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Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games


May 30, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 17 of 23 Next
 

Paperboy
1984
Designed by John Salwitz, Dave Ralston, and Russel "Rusty" Dawe

Paperboy, at first, seems like a simple game of rote memorization and reflexes, but the strategic decisions lend the game more depth than it has to have. This may be the prime connecting element between all of Atari Games' titles: few of the company's games come down to raw reflex testing. There's typically an element of strategy buried there somewhere.

Lots of arcade games have taken the save-the-world approach to play. Like blockbuster movies, they turn up the volume, use tremendous explosions, and tell the player that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. Atari sometimes took just the opposite approach: all Paperboy requests of the player is to survive a week of running a paper route in the most hostile neighborhood on Earth.

Fundamentally, Paperboy is a shooting gallery game. The screen scrolls unstoppably, ever diagonally up and to the right, while houses go by on the left. The player can change velocity and steer, but can't ever stop, much like a real bicycle. He throws papers with a set velocity in attempt to hit the delivery spots on each house, either the doorstep or the paper box.

The game doesn't directly keep the player away from his targets: there is no invisible wall in place. In practice, however, the house lawns are so cluttered that driving over them is suicidal. The basic strategic tradeoff of the game is this: the closer to the houses the player rides the easier it is to hit targets, but the more likely it is he'll crash, which costs him a bike.

Paperboy has dual survival requirements. If the player runs out of bikes the game is over, but it also ends if he runs out of subscribers. At the beginning of each level a map of the route is displayed with subscriber houses marked, and during play subscriber houses are painted white.

If the player fails to land a newspaper on either a doorstep or paper box, or if he breaks something on the property with a paper (especially windows), then at the end of the day the subscriber is lost.

One interesting thing about this is that, as the number of subscribers goes down, the game gets easier. The player only needs one house to remain in the game, and if the player focuses on it one house is not tremendously difficult to keep. The obstacles make up for this by greatly increasing in difficulty as the week continues, and keeping more houses means more delivery points, and progress towards the scant extra lives offered.

Another strategic decision the game forces on players concerns the paperboy's limited paper supply. He begins each route with ten papers in stock, with refills available on the route. In addition to allowing him to complete deliveries and earn points, newspapers are also the player's only weapon, capable of stunning many mobile obstacles.

Paper caches tend to be on the sidewalk, and the bike's limited maneuverability means the player must begin steering towards a pickup early to reach it in time, further reinforcing the need to stay relatively distant from the houses.


Article Start Previous Page 17 of 23 Next

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