Scramble: One Against the World
Riding on the knife-edge of technology is one of the things that makes the electronic gaming hobby so exciting. What was top-of-the-line last year is only passe’ this year because of constant breakthroughs in the design of new games. Gadgets are increasingly complex, and concepts that existed only in the minds of last year’s hopeful programmers, become this year’s proud realities.
The three devices in this month’s “Stand Alone Scene” are very different from each other, yet each in its own way represents a significant advancement in game design. These are applications of technology that not only were unavailable commercially last year; they were actually impossible.
A rocket ship flies above hostile terrain, threatened on every side by enemy missiles, and constantly hampered by low fuel reserves. It takes tricky maneuvering to get past all the barriers, and sharp shooting to battle the fleet of UFOs. Your mission is to overcome all opposition and destroy the enemy space base.
Scramble requires the arcader to fly a rocket ship over varied terrain, avoiding obstacles and battling the enemy space fleet. The unit has two skill levels and elegantly simple game controls. A fire button simultaneously releases bombs and missiles, and an altitude control lever moves the rocket up and down on the screen to avoid collisions.
The gamer maneuvers the ship through four levels before reaching the fifth screen and its enemy space base. The first level is the city. The rocket flies over the barriers, while destroying enemy missiles on the ground or in the air. Flying missiles are worth 20 points to the arcader, and sitting ducks score half that. As the rocket progresses, the fuel level drops. Destroying oil tanks which dot the terrain increases fuel reserves, as well as adding points to the score. The best strategy in this scenario is to fly high, avoiding all obstructions, while accumulating points and extra fuel.
Next is the meteorite phase. Avoid the barriers on the ground and the pesky chunks of meteorite flying through the air. You can blast oil tanks and stationary missiles for points and extra fuel. The best way to get through this level is to hug the ground as closely as possible, rising into the sky only when necessary to avoid barriers. The meteorites can’t be destroyed, but the gamer can amass a lot of points picking off targets, while clearing a path for himself along the surface of the planet.
The third screen features the UFOs. Sinister flying saucers chart a wavering course through the sky. Fuel tanks and enemy missiles line the surface below. Occasional barriers appear, making it impossible for the arcader to get through this screen without actually battling the enemy space fleet. The rocket must fire almost constantly at the shifting UFOs. Bombs, released automatically with each missile, will pick off the ground targets and oil tanks for points and fuel.
If the rocket survives the UFOs, the arcader next guides it through the cave. Barriers fill the screen, leaving only narrow passageways for the rocket’s flight. Even these small corridors are guarded by missiles and fuel tanks. You must blast them out of the way to make room for the rocket to pass. Steering is the key to mastery of this level. That, coupled with a hot trigger finger, will bring the gamer to the fifth scenario, the enemy space base.
After completion of the fourth phase, the screen goes dark. When it lights again, the rocket faces three vertical columns, each made up of four blocks. Lining the ground are four oil tanks. Beyond the barriers, the arcader sees the space base and his fuel level indicator.
Try to destroy the barriers, but be sure to leave one block in each vertical column. If all blocks in a column are blasted, all columns move forward, and a new intact vertical barrier appears in the row closest to the enemy base. A warning buzzes when fuel reserves get too low. Drop down and pick off an oil tank to restock, then continue blasting the blocks until an opening allows a missile to get through to the base. The trick is to fire just as the last shifting block on the first column starts rising to the top of the sky. Timing the missiles in this way breaks through the columns.
When the enemy space base is destroyed, a bonus score flashes on screen. The base gives 200 points the first time, plus 20 bonus points for each remaining fuel level. Then a fanfare blares and the game restarts at level 1, until four rockets have been destroyed. The space base increases in value each trip through, up to a wholloping 600 points on the ninth run of the gauntlet. Arcaders get an extra rocket at 2000 points on the amateur level, or at 4000 points at the pro skill level.
