Happy Holidays 2023!

The PixelatedArcade 2023 End of Year Roundup

It's nearing the end of 2023, and time for the traditional end-of-year roundup! And what a year it's been... some real life challenges kept me from the once a month cadence for news or reviews, but we did have the IBM PCjr's 40th Anniversary sneak up, so that was fun! From a behind-the-scenes point of view, lots of changes were made with some pretty sizeable code updates; unfortunately there was a lot of downtime this year, but with new updates in place and other configuration changes PixelatedArcade should be more stable than ever going into the new year. Similarly, a significant update to my photography site PixelatedImages is underway and I hope to begin making updates there again next year. It's also notable that PixelatedArcade finally crossed the 3000 game entries mark! Maybe not the largest site, but slowly gaps are filled in to hopefully become an incredibly useful, intuitive, and informative site. Below are the latest database stats along with a few mini-reviews. Happy holidays everyone!

As I've mentioned before, the PixelatedArcade database is forever being updated; video game history is quite a journey, and I'm happy to report the latest database stats!
  • Game listings: 3017
  • Screenshots: 56039 (3759 screenshot groups)
  • Cover scans and photos: 12500 (2147 cover groups)
  • Other photographs: 14859 (2000 picture groups)
  • Technical specs: 7802
  • Game credits: 2909
  • Releases: 12724
  • Game logos: 1553
  • Company logos: 142
  • Related game groups: 237
  • Instruction Manuals / Documents: 1074 (785 games)
  • Game Overviews: 891 (457 games)
  • Advertisement scans: 3294 (2004 groups for 1563 games/tech specs/game groups)
Last year I seemingly started what will become another tradition...a few mini-reviews with the end-of-year roundup! To keep that going, here's a few really quick thoughts on a handfull of games...

  • Astro-Dodge

    Released in 1982 for the IBM PC, Astro-Dodge is a pretty reasonable Asteroids clone. It may not add anything new to the formula, but it's a faithful recreation of the arcade game and as there was no official port this was the only way to play the game (or something similar) at home on your PC at the time. The gameplay elements are all there...plenty of asteroids which split into smaller ones and that ever devious alien. The main drawbacks are a lack of sound and an insane and awkward keyboard setup for controls. Some sounds (even simple PC speaker beeps) and better key choices for playing the game would have made things a lot better and are the reason I gave this such a low rating. Astro-Dodge is also quite notable for it's extremely unusual CGA graphics! Through some clever programming, you'll notice that the game uses an unheard of resolution of 256 x 254 (with 240 lines visible) where 320 x 200 was the CGA standard. The how and why is pretty complex, even if you are familiar with the inner workings of a CGA card, so I suggest reading VileR's writeup in his blog article Astro-Dodge's Dirty Video Tricks for an in-depth examination of how this was all done. You'll find some interesting analysis there, and when you're done reading give this curious piece of PC game history a try!
    Rating: B-
  • Robot Runner

    Remember Moonbeam Software? Unless you are a TI-99 enthusiast, I'm guessing no. They released a handful of games for the TI-99/4 and TI-99/4A in the early 80's; All of their games were written in either TI BASIC or TI Extended BASIC and released on cassette and disk. Unfortunately, they disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared; the video game crash of 1983 certainly didn't help, but also the failure of the TI-99/4A to compete against Commodore and Atari computers was the final nail in that coffin. At the time, starting with TI-99/4(A) as the platform to make games for wasn't completely out in left field... the system had a promising start with quite a few units sold and sales increasing. But in 1980's computing the scene can change quickly! Anyway, Robot Runner is one such game they released and utilizes Extended BASIC. It consists of an impressive seven(!) different screens where players need to guide their android through various platforms, mazes, and other obstacles. The number of screens, each with their own goal, was quite a large variation for platform/action games of the era, especially for a game written in BASIC. The graphics and sound in Robot Runner are simplistic, but overall sharp and work well enough. The main issue I have with the game is due to limitations of TI Extended BASIC; it's a bit slow! Even with taking advantage of the TI's sprite capability, the game (and all Moonbeam games really) run somewhat clunky by modern standards, and even by standards of the day. It's also quite difficult; after losing an android, you're sent back to the first screen to try again. Making it through all seven without losing a life is a challenge, especially since you don't have much time to react once a level begins — you'll need to learn each level's tricks to get through before you're caught. It's too bad TI BASIC didn't perform better, as that really held back Moonbeam Software games which were otherwise creative and attractive. On the other hand, Robot Runner does work surprisingly well for a TI BASIC game; some other companies efforts at an action game in this language barely even have any action (I'm looking at you Slinky).
    Rating: B-
  • Jack Nicklaus' Unlimited Golf & Course Design

