Activision were a power house publisher during the early 1980s, not just on the consoles, but also on home computers. The most prominent of these was the Commodore 64. With an architecture that encouraged graphics and sound, together with a fairly compatible porting policy, Activision had a stream of ready produced hits from the back catalogue. But Activision didn't just distribute its own games, it also handled some other emerging companies.
We take an immediate interlude just to browse over what Activision did to help other competitors. Sure they got money from it, but otherwise we might never have heard of some titles. The two main companies that spring to mind are Lucasarts and Interplay.
Activision distributed the first four Lucasarts games, namely "Rescue on Fractalus", "Ballblazer", "The Eidolon" and "Koronis Rift". Now all four of these were great games, but contrary to what Jon Dyton said, NOT essential for all gamers. Much like "The Sentinel", they are acquired tastes and I knew plenty of people at the time that didn't like the games at all. Having said that, if you do like them, there is a lot to get your teeth into. Activision also distributed some of Lucasarts' later titles. Games such as "Labyrinth" and "Howard the Duck" should be avoided at all costs, but search out "Maniac Mansion" and "Zak McKraken" for early point-and-click graphical adventure larks.
The same can be said with Interplay. Later known for their RPG efforts (via Electronic Arts), many of their early C64 games were graphical adventures. After the lukewarm efforts of "Mindshadow" and "The Tracer Sanction", they scored a hit with "Borrowed Time", a superb detective adventure set in 1930s Chicago. They then surpassed themselves with the quirky, brilliant "Tass Times in Tone Town". That game is just too far out to describe properly, but it feels like you are really in another world. These were all disc only (though Mindshadow was later released on tape), but still should be tracked down even if you aren't keyboard inclined.
Also a mention should go to Rod Cousins, who was the European marketing manager for much of the 80s. He came to Activision from Quicksilva where he had been the Managing Director. When Argus bought up Quicksilva, things didn't go the way he had anticipated, so he left. After meeting with the boss of Activision, Cousins was asked to change the perception of Activision as merely an American provider of product. His first task was the creation of the Electric Dreams label. This was used to export from the UK and created markets in the US and other places. The first game to hit the US was "Spindizzy". And so it went on. Hence this article will also cover games that originated here...
Okay back to the software. This article only goes so far into the catalogue; those games worthy of mention for whatever reasons and the fact that after 1988, the release schedule and games range diluted. I don't think anyone can argue that the late 80s started the trend of arcade conversions aplenty. Hence the attempt is to focus more on the original software being released.
When Activision did decide to enter the Commodore market, the similarity of code between machines meant it wasn't too difficult to port many of their Atari titles across. But then they also took the time to spruce up and improve on the original games as well. Such games include both "Pitfall" titles, "Decathlon", "HERO", "Zenji", "Zone Ranger", "River Raid", "Toy Bizarre" and "Beamrider". As many of these have been covered by the earlier article, they don't need to be discussed in detail. Sadly a couple of titles didn't make the UK shores until later via Firebird's budget label. Some of the titles were released on cartridge, but only in America. It's a pity because the boxes are superb, and the artwork on the outside of some is simply stunning. Check out some retro websites if you want to buy these, as they are well worth getting. But then, some of the old ones are also the best ones.
After Zzap!64 gave good reviews to some of these when they were rereleased, I went out and got hold of the originals at the next computer show I went to. I was only young, and pocket money didn't cut it when they came out at the time. Much cheaper in bargain bins! "Decathlon" stands out because of the sweat generation and the fact my joystick didn't break (must have been the lucky one!). "Zenji" was a revelation; a brilliantly simple puzzle game that can hold your attention for hours. Very Zen like (hence the name) despite the fact the programmer Matt Hubbard wasn't all that sure about the concept. Switch your mind off and play, I say.
"Toy Bizarre" was based on "Mario Brothers" but with a load of cute ideas thrown into the pot. Very entertaining that, jumping around bursting balloons, avoiding toys and collecting cups of coffee. The game's main enemy Hefty Hilda was based upon evil Otto from "Berzerk". And anyone who bought the tape or disc version and wondered why the game pauses for so long upon loading can now have that question answered. As I mentioned before, many early Activision games were released on cartridge. Back then C64 cartridges were a maximum of 16K big. To fit all of the program onto chip required compression. But when duplication for tape and disc came about, all they did was to dump the cartridge information out without uncompressing it first.
