If you’re going to sell a specialized controller, it’s important to ensure you have games that are going to make good use of it. It’s unlikely that Breakout would have worked particularly well if it didn’t have the paddle controller, and Brain Games makes excellent use of the keyboard controller to allow the player to tap a specific key to do exactly what they want. Which brings us to today’s game, Alan Miller’s Hunt and Score: the game uses the keyboard controllers pretty well, but it probably could have worked just fine without them.

Hunt and Score is the VCS take on a memory match game, which is not coincidentally the title Sears sold it under. You’ve got an array of squares, each with some kind of object underneath. The player’s goal is to match two identical objects in a turn. This incredibly simple concept has likely existed for at least as long as playing cards and their equivalents have, with the card game known under the title Concentration. And here, Miller brings that card game to the home console, without any need to shuffle a deck or clean up afterwards.

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We’ve seen a slow progression of video game sports through the 1970s up to this point, both on the VCS and off of it. Pong was a deeply simplified version of ping pong, and all the other sports games on the original Magnavox Odyssey were functionally the same basic thing. The same holds true for a number of early arcade sports renditions: hockey becomes Pong with a specific goal area, Volleyball and Basketball become vertically oriented versions of Pong, and so on. Racing games got to become their own genre pretty early on, however, and baseball followed shortly thereafter. 1978 would prove to be a watershed moment for one particular sport, however, as a full, non-Pong version of Basketball made its debut on the Atari VCS.

Coincidentally release at the same time as another basketball game that came out alongside the Magnavox Odyssey2 in 1978, Atari’s VCS version of the sport is seemingly the first commercial attempt at the game to really try and translate the major appeal of basketball into a video game. Creator Alan Miller has noted that he played on his high school basketball team, and as the eldest of six kids had spent a lot of time in his youth coming up with games for everyone to play; it seems likely that he wanted to try and translate a sport he enjoyed to the VCS, and he largely succeeded.

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In the early days of home game development, it was pretty plain to see when developers were pulling from an existing arcade title, and when they appeared to just be seeing what they could make work on a microprocessor. Hangman, released by Sears as Spelling, seems very much like the latter. It falls into the category of games that can be played with another person around the house, albeit not a terribly exciting one.

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Ask someone what they know about Tron, and odds that if they know it at all, it’s probably because of the light cycle sequence. In it, cyclists create walls of light behind them as they move, trying to trap their opponent and cause them to crash. As it happens, that idea didn’t originate with Disney, but dates back to the 1976 Gremlin arcade game Blockade. And as we’ll see, Blockade would find itself cloned time and again, including by Atari for the VCS with Surround.

Continue reading “Surround (Chase) – September 1977”