    Released in 1990, the latest (at the time) entry in the Jack Nicklaus golf series came out around the same time as the formidable Links: The Challenge of Golf. The latter was, in many respects, the better game of the two, however Jack Nicklaus had two major advantages that actually could end up making it your preferred game. The first is performance; the 256 color MCGA/VGA graphics in Links are gorgeous, but that comes with a price: you'll want a fast system! Even though the game doesn't require more than an 8088, I found ideally you need an 80386 (preferably a fast one) or better for the rendering times to be reasonable; when the game first came out I had an 8086 and you could almost play a real round of golf in less time. The second advantage is the course architect which is missing entirely from Links. This feature adds hours of fun both designing and playing your own masterpieces. Although Jack Nicklaus doesn't look nearly as good as Links, it does still sport 256 color MCGA/VGA graphics and even on slower systems the screen drawing time is pretty brisk (the quick drawing times more than makes up for the less photo-realistic images). Gameplay isn't shabby either, utilizing the usual power bar and multi-tap system that essentially became standard for golf games. All around this is a fun package that makes a nice balance between advanced technology yet runs well on old systems and I highly recommend it! One drawback, however, is the sound; while a number of sound cards are supported for a catchy little intro theme, sound effects during the game are only through the internal speaker. Drats. Accolade also followed up this entry with Jack Nicklaus Golf & Course Design: Signature Edition which features the same great gameplay and course architect while upgrading the graphics and sound to be on par with Links (although you will need at least an 80286 for this one).
    Rating: A-
  • Test Drive III: The Passion

    Now to move on from golfing to racing! I'm not particularly a driving or racing fan, but I found Accolade's Test Drive III to be one of my favorite driving games of the era. To start off, the game upgrades to true 3D for the first time in the series (vs. the Pole Position style psuedo-3D effect used in the prior games) and in 256 color MCGA/VGA or 16 color EGA/Tandy. The results were quite impressive for the time. Also included are an array of features making for an unusually open world compared to other similar titles. There were multiple routes to your destination (including some “hidden” ones not shown on the map included with the game), differing times of day and night, varied weather conditions, the ability to turn on or off the windshield wipers and headlights, manual or automatic transmission, and more made Test Drive III seem quite detailed. I had as much fun simply driving around exploring as actually reaching the finish line quickly. Ideally, you'll want a faster 80286 or 80386 for this one. You can reduce the level of detail and the window size so it will run quite well on slower computers, but with the decreased window size the view is a little claustrophobic and more difficult to see things. Less detail also removes some objects and trees affecting the difficulty as well. Overall, another one highly recommended!
    Rating: A-
  • Grand Prix

    More racing? Yep! Grand Prix was released by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1982. While Activision titles were generally very high quality with a lot of visual polish, this is one of their more middle of the road titles (hah!). Visually, it does live up to Activision standards; numerous moving objects on the screen that are each multi-colored (not an easy feat on this system), no flickering, and smooth animation and scrolling make this title look quite impressive by 1982 Atari 2600 standards. Unfortunately, the gameplay is overall average. The goal is to race from start to finish in the shortest time possible; crashing into other cars or obstacles will slow you down costing time. And that's pretty much all there is to it; no additional levels or races can be reached, nor does difficulty increase over time, or any similar mechanism to extend gameplay beyond the set time limit. Perhaps this is an attempt to make this game less “video-gamey” and more like real racing or just resulted from the extreme hardware limitations, but overall that made the title one I didn't find as interesting to stick with. Just racing for a better time isn't super exciting, an issue some other Activision games from the era also had. There isn't much included for game variations as many 2600 titles had back then, but it does have a few difficulty levels available which affect the obstacles on screen and length of the course.
    Rating: C

And that's all for today; enjoy the holidays, and until next time stay safe, stay healthy, and take care!

Happy Holidays 2023