The cartridge limit did impose some problems with other games. "Zone Ranger" was another title to appear in chip form, and the actual game is only 16K big because of the limit. Hence the somewhat sparse nature of the graphics, especially in the Inner Sanctum levels. But based upon a mix of "Asteroids" and "Sinistar", how could it fail? Fast paced and exciting, definitely one to seek out and destroy. Both the programmers of "Toy Bizarre" (Mark Turmell) and "Zone Ranger" (Dan Thompson) currently work for Williams. From little acorns do big oaks grow.
There are other early titles that appeared in their own form on the Commodore 64, encased in the classic Activision `video box' packet. I never did play "Great Cross Country American Road Race" until I borrowed it from Keith. Nice game, nice racer. The idea, unsurprisingly, is to shoot your car as fast as possible over the land mass that is the United States. Except time and distance go a little quicker than real life, otherwise it would take you 5 weeks to complete each game! It wasn't that widespread here as I recall. At least it was released here...
One game which wasn't available here until Firebird got their hands on it in 1987 was "Park Patrol". Why they never thought of releasing it here originally in 1984, I do not know. Criminal is what I say. Anyhow, the idea is to control your parkie (male or female), pick up the litter lying around and avoid the unwelcome attentions of the local wildlife. You had a stock of energy replenishing food at your hut, but sometimes the ants would try and make off with it! If you were bored, you could try rescuing drowning swimmers or even attempt log rolling for extra points. The sound is funky and the graphics more than amusing. Cracking game, well worth the £1.99 it cost at the time!
From unavailable to everywhere, Ghostbuster mania hit the world in early 1984. Even more remarkable was the fact that the David Crane inspired game was released at roughly the same time! All of a sudden, the Commodore was allowed to shine. That funky tune, the accurate graphics and film related objective made the game an immediate winner. Then there was the speech. Not quite as clear as "Impossible Mission", but the nature of it put the game above any other version. As Keith wrote, it was slightly hurried, but I found it rather fun at the time. This was the first game I played on my new Commodore 64 back in March 84. Guess I never looked back, huh?!
Then there was a license of a different sort. Activision were allowed to produce a game based upon the pride of NASA, the Space Shuttle. Programmed by the Kitchen brothers, this is a simulation bar none. You literally have to become an astronaut yourself, working out vectors and ratios (pity those people who failed Maths!), together with calculating trajectories and fuel consumption. The graphics were very functional, giving a typical cockpit view with a window out into the big, black empty world that is space. And even though this was a simulation, you still had the opportunity to send in scores for that legendary Activision patch!
One game I got hold of that never made it to UK shores was "Fast Tracks" by Mark Turmell. This was a do-it-yourself slot construction kit, rather like Scaletrix. You controlled a remote car where you didn't have a large influence over the steering, just primarily the speed of the vehicle. It can be compared to "Racing Destruction Set", as both games had competitive races and the ability to built your own tracks. But "RDS" just has the edge because the added features such as gravity control and weapons selection. Still it is fun, just sometimes infuriating.
This takes us up to the middle of 1985, and the launch of Zzap!64 magazine. Always a special place in my heart for that magazine now. It also signaled the start of a change within Activision. The old style of games mentioned before became less common, and a new wave of both licensed and original software started to emerge.
The last vestiges of the old style were reviewed in issue 1 of Zzap!64, namely "Rock n Bolt", "Master of the Lamps" and "Pastfinder".
Now although Keith likes "Rock n Bolt", it never did anything for me. Sure the music is pretty good and all, but the gameplay is not in the same league as "Zenji". You are Louie the construction worker, and your job is to bolt down the moving girders to the exact blueprint shown on the screen. Of course the thing to watch out for is to bolt them in the correct order so you don't trap yourself in some part of the level! Sadly the game doesn't offer much variety and I got bored rather quickly.
