Michael McCourt's blog

Handball (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Handball (Odyssey, 1972)The lines are advancing! Push back or we'll be crushed!

Ending out our tour of 1972 home videogames we have Handball for Magnavox Odyssey. It is another Tennis variant. You hit the Ball Spot and then try to wiggle it past your opponent's Player Spot by controlling the ENGLISH. The difference here is that the Center Line Spot becomes a WALL Spot and is adjusted to exist on the left side of the screen. The players then alternate hitting the Ball Spot against the Wall.

This game uses cartridge #8 and an overlay (above). This game isn't worse than the other Tennis variants. In fact, it's SLIGHTLY better. Having a wall to hit the ball against is novel considering the only things we've EVER seen it deflect from has been the Player Spots.

The instructions list some gameplay variants involving the positioning of the SERVER and the RECEIVER but they don't change the game play significantly enough to go over here.

A few words about the term "Crap Game from Hell".

Volleyball (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Though there isn't even a passing resemblance and they're obviously Male, I still like to refer to these six volleyball players (from left to right) as: Ayane, Christie, Helena, Hitomi, Kasumi and Lei Fang.Though there isn't even a passing resemblance and they're obviously Male, I still like to refer to these six volleyball players (from left to right) as: Ayane, Christie, Helena, Hitomi, Kasumi and Lei Fang.

Fast-forward to the present day (2010, to those of you reading this in some 25th century museum/blog-vault), videogame volleyball will evolve/has evolved/evolved into poly-polygonal, progressively scanned-tily clad women bouncing around on exotic beaches and buying each other cute gifts. Back here in 1972/73, where I am, Volleyball for Odyssey is the primordial soup of videogame volleyball. Don't forget, those little figures on the overlay are static; frozen eternally in those positions. The only movement on the screen occurs with the PlayerSpots and the BallSpot, just like in the previous 20-or-so Odyssey games.

What is exciting is that this game utilizes a new numbered cartridge! Seeing a shiny new number "7" on the cart used to play the game does add a little excitement to its initial playing. To recap, for anyone who may not know, cards for Odyssey don't have programs on them. They act as switches to simply toggle the display of, and modify the behaviors of, the "spots" which Odyssey broadcasts to your TV. The hardware variation used by this lucky number "7" cartridge creates a half-height version of the CenterLineSpot (only seen previously in Table Tennis) and stations it at the bottom of the screen as a volleyball "net".

Wipeout (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout was the first home videogame racing simulation. I know there was nothing in the arcades in 1972 with a racing theme, and I've never read anything about mainframe versions of a racing game, either. That being said, just as we saw with Invasion and Baseball, Wipeout is more boardgame than videogame.

Addressing the videogame portion first. The overlay is a stylized racetrack, reminiscent of the twisted cargo fleet's course in Submarine. The players take turns acting as the Driver and serving as the Timer. Prior to a racing phase, the Timer uses the left controller to position their light behind the clock on the left side of the overlay. The Driver uses the right controller to control the light that represents their race car. The Driver's goal is to maneuver their light around the race track. The Timer's job is to hit the reset button (on the Driver's controller!) to "serve" the BallSpot so that it comes in from the right side of the screen, crosses the screen and hits the light behind the left side clock to deflect back across the screen and off the right side again. The Timer player does this throughout the Driver's journey around the track. The Driver starts with 30 laps in their count. Every time the Timer player hits the reset button, one lap is subtracted from the lap count. If the Driver leaves the track, they lose two laps. If the Driver's light is actually hit by the Timer's BallSpot, they lose a big fat five laps! The idea is to get around the track before the lap count evaporates entirely.

Invasion (1972, Magnavox Odyssey)

Invasion (1972, Magnavox Odyssey): Invasion! I would think attacking this castle from the left would be a good call...Invasion (1972, Magnavox Odyssey): Invasion! I would think attacking this castle from the left would be a good call...

The world is a small map with 12 territories, each containing a castle. Surrounding the land portion of the map is an ocean perimeter. The land part of the world gets divided up among the players and everyone gets an equal number of castles. The object of the game is to take over everyone else's castles using your armies. You can attack any castle if it is immediately adjacent to one of your castles. After capturing a castle you get to draw a loot card which gives you gold. Use the gold to buy more armies or to buy a ship which you can use to transport armies to attack castles that aren't immediately adjacent to your already conqured land.

To Attack a castle there are two phases. The External Battle and the Internal Battle. The external battle by land can be either a Direct Attack or a Sneak Attack.

The Direct Attack is the only time you directly face-off against an opponent using the Odyssey. The duel is simply this: The Attacker sends the BallSpot across the screen at the highest speed possible, and attempts to wiggle it, using ENGLISH, past the Defender who can only use their Vertical Control to block it. It IS a bit more challenging then, say, Tennis or Football, because of the high speed of the BallSpot. Really, the game is mostly on the game board and in this case, the video component is used when dice or even Rock, Paper, Scissors would have sufficed.

Baseball (Odyssey, 1972)

Baseball (Odyssey, 1972): I can almost smell the hotdogs...Baseball (Odyssey, 1972): I can almost smell the hotdogs...

