apparently far less popular, the reduced feature-set SOL 10 was also available). Unfortunately, there is a criminal lack of historical information related to both the company and the computer, so pinning down a release date for the pre-assembled version was difficult (as was customary for the time, kit versions were available--even the Apple II could be bought as a kit, though the Commodore PET and TRS-80 could not). While I've been able to briefly handle a fully operational SOL-20 in the past, due to its high cost on today's open market (easily north of $400 with often questionable functionality), I've been unable to acquire one, so my first-hand knowledge of the system is decidedly limited.

AtariAge user "desiv", was the first to find this article, which is a report from a gentleman who had a computer store at the time and pretty much pegged a general availability of 1976 for the SOL-20. Not satisfied with this single account (for one thing, there were a few mis-remembrances in there, like saying the SOL-20 was never sold as a kit), I decided to end the debate (if only primarily with myself) once and for all by checking my personal library's materials for another contemporary perspective. Luckily, I found one.

According to my copy of Owning Your Home Computer (The Complete Illustrated Guide) (1980) by Robert L. Perry, on page 49, "About the same time [mid-1975], Robert Marsh, a computer engineer, founded Processor Technology, which marketed the first computer complete with keyboard and video screen--SOL, the first personal computer deserving the name." and "Except for the first version of the Processor Technology personal computer, called SOL, there was no complete home computer at the beginning of 1977." Then he goes on to talk about the usual suspects, Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer and Ohio Scientific Challenger, as being introduced that year (of course actual availability is a different issue).

He mentions another challenger a bit later, the Polymorphic 8800, which was introduced in 1976, which contained connections for a video monitor and a cassette recorder (as well as BASIC in ROM). Unfortunately, you had to add your own keyboard, which disqualifies it. He then talks a bit more about the SOL 20, "The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

Perry then devotes some time to the second generation of kit computers, like the RCA Cosmac Elf II, and Heathkit H-8. Then, towards the end of page 54, he starts in with the TRS-80, leads into the PET, talks about the Apple I and II, the Ohio Scientific Challenger, the Compucolor 8001, and the Exidy Sorcerer (which he says, correctly, was introduced in the Spring of 1978).

On another note, he devotes Chapter 5 to "The Newest Home Computers", which, given sufficient publishing lead time for this 1980 book, would have placed most of these releases between 1978 - 1979, which falls in line with what we already know well (of course, some, like the Mattel Keyboard Component, were only ANNOUNCED at this time and would still be some time away). These systems include: Sinclair ZX80, APF Imagination Machine, Interact Model One, Mattel Intellivision (with Keyboard Component), TI-99/4 (not the 4A), Bally Professional Arcade, and HP-85.

On a final note, in Chapter 6, "The Handiest Home Computers", he discusses the TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II/III, Ohio Scientific Challenger series, Compucolor II, Exidy Sorcerer, and the Atari 400/800. Definitely a good book, and definitely an end to the "mystery". Nevertheless, if you want all of the usual qualifiers above and BASIC to reside in ROM, you're still looking at the Apple II, which was released in June 1977.

Any thoughts out there to the contrary?

Bill Loguidice's picture

Amazing New Memory Expansion Unit Available for the Bally Astrocade!

Bally Astrocade enthusiasts Ken Lill and Mike White have just unleashed an amazing surprise on the Bally Astrocade community--a memory expansion unit for all of the extended memory games that were previously only playable with an expensive and very rare (even then) early 80's expansion unit. Bottom line, until this release, only a handful of people in the world have been able to play extended memory software on the Bally Astrocade, a system that greatly benefits from that option.

Here's a snippet of the initial press release from Ken Lill (pricing withheld by me at this time, but it's very reasonable):

This is a true 32K expansion unit that uses a "floating" type of memory.
It starts @ 5000 Hex and goes to CFFF Hex
However, the 5000 Hex area is also the D000 Hex area, 6000 - E000, and 7000 - F000

Bill Loguidice's picture

Mystery Bally Professional Arcade (Astrocade) Solved! (Lots of photos!)

I had recently acquired my third console in the line known popularly as the Bally Astrocade, but in reality went by many different official names, including Bally Home Library Computer and Bally Professional Arcade since its initial 1978 release. This one was a bit different though, as it had a mystery notch cut in the top of the cartridge port and came with two chips hand labeled "Galactic Invasion" and "Bingo & Speed Math". Both were officially released, so that makes the necessity for having these on separate chips a bit odd. While "Galactic Invasion" (1981) was released with that title - it was originally going to be "Galaxian", which is what it was a conversion of - "Bingo & Speed Math", which was originally known as "Speed Math and Bingo Math" in an original catalog, was officially released under the name, "Elementary Math and Bingo Math" (1978). Were these perhaps prototypes of some type? First, some photos...

Bill Loguidice's picture

The First Bally Astrocade Homebrew in the Modern Era - "War", the Colorful Warlords Clone

I've been following this development on the Bally Astrocade (ballyalley) mailing list and it looks like the author will soon be ready to go into production. I'm slightly disappointed that this game is not an original concept, but it looks undeniably great, even with the rash of quality homebrew Warlords clones on Atari systems in recent years (Castle Crisis, Medieval Madness). Paddle games are obviously ideally suited to the Astrocade since it has joysticks that double as spinners. Check out more info and a video here. As you can see, it makes superb use of color and really pushes a system with infamously limited system memory!

Commentary from author Mike G. from the list:

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