The same could almost be said for "Master of the Lamps". Throughout the game the music is very varied and catchy. But music is not the sole reason to go out buying a game though... oh okay, I only got Rambo on cheap for the music now, happy?! Back then, ten pounds was a lot for a game. There were two stages to the game. First you rode on a magic carpet through a series of loops, having to follow the twisted path they led. Once through that, you had to watch a Genie play several notes, then bang the respective gongs below to dissipate the music. Again like "Rock n Bolt", it was a bit limited with little variety between each level. Great music though...
Okay with those two out of the way, how does "Pastfinder" fair? A lot better I will say! You are a Pastfinder, and you have a new assignment. However the landscape you are to explore is uncharted and full of radiation. Equipped with a unique `Leeper' craft, you progress over each level in crab like fashion. You also have the ability to jump, the height depending on how fast you are traveling. Your job is to find artifacts in each level, then deliver them to any base you may find. Beware though of enemies in each stage, plus the ever creeping danger of radiation poisoning. Fortunately there are jewels to shoot which will reduce your current adsorption. You also have some supplies to use: a shield which reduces radiation adsorption; a cleanser which removes all radiation; a shield to protect from enemy fire; and a scrambler which prevents the enemy from locking in on you. Each level of the map provides new dangers and obstacles such as high walls, moving walls, spikes, hanging enemies and more. Sound is sparse but the graphics, despite their size, are detailed, colourful and effective. The controls are very intuitive and have some momentum built into them. This is a great game just to load up and have a blast with, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Around the same time, Activision released a number of sports games into the country. Some were licensed and distributed from Gamestar (anyone recall the 3D American football game?), others were in house product. The best of these was probably "On-Court Tennis". The view of the court is from a slightly raised angle behind one of the players, similar to the later effort "International 3D Tennis" by Sensible. However here the players are filled in sprites. But on a similar nature, the actual movement of each player is controlled mostly by the computer, leaving the player to decide which shot to play. Graphically the game is good, with at the time smooth animation and ball movement, whilst sound is sparse but appropriate. It got a decent review in Zzap!64 but is probably third in the stakes behind "Matchpoint" and the aforementioned "3D Tennis".
But then, over the course of the next 12 or so months, Activision provided the UK with some of the most original, prestigious software ever released on the C64. These games happen to be "Barry McGuigan's Boxing", "Little Computer People", "Hacker", "Alter Ego", "Spindizzy" and "Raise the Titanic".
First up is perhaps the best boxing game to have been published. Despite more modern attempts and better technology, this game seems to have gotten the true nature of the boxing world down to a tee. First of all you create your boxer based on appearance, image, attitude and style. Then you have to make your way up the rankings so you can take on the big boys. A fight can be arranged with a boxer a few places above you, then you have a certain number of weeks to train. There are five areas to concentrate on: road, light bag, heavy bag, weights and sparing. Each area will improve or tune various attributes of your boxer such as stamina, agility, strength and endurance. Once in the ring, you control defence and attack, picking punches carefully so not to overexert yourself too much or leave yourself open to a counter. If you win, you go up the rankings and towards the big time. Graphically the game produces with neat touches such as camera flashes and punch animation being spot on. The sound FX are pretty realistic too. But it is the gameplay where it excels, with the desire to work out how to box properly combined with the correct training regime being critical to your chances of reaching the top. One top knockout!
And then there was "Little Computer People" or "LCP" for short. This was something completely different. A simulated living, breathing miniature computer person doing his own thing and reacting to your input. Many people today have experienced the same concept either through "Catz" or "Dogz" on the PC, or via Tamagotchi. The actual idea came from outside Activision and was bought in, whilst the original name for the project was `Pet Person' after the `Pet Rock' craze of the 1960s. In the beginning, it was merely going to be a window into a world, rather than what we know today. David Crane decided to rewrite half the code and include all the interactive elements. It was then tailored for Activision's own blend of product, with the inclusion of many pieces of their own music! Each copy of the game was duplicated in-house, for each disc had its own serial number and encoding. This information was used to create the LCP that would inhabit the house; details such as hair colour, clothes, dog, personality etc. Each disc was in effect unique. Upon loading the disc for the first time, you would enter your name and today's date and time. Once the house had loaded, the LCP would eventually move in, inspect the house and settle down. You could ask him to type you a letter, listen to music, feed the dog, do exercise, dance, play cards and a whole lot more. Although it may seem primitive by today's standards, it was a revolutionary idea back in 1985 and well deserves any praise as being truly inventive.