Does Baseball count as America’s favorite pastime anymore? I’ve never been into the sport personally, but I feel like it was much more popular 30 years ago than it is now. That’s just my dim perception of something from which I am too far removed to make a valid observation.

Like Odyssey's Football, Odyssey’s Baseball is asking you to sort of pretend that you are playing a simulation of the game of baseball. This game is actually cooler than Odyssey's attempt at a football sim in that Baseball introduces Player Stats! -- persistent and alterable statistics for each player on your team. Ooooo! It's the first example of persistent player stats in a home videogame. However, technically, the overall design could be better said to push Baseball closer to being the first sports board game with persistent player stats to employ a videogame element.

Okay, so right, um “off the bat”, that sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? I mean, that’s what some sports geeks are into, inn'it? Statistics? Well, meet me at the corner of Nitty and Gritty and let’s get into some of the details...

Fun Zoo (Odyssey, 1972)

Fun Zoo (Odyssey, 1972): "Fun Caged Beasts" just wasn't a catchy enough title.Fun Zoo (Odyssey, 1972): "Fun Caged Beasts" just wasn't a catchy enough title.

Fun Zoo is one of the six "extra" Odyssey games released in 1972. You could get them in a box of six or buy them separately. The first one we look at is a title aimed at children along the lines of the game Simon Says. Rather than write about it the same way I wrote about Simon Says, I ran with the concept that the name "Fun Zoo" reminded me of Sun Tzu.

Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Fun "Tzu" is an enjoyable game aimed at younger players to help them identify the written names of animals with their illustrations, improve hand-eye coordination through the use of Odyssey's controllers and employ morale crushing stratagems designed to annhilate the enemy's will to wage war.

Shooting Gallery (Odyssey, 1972)

Shooting Gallery (Odyssey, 1972): Look, bunnies and duckies! (blam! blam!)Shooting Gallery (Odyssey, 1972): Look, bunnies and duckies! (blam! blam!)

Shooting Gallery turns out to be the coolest game from the group of Shooting Gallery games. It uses a different cart (#10), which makes the playfield very different from the other three games (which use cart #9). This configuration gives you two paddles between which you deflect your target. The target, in this case, is a relatively HUGE square. I didn't know the Odyssey could produce such a large, er, "sprite"! (of course, they don't call them sprites yet.)

The idea here is to set the Target Spot oscillating across the screen and behind a row of targets on the overlay (plane, rabbit, duck or ship. ) Shoot it as many times as you can letting it go back and forth ten times before moving it down to the next target set. Player Two acts as an assistant, doing the manipulations of the controllers as well as keeping track of the oscillations. Player One does the shootin'.

Dogfight! (Odyssey, 1972)

Dogfight! (Odyssey, 1972): It’s not actually about dogs fighting!? Sheesh, are the dogs flying the plane, then?Dogfight! (Odyssey, 1972): It’s not actually about dogs fighting!? Sheesh, are the dogs flying the plane, then?Dogfight! is similar to Submarine: one player takes on the role of a vehicle operator trying to pilot their way through a winding path on the screen. The second player tries to shoot the PlayerSpot representing the vehicle. The big difference between this game and Submarine is, of course, Odyssey’s light-gun rifle add-on -- oh, and this time it’s a plane instead of a convoy of ships.

Similar to Shootout! one player pilots the plane through the winding path while the other player tries to shoot the plane using the light-gun. The players keep track of the number of hits and then switch places. The player who scores the most hits, wins.

The “plane” must follow the specific path shown by the green dotted line, starting in the top left and exiting on the bottom right. The light-gun can only hit the plane while it’s in the circular area containing the targeting reticule. This isn’t a “rule” it’s just an impossibility. Like our friend the flying lizard in Prehistoric Safari, the screen doesn’t let through enough light through the green dotted line for the light-gun to detect.

Shootout (Odyssey, 1972)

Shootout (Odyssey, 1972) overlay: Dusty little town. Quiet little life. Suddenly: BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!Shootout (Odyssey, 1972) overlay: Dusty little town. Quiet little life. Suddenly: BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

Shootout! (Exclamation point foreshadowing trend of very excited games on consoles with "Odyssey" as part of the name.) involves moving your Outlaw Gang (little white square) from window to window without getting shot by the gun-wielding Sheriff. Your Outlaws start at the upper left and move to the upper right, obliged to light each window along the way. As though a single organism, they then cross the street to the "low side" of the screen using the stagecoach as cover, then they make their way to the lower left corner where "escape" horses await.

This all takes place while your friend, parent, spouse, offspring or other loved one tries to shoot your Outlaws, and, symbolically, you! As you sneak from window to window, you can't just zip through the window at a blinding speed. Your Outlaw Gang has to stop in each window long enough for you to yell: "You'll never get me, Sheriff!" When we play, this phrase invariably corrupts into being pronounced "yoollne'ergitmesherff!" as we, understandably, attempt to say it as quickly as possible.

YouTubed - Prehistoric Safari (Odyssey, 1972)

Well, sorry it's been so long since my last entry but I've been trying to come up with a way to convey the look and feel of Odyssey games without getting even more verbose than I already am. Solution!--YouTube and a new camera that actually records sound! This should help everyone understand the mechanics of Odyssey's lightgun game, Prehistoric Safari.

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