The digital score counter rolls over at 1990 points. After that, fuel level bars are used to indicate each 2000 points. The highest score possible is 17,990. After that, the counter returns to “0”. Rockets are destroyed by crashing into barriers, being hit by enemy missiles, crashing into fuel tanks or the ground, being hit by a meteorite or UFO, or running out of fuel. When the amateur settings in force, fuel decreases one block for every 8 terrain frames passed. At the pro level, the terrain moves faster and fuel is burned up quicker.
At the amateur level, fuel is not the first concern of the arcader. Sufficient oil tanks appear in conveniently blastable positions to keep the rocket going. At this setting, avoidance of the obstacles and destruction of all targets is most important. Steering control is vital. Fortunately the altitude control lever is responsive and easy to use.
Scramble is a different game when played at the pro setting. The arcader must be constantly alert to his fuel level, and had better not risk passing even one oil tank.
The graphics are very good. The rocket is blue, green and red, and has fire spurting from its jets. Enemy missiles are green and white, and fuel tanks are red, green and white. The wicked little UFOs look like tiny red beanies. The space base itself is beautiful; a giant concoction that looks something like a gloriously decorated hot-air balloon. The terrain is composed of blocks which compose the city, all barriers, the maze-cave, and the vertical columns that shield the enemy base.
A year ago it was unthinkable that a stand-alone could produce the changing screens necessary for a game as complex as Scramble. This is the first matrixed game with such ambitious graphics. By shifting around the component parts of the matrixed designs, Scramble has both sitting and fly ing missiles, oil tanks, and UFOs, as well as meteorites, the enemy base, and the attractive rocket ship. Further, Scramble mixes these parts in random patterns; the barriers, tanks, missiles, UFOs and meteorites are in different positions each time, and no two games are ever exactly the same.
Scramble is a remarkable accomplishment in a stand-alone game design. But that’s not the important thing about the unit. The fact is—this is a highly enjoyable game, beautiful to look at and challenging to play.
Escape From the Devil’s Doom & Invaders of the Mummy’s Tomb
The two newest games from Bandai Electronics use the oldest power source in the world—the sun. While other games make you fiddle with wires and cords, or shell out coins for batteries or adapters, these hand held midgets only need a little sunshine to keep them playing. In fact, regular incandescent or fluorescent lights do just as well, so the games are good night or day, rain or shine.
These Bandai bandits are so cute they’ll almost steal the money right out of your wallet. Each is housed in a tiny (2½-in. b 3-in.) grey compact-style case that slides easily into a shirt pockket. The lid of the case contains the solar power sensors. These cells absorb enough light to activate the game within a couple of seconds after opening the case.
The game is in the bottom part of the compact. Each has five controls. Choose sound or silent play, and pick between two skill levels. Push the “all-clear” button to ready the screen for a new round. The only controls used during actual play are two buttons to move the gamer-controlled figures left or right.
Escape From The Devil’s Doom starts in hell. The humanoid figure jumps out of a cooking pot and tries to climb a rope stretching up to heaven. Demons and bats bedevil and pursue him as he dashes across the terrain to the rope. When caught, the demons build a fire under him. Three such losses and the game ends. Each time he successfully climbs the rope, 50 points are added to the score. At 500 points, the screen changes to heaven, where he must catch the angel feathers dropped by God. Each is worth 10 points and when the tally reaches 1000, then little man becomes an angel. He ascends to God and is given a ring, and an additional 500 bonus points.
Unfortunately, that’s the end of his heavenly rewards. He is then banished back to hell where the game starts again. Failure to catch even one feather also pushes him back into the pit; there is very little room for error in heaven. The game continues until the demons roast three little men, or you get to the highest score of 19,999.