At least you got instructions with "LCP". "Hacker" didn't come with any! Well, not much that was truly revealing. The idea came from one of those brainstorming exercises that executives and programmers used to have, to throw around suggestions for new product. Hackers had only recently started to make media coverage, and this topic of conversation lead to a game based on that concept. The idea of `logging on' was taken from "Ghostbusters" where you have to create an account at the beginning. Same idea, different twist. They even hired a writer to come up with the plot. This being of someone (you) who accidentally dialed into the wrong network and given access inside. The company in question is Magma Ltd and they are working on something very hush-hush. Unfortunately a document has gone missing and is split up in pieces across the world. Each is held by an enemy agent who will only relinquish his piece should you give him an item that he desires. Traveling about via underground tunnels, you may get stopped by Magma security droids carrying checks. Fail to pass one and you will be thrown out of the system. Eventually you will need to find the location of the `test site' and the final delivery point for the completed document. Functionary graphics and sound convey the tense action that gets you using your grey matter quite a bit. A superb original game that you should look up merely to see what all the idea is all about.
From a game that used your brain, to one about it. "Alter Ego" came in two flavours, male and female, not to leave anyone out. And it is rather strange for me at least to go loading up the female version and experience all those `women' problems... well I don't need to go into that much detail to describe it! It was created by the psychologist Peter Favaro from interviews of hundreds of people about their most memorable life experiences. In the beginning you either create your own personality or let the computer randomly select one. The former option is handled by having you answer yes or no to a selection of profile queries. Once into the game, you can choose to begin your life at 7 different points: Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Adulthood, Middle Adulthood or Old Age. Each time frame has its own problems and experiences to cope with. Once into the main part of the program, you can choose at any point to have a life choice or a life experience. Life choices are decisions and events you may make during life such as applying for a job, taking risks, getting married and so on. Life experiences mould your alter ego based on who you want them to be. These range from social (manners, friends) to intellectual (smarts and common sense), from physical (health) to emotional (personality). Each experience will affect one or more aspects of your character. You can check on your current character's status throughout the game. There are 12 characteristics involved here, and most have a double side depending on whether you are scoring low or high in each category. And each characteristic may affect the outcome in future life choices. In a recent retro look in `Arcade' magazine, they didn't like this program. So, who are you going to trust, me or them?! You can't look upon this as just another game. There is no objective to "Alter Ego", it is a program designed to play out `what if' should you wish to be someone else in life. Simple, effective and totally original, hunt down a copy should you be able to find one.
Enough of the tenuous links between games here! Next up is the first product from the Electric Dreams label, namely "Spindizzy". Sadly later titles such as "Mermaid Madness", "Dandy", "Explorer", "Fifth Axis", "Prodigy" and "Firetrap" didn't quite live up to this release, and in the most part should be avoided. But one or two do deserve mention later. Anyhow back to the game at hand. This was the second game by Paul Shirley after the success of "Confuzion". You are a Trainee Assistant Cartographer for Unknown Worlds, and as luck would have it, the techie boys have gone and discovered a brand new world. This is all Government funded, meaning time is money. Hence you get dropped off there with a small amount of energy to play with. Fortunately there are reports of supplies around the world. You are given control of a GERALD (Gyroscopic Environmental Reconnaissance And Land-mapping Device) which is a clever beast and remarkably adaptable. Your job is to explore all 429 screens of the new dimension and report back. Not an easy task as the whole place is suspended in mid air! Falling off will result in a large loss of energy and replacement back where you were. Fortunately GERALD is quite maneuverable and equipped with a speed boost to get up steep slopes. There are plenty of traps and tricks awaiting with high up platforms, moving blocks, holes, sticky bits and all sort of other hazards to contend with. So you'd better get a move on... you don't want to be a Trainee Assistant Cartographer all your life, do you?! Okay, what to say about the game? Tricky? Yes. Mind bending? Yes. Hair-pullingly addictive? Definitely! The graphics are 3D rendered but simplistic, basic blocks and tasteful colour schemes abound. They draw quick and move quick as well. GERALD can be changed from a gyroscope, to a sphere to a spinning top. Sound is practically non-existent, but vital when you trigger off a moving platform and need to find out where it is moving from! But believe me, to get anywhere near mapping half the game, you are going to have to master every control in the game to get GERALD round the brilliantly designed but infuriating screens. A lot of gameplay for your money there.
