Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Zombies", Atari 8-bit, 1983.

How scary is this game, anyhow? I don't really know, but its ad artwork is a thing of beauty, with stylised '70s features reminding me of the mysteriously vanished Dragon magazine comic feature Wormy. A pity they have to compromise it with the glaring drag factor of mundane commercial concerns. Thanks to Bart Day for contributing this phenomenal game ad scan!


* Atari is a trademark of Atari, Inc.

Scrolling 3D graphics, on-line instructions, one or two player cooperative, seven different dungeons, 74 different screens, high score save to disk, full sound and color, zombies, poisonous snakes, giant spiders, evil orbs, scrolls, talismans, lost crowns and spectacular underground scenery.

A fast action arcade fantasy for Atari's [sic].*

Ah, but whose trademark is Atari, Inc.? This thing could go GNU-shaped dangerously quickly.

I like how the ad copy rings of being written by the programmer Mike Edwards, tallying features he implemented. Apparently in '83 "3D graphics" meant something very different from what we understand it to mean today, as did "on-line instructions". This is 3D, Zaxxon-style, an isometric projection. Some cocktail napkin math suggests that every dungeon averages slightly over 10 screens each, each screen costing the player about 50 cents; I don't know if a high score save to disk has ever sold a game but it probably doesn't hurt. But you know, if the game didn't actually contain zombies, many consumers would doubtlessly have been quite disappointed. "POISONOUS SNAKES" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Evil Orbs? A fore-runner of the Murray's Manhunter games? I do like the cherry on top, "spectacular underground scenery." Zork could claim much the same.

Before genres gelled, sometimes you just had to cast a wide net over your game. An action arcade fantasy? Well, why not. At least it didn't style itself an "adventure", a marketing term so overused it became actually meaningless in the '90s, when it was taken to indicate that a game contained a narrative and was not entirely abstract.

BRAM Inc. sure was taken with their company logo. I believe this game was part of a series capitalizing on impossible MC Escher architecture that could be described with the isometric projection perspective, leading to a game entitled something like "Realm of Impossibility". (Correction: that was just EA's title for subsequent ports.)

It almost looks as though this was just slush pile art that they seized for promo purposes, but there are specific hallmarks of this game in it: not just the ZOMBIES and giant spiders, but indeed there in the hero's pouch are the lost crowns. I kind of figured they'd be worn on a head or tossed haphazardly in a general purpose rucksack, but it looks like that there is a dedicated crown satchel.