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Games from the Trash: The History of the TRS-80
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Games from the Trash: The History of the TRS-80

November 26, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next
 

COMMBat (1981)

 

COMMBat was a very early online player-versus-player game for the TRS-80, so named because the system's COMM port was used to interface with the modem. The technology was extremely primitive by modern standards -- there was no lobby or server system, no way to find a stranger to battle. Arranging a match meant finding a friend with the same equipment and software, ideally within range of a cheap local phone call, and then setting up a time to connect to each other and play.

The game looks and feels like a mainframe exercise -- the command line-driven gameplay is methodical and slow, though its turn-based nature minimizes the painful lag one would otherwise expect at a 300 baud transfer rate.

There are no graphics to speak of, and the gameplay is essentially Battleship with tanks that can explore the playfield and fire at will. But in an era where computer AI was also in its infancy, allowing players to take on a fellow human being was a huge advance in terms of pure strategy gameplay. COMMBat didn't have to look good to inspire passionate battles.

Tunnels of Fahad (1980)

Tunnels of Fahad isn't particularly notable as a game -- it's an "interpretation" of Atari's 2600 classic Dodge 'Em that simply replaces the original's racing cars with an explorer and a mummy, accounting for a visible drop in speed while adding a bit of atmosphere. But it's technically solid, and it's also one of the first commercially published computer games written by a female programmer, one Kathy Pfeiffer, who at the time was apparently obliged to bill herself as the gender-disguising "K. Pfeiffer." This is also an early example of today's publisher/developer division of labor, as Ms. Pfeiffer wrote the game on behalf of Micro-Fantastic Programming, for publication by Adventure International.

Kid-Venture #1 - Little Red Riding Hood (1980)

James Talley's Kid-Venture #1 - Little Red Riding Hood was an extremely early "multimedia" title, taking advantage of the low-end TRS-80's cassette storage system -- really just a consumer-grade Radio Shack tape recorder with an official TRS-80 logo on it.

The story mode presented the familiar tale of Little Red Riding Hood, with blocky graphics, text and simple computer-generated music. The visual presentation is augmented by read-along narration on audiotape, delivered with charming low-budget awkwardness by the programmer, James Talley. The audio is synchronized to the gameplay in simple book-and-record fashion -- we hit the space bar when the bell sounds.

The story is simple and remarkably conservative compared to modern children's entertainment -- the moral of the tale seems to be "do what your mother tells you" -- but it was an interesting technology experiment. One additional Kid-Venture was produced, but the sequel eschewed audio narration, perhaps because diskettes were growing in popularity, or because families hated rearranging the cassette recorder cables after loading the game in order to make the narration audible.

Death Dreadnaught (1980)

Death Dreadnaught's publisher, the Programmer's Guild, claims this was the first "rated" game -- computer magazines of the era were uncomfortable with proposed ads for this atmospheric and moderately gory text adventure set aboard an alien-ravaged starship. So the game sported a self-imposed "R rating", borrowing from the MPAA in a wholly unofficial manner, and thanks to the controversy, sales skyrocketed.

Buyers seeking something really nasty were likely disappointed -- there's very little actual violence in the game, though there's plenty of evidence of violence in the recent past. The TRS-80 itself even came in for a little pre-invasion abuse, as the deceased space explorers (and the authors billed only as the Mutt Brothers) have contributed frustration-mangled Radio Shack computer parts to the ship's pools of viscera and dismembered limbs.


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