The last of the six games mentioned above is "Raise the Titanic", the second release on the Electric Dreams label. By now, everyone knows a lot about said ship due to a certain film that did alright at the box office! The game involves you to explore the sunken liner, take photos, recover any artifacts, and if you are very lucky, figure out how to refloat the ship. But you can't really call this a true game, it is more a simulation and adventure at the same time. Besides exploring the ship, you also have to contend with an ever eager press corp, plus reassuring your sponsors that their money is being well spent! When you do get to dive down in your TSI unit, the main display screen shows you a camera view, for any glass would surely break under pressure at that depth. This is represented by a very accurate light intensifier view, pixels swirling everywhere. You can then go about moving round the ship in a similar manner to the classic game "Mercenary". Some doors are locked and different routes must be negotiated. Items spotted may be grabbed by the robotic arm on the TSI, though trying to take something fixed or too heavy may damage it. Returning to where you entered the wreck allows you to return up to 2 items at a time to the main vessel. Here they can be assessed and valued. Photographs of various rooms can also be taken, 6 per dive. These will allow a permanent preservation of the way things used to look. There is no time limit to the game; as long as the money is being generated, then you may return to explore further and gain more treasure. There are also 8 flotation bags somewhere in the ship, and activating all of them will cause the liner to rise once more. Not too believable, but we live in hope! Anyhow, credit must go to the image design when you are exploring, and the overall realistic nature of the program, both above and below surface. It is hard game to get into because of the detail involved, but soon it becomes second nature and you can go off and see for yourself what the ship really seemed like.
At this point in time, it almost signals the start of the more commercial side to Activision's release schedule. But there were still good original games being released, just less of them. Such notables include "Murder on the Mississippi", "Hacker 2" and "Chameleon". All three are worthy of attention. "Murder on the Mississippi" deals with the, surprise surprise, murder of a notable aristocrat aboard a Mississippi steam ferry. With the ferry due to dock in 3 hours time, it is up to you to collar the person responsible by exploring the ferry, talking to people and gathering clues. Good graphics and sound, plus an involving thought inducing plot with multiple endings. "Hacker 2" was the sequel to the ever popular "Hacker" the previous year. Following on from your exploits, the US Government wishes to recruit you to undertake a dangerous retrieval assignment. They believe that a secret document called `The Doomsday Papers' is hidden in Siberia, and contains information relevant to the downfall of Western society. Your job is to explore and steal the papers. More use of the brain cells here, as you try to avoid all the security by fixing the cameras in true movie style! "Chameleon" was the second game written by Martin Walker, before he went on to do the excellent "Hunter's Moon" and "Citadel", plus the music for "Armalyte". Sadly Electric Dreams didn't document the game very well on what you had to do. Your job is put the elements back in place, these being Earth, Fire, Air and Water. You must cross each elemental plane and shoot demons with the correct element to remove them. The object is to escape eventually, but you must be quick to decide how to deal with each situation as it comes. Again good graphics and sound are part of the game, just confusing to begin with unless you have read some proper instructions!
