Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Hacker", 1985

Well, Jennie Faber and Josh liked yesterday's post on Neuromancer, so let's see if I can come up with anything else remotely hacker-ish. ... Ah, yes. "Hacker". I've lifted this scan from Benj Edwards' Vintage Computing site.

You've Stumbled Into An Unknown Computer System.

Now What?

Welcome To The Next Generation Of Home Computer Software.

"Plunge into every hacker's dream." -Rick Manning/Louisville Times
"...the most mysterious game ever." -Rawson Stovall/"The Vid Kid"
"An open screen says 'logon please.' That's it, no instructions." -Technology Notebook/Gannett News Service
"Just like in real life, there are no rules, no clues, no instructions." -David Greising/Technology Memo

To stumble into somebody else's computer system. To be someplace you're really not supposed to be. And to get the strange feeling that it really does matter. 'LOGON PLEASE' is all you get to start with. That's it. From there, it's up to you. If you're clever enough and smart enough, you could discover a world you've never before experienced on your computer. Very tempting.

What more can we say? Well, someone as clever and smart as you certainly wouldn't want any hints, right? So all we'll say is it was created by legendary designer, Steve Cartwright.

Well, that ad certainly leaves things open. "Now what?" indeed. The game is notorious for opening with a simulated login screen inspired by the film "War Games", against which you have to bash your head a few times before "crack"ing it and obtaining access to the bizarre systems beneath. The game jumps the shark a little then, providing the player with control over geothermally-powered robots that traverse a global network of underground tunnels, seeking to retrieve portions of a sensitive shredded document. Hey, what happened to my cybercrime game?

Anyhow, the ad text doesn't give us much more to work with beyond some bon mots from reviewers, so we have to wrap up with a closer look at the cv of the celebrity game designer on whom the whole ad rests, Steve Cartwright. He was the fifth designer at Activision, apparently on the basis of having been David Crane's college roommate, and developed some reputation designing the Atari 2600 titles Barnstorming, Frostbite, MegaMania, Plaque Attack and SeaQuest, none of which bring any particular mental image to my encyclopediac mind's eye. At the time these were apparently sufficient to categorize him as "legendary", but it seems these are the kind of legacy-less stealth classics which were never diluted by crassly being ported to other platforms or having sequels made.

Wikipedia assigns him some dubious distinctions, either of dubious merit...

* Directed / patented first use of mouse-over to collect on-screen rewards (Zoo World 2)
* Designed / developed first political boxing game (Bush vs. Kerry Boxing)
* Designed / developed first game game using actors against a blue screen (Lost in LA)
or dubious accuracy...
* Designed / produced EA's first multi-player sports game (PGA TOUR Pro) -- (what, not 1988's Zany Golf or Caveman Ugh-Lympics? PGA TOUR pro was '97! That's a bit late in the game... this must be "multi-player" with an asterisk or three.)
* Conceived first video game sequel (Pitfall II) -- (really, not 1982's Super Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man (admittedly unofficial, but ultimately vindicated by history)? (Or, ahem, some will point to Wumpus the prior decade.) Pitfall II was 1984! It may well be the case, however, that Pitfall was the first to have a sequel uncreatively named "[GAME NAME] 2".)
My intention isn't to defame Steve Cartwright, of course. I just think that his Wikipedia page looks a little puffed-up. Moving right along... the hacking game theme has probably been underutilized. Core War may be the fullest flowering of programming-as-gameplay, though the Kevin Mitnick-style "social engineering" hacking is tougher to pull off outside of a social, interacting-with-real-people context. I have a recollection of a BBS door game that was primarily concerned with (simulatedly) compromising other operators' boxes, pantomiming cybercrime, and of course one could argue that the territorial pissing matches of the script kiddies' botnets represents a kind of game also. But... I digress. Until tomorrow, and its digression! Hack the planet!