the release of the Atari keyboard controllers in the fall of 1978 necessitated the development of games that actually use them. Atari’s developers were in need of game ideas that could play to the keyboards’ strengths, and as such turned primarily to existing mental puzzles and computer programs. We saw this last time with Larry Kaplan’s Brain Games, a collection of basic memory and mathematic games, and we’ll see it again next time with Hunt & Score. But for now, we’ve got Codebreaker, which is the VCS rendition of a pair of logic puzzle games with fuzzy origins; one dates back at least to the early 1900s and the other to around the 1500s in its current form, but is probably really a variant of a number game that goes back to the earliest days of human civilization.

The original version of the first game on this cart is known as Bulls and Cows for reasons I haven’t quite managed to put together. In that rendition, one player comes up with a secret, four-digit number and the other must try and guess it in as few turns as possible. After the second player gives their guess, the first player lets them know how close it is by telling them the number of cows – the number of digits that are correct but in the wrong position – and the number of bulls – the number of correct digits in the right spot. If the second player gets four bulls, they win the game. The game is probably better known under the name Mastermind, a codebreaking game using colored pegs instead of numbers that was first published commercially in 1971 by Invicta Games.

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The vast majority of the early VCS games covered so far were games that the developers were personally interested in putting together. Whether these were ports of popular arcade games, conversions of tabletop timewasters, or novel concepts, marketing had largely stayed out of the way on what games came along and focused on selling them. But there were exceptions, even at this stage, of which Brain Games is one.

The crux of the marketing department’s request involves the VCS’s mix of controllers. You’ve got the two major ones that were packed in with the console itself from the get go: the joystick and the paddle controllers. The vast majority of the games on the platform use the joystick, which is surprisingly flexible for having one button. A smaller number use the paddle controller, which is much more limited in the types of games that it excels at; developer Larry Kaplan noted that marketing specifically requested that the programmers create games that use the paddles to ensure that users were still getting use out of them, which is why he put together Street Racer for the VCS’s 1977 lineup. The VCS also hosted two other controller types though: The driving controller, used in the system’s heyday with only Indy 500; and the keyboard controller.

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