Which takes us on to one of the most original, compelling and unusual programs I have ever encountered. It's not a game, it's a computer novel. That was "Portal". The story line was created by Rob Swigert (who had already written some cyberpunk novels), and deals with an astronaut who was sent on a mission, got partially lost and ends up returning to Earth 100 years later. Except there's nothing left except empty buildings. After much exploring, one solitary active machine is discovered, called Homer. It (or `he' as the machine later develops a `personality') wants to know where everyone went too. There are apparently 11 other systems around the world that make up the Network, and gradually these areas can be brought on line. They contain all sorts of information: History 1990-2079, Physical datafiles, Military secrets, Central Processing and more. By accessing each piece of the puzzle in order, a picture of the overall situation can be ascertained. Homer relates to you a story, for that is in fact its purpose. But this is no ordinary story, for the details within spell out many clues and indications as to why there is no one left. And your actions are somehow interlinked with the solution. The story centres on a bright young boy called Peter Devore, and the relationship between his parents, his friends, the local head of the Federation and the Psion Equations. These were muted by a scientist many years before, but were considered to be a myth. They concern the production of vast quantities of energy and the possibility of faster than light travel. When Peter is accidentally allowed access to the Network's Science computer, he stumbles upon the equations and becomes intrigued by them. But there is something secret about them, hence the security access. The more Peter wishes to know, the more trouble starts to occur. He also starts to have vivid dreams, contacts with a cryogenically frozen spirit who is sleeping somewhere out in the far reaches of space. Somehow her plight is linked to the nature of his research. His friends are all supportive, and with the Federation taking an interest in their activities, they make a run for Antarctica where a group of people against the Federation are based.... Well what to say about it? The most important thing is that it isn't to everyone's taste. This was born out of the fact that two sequels were planned, but shelved due to poor sales figures. Which is a pity because I rather enjoyed this all the same. Having finished the `book', I can say that around halfway through you could guess what the ending is. However it is still interesting enough for you to want to know what happens to everyone involved. Definitely one to track down if you have an interest in science fiction.
What's next up? "Firetrack" by Orlando released via Electric Dreams, a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up with some original parts to it. Industrial pirates have taken over 8 worlds of the asteroid belt and have declared independence. This hasn't gone done too well with the Earth government, so they have seen in a squadron of 3 Firetrack fighters, piloted by the best guy around, namely yourself. Your job is to fight your way through the defences on each world and take out the nuclear reactor at the end of each. Having done that, you can strafe over each world again to destroy anything that you missed before. What sets the game out against many other shooters is the varied and colourful worlds over which you fight, plus the unpredictable attack patterns of the forces pitted against you. One to go for, something challenging and very playable.
Then we have "Aliens". There were two versions made, one released under the Electric Dreams label and one under the Activision label (due to them being programmed here and over in the US). As it turned out, our version was the better program. Okay, I know what I said earlier about Electric Dreams having a mostly poor release record. My job here is then to point out those ones which DO deserve a mention! And this is one such game. Both games of course deal with the film of the same name, just in different ways. Whilst the Activision version is based on various sections of the movie (landing, infiltration, escape, rescue etc), the Electric Dreams version takes a more innovative approach. You control six of the team from the film, and have to blast your way in via a pseudo first person perspective. Along the way you must gain control of the Armoury, Control Room and Generators, before reaching the Queen's Chamber. Opposing you are the aliens, face huggers, biological growth and the odd pool of acid. Any team member failing to shoot an alien in time will usually be captured, ready for impregnation. A rescue attempt may be undertaken if someone is nearby. Otherwise, we all know what happens next! In all respects, the Electric Dreams version is superior to the Activision version, with more film like graphics and a better representation of the overall impact the film made. Plus it is only a single load, whereas the Activision version was in parts. Definitely the one to go after for Alien-like antics.
Sadly, not all licenced games were as good. "Transformers" did not do the name of the toys justice. Back in 1987, they were still pretty popular and a game seemed a good idea. Pity the execution wasn't up to scratch. For those who don't remember, there were two sides battling it out after crash landing on Earth: the Autobots (good guys) and the Decepticons (bad guys). You control a selection of the Autobots fighting against Decepticons at certain locations. Anyone who used to watch the cartoons will know the importance of energy for both sides. Hence the conflicts occur at nuclear power plants, oil refineries etc. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, the graphics and sound were terrible, and the gameplay too difficult for the intended age range. Not something Dave Crane would put high on his CV now!
And now for something completely different... "Sailing"! Sounds implausible? Actually it made for quite an interesting little program. The object of the racing part was to navigate three buoys and then make it to the finish line before your opponent. But before that you have a wide range of choices such as hull design, trim, mast length, wings and waterline length. You would then get out on to the water, and race away. The direction of the boat was controlled by left/right on the joystick, with the sail being raised or lowered by rotating the stick. The spinnaker could also be raised or lowered to gain speed in certain conditions. The graphics and sound were clean, crisp, accurate and attractive, making for some good presentation. Perhaps a little limited in execution, but a curiosity to look out for nonetheless.