Invaders of The Mummy’s Tomb opens with the adventurer and his camel outside the door of a pyramid. Scorpions and cobras attack the camel. The adventurer must dart back and forth to destroy these desert denizens. Any creature he manages to touch is killed, adding 10 points to the score. When the total reaches 500 points, the explorer can enter the pyramid through its open door. Inside is a large treasure chest of loot. But it isn’t all Tutankhamian trinkets, because the pyramid also contains an angry mummy and a vicious spider. Avoid them and scoop up treasure for 10 points. When the hero has a full bag, a buddy appears at the door of the crypt. Pass the bag of treasure to his friend for an additional 500 points. If he can’t avoid the attacking mummy or spider, he is pushed back outside the pyramid to battle more scorpions and snakes. The game ends when the camel has been bitten three times, or when the score reaches 19,999.
Play action is a little limited in both games, since all the arcader can do is dance his man around using the left-right movement buttons. The antagonists move very rapidly, and it isn’t easy to stay ahead of them. On skill level two, both games move even faster.
These are the first solar-powered games, but they surely won’t be the last. While technology at this stage probably can’t support a larger version of such an ecologically sound game, the sun seems an ideal power source for small hand-held units. Invaders of The Mummy’s Tomb and Escape From The Devil’s Doom may not be the most complex electronic games in the world, but they are nice novelties. They’re palm-sized, have fast action and cute animation, and definitely rate as the newest things under the sun!
You say you can’t read a note, but you’ve got a song in your heart? You’ve never touched a piano, but your fingers are itching to tickle the ivories? You mean you’d like to dash off a ditty, but musically your hands have two left feet? Well, here’s a solution to your problem—a way to make music with a little help from technology.
The VL-Tone keyboard, introduced by Casio in 1981, filled a gap in the market by offering a low-priced keyboard that fits one hand comfortably, while also proving to be lightweight and easily portable. The VL-Tone boasts five voices and 10 rhythms. This tiny keyboard packs another powerful surprise. A tiny recorder built into the unit allows you to pick out a song one note at a time, then play it back automatically at the pitch, tempo and voice desired.
Now the VL-Tone keyboard has fathered the next generation of tiny musical instruments, the Casio VL-5. The VL-5 takes all the features of the first unit, then goes further. You can now choose from 16 voices: flute, bagpipe, clarinet, violin, trumpet, pipe organ, harpsichord, piano, pretty and funny. Eight rhythms built into the unit add automatic accompaniment to your tune, whether you prefer waltz, march, rock, swing, samba, rhumba, slow rock or metronome. The keyboard has three full octaves, and it’s possible to chord up to four notes simultaneously.
The VL-5 recorder works like its predecessor. The unaccomplished musician plays one note at a time, deleting errors if his fingers stumble onto wrong keys, then hears his masterpiece played back one note at a time. The musician controls the tempo and adds the automatic rhythm background to his composition. For a smoother, more professional-sounding playback, use the auto play key. The beat will be automatically matched to the music. Even if you don’t have rhythm, this unit does!
All of these are good features. But the technological wonder of the VL-5 is Casio’s addition of a bar-code reader to the VL-Tone, making the VL-5 into the world’s first midgit player piano!
The bar-code reading wand plugs into the back of the keyboard. Special music books, available from all Casio keyboard dealers, contain songs coded for reading by wand. The music looks vaguely like the UPS code found on all grocery items. When the wand is passed over a line of the bar code, it is stored into the keyboard’s memory. Press the playback key, and real professional music pours from the unit’s speaker.
To use the wand, place the music book on a flat firm surface. Pass the wand over each line of bar coded music in a quick flowing motion. If the music is read properly, the unit signals with a tinkle. An incomplete reading produces a gong. Continue in this fashion until all the music is read into the VL-5, then play back the recorded melody as desired.
Unfortunately, music recorded either manually or from the bar-coded songbook that comes with the unit is very simple, one-note melody lines. To gain musical depth, it would be necessary to play harmonic notes against this, something that might not be possible for untalented fingers. But the recorded rhythms help this deficiency.
The VL-5 is a lot of fun: Its portability makes it a delight to travel with, and the recording features have real use for a musician trying out a composition. But the most fun of all is the bar-code reader. After all, even if the music that ensues is a little thin, everyone likes player pianos. And this is certainly the tiniest one we’ve seen so far.