So now we approach the final stretch of the feature, and what do we get? Licensed games alert! Crap licensed games alert!! The first of these is "Big Trouble in Little China". Does anyone remember the film? I do, sadly. The game wasn't much better, walk and beat someone up, walk and beat someone up. Secondly there is "Enduro Racer", possible candidate for `Worst C64 conversion ever'. Whilst the Spectrum version was pretty decent, the Commodore version was terrible. Almost unanimated sprites floating around a badly drawn track and an engine noise that sounded like a kazoo do not a good game make. Third up is "Quartet"... which vies with "Enduro Racer" as worst conversion on the C64! I wonder if monkeys could have made a better job of programming either game, they really are that bad. Not one to show off the C64 capabilities now! Finally we have "Wonder Boy". Okay it wasn't THAT bad, but could have been a whole lot better. The graphics were decent enough, but the tune playing was worthy of cats being strangled. Okay folks, let's take time out here to laugh at the terrible C64 programs now. All together, one, two, three... well at least I can acknowledge there was some pretty dire software out there, unlike some people I know and a slightly more powerful machine (think next Commodore up!).
Then things went quiet. Actually Activision released very little during the last year of this article, 1988. Maybe it had something to do with the takeover by Mediagenic. Sadly most of what did come out wasn't of a hugely high standard either. "X15 Alpha Mission" was written by John van Ryzan, author of the classic "HERO", but this was no classic. A wire-frame based flight sim cum shooter, it sadly achieved neither aim and the graphics were no patch on "Mercenary". Also there was the conversion of "Rampage". Actually this wasn't too bad, but like the arcade machine, rather repetitive in nature. Of course, the more people involved the better, and it was a laugh with all three monsters under human control. In my opinion, very few arcade machines deserved to be converted in the heydays, and this wasn't one of them.
Then there is "Predator". This was actually praised and criticised in equal amounts by the magazines at the time. I fall somewhere in between. Your job follows the plot of the film, namely to fight rebel soldiers, then take on the mean, lean creature yourself. On the negative side, it is hard to get into, slightly repetitive and sometimes there is little or no action. On the plus side, it is very atmospheric, the graphics do the film justice and the plot of the game follows that of the film. It does get your grey cells working, trying to use the items you find to defeat the creature. It isn't to everyone's taste (hence, I guess the mixed reviews), but if you see it, try it out and see what you think.
Just after that comes "Corporation". You control a deep space robotic mining team, the object of the game to extract more crystals than your rival corporations. You can concentrate on production, or attack your opponent to destroy their equipment and steal their harvest. It isn't a bad little game, with the strategy elements fairly engrossing. However it doesn't warrant playing more than one game at a time due to the nature of the action overall (can you hear the word `repetitive' muttered over and over in these last few reviews?!).
I'm sure I may have missed one or two other releases during 1988, but due to their outstanding quality (sarcasm alert!) I must have forgotten all about them. Sadly, Activision started to go downhill about this time, and nothing ever really put them back on the same track a few years previous. Their release schedule was practically blank until Xmas. Last word must go to the conversion of "R-Type" though. Anyone who was around at the time cannot fail to remember the big legal battle that took place between Mediagenic and Rainbow Arts over so-called `infringement'. Mediagenic claimed that "Katakis" was too much like "R-Type" for their liking. In the end, Rainbow Arts relented, redid the game slightly and rereleased practically the same program (around 80% of the code was the same) as "Denaris". So what do you think happened when Activision actually got round to programming "R-Type"? They asked Rainbow Arts to handle it! However due to the nature of release dates and the so forth, Rainbow Arts only had 2 months to put the whole thing together. This resulted in rather rushed, slightly bugged programs reaching the shelves, and much averageness in the review stakes. C'est la vie.
So what can we draw from all this? Older was better? Perhaps, but as the nature of the company changed, so did the programs that were being released. There are programs for which they can be proud of, and some to consign to the depths of software hell. But most publishers were like that, to be fair. It only becomes more visible because of the profile of the company itself. And when it is like that, you have to be more careful, otherwise as pointed out, the lows will be more pronounced than the highs.