Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Game 172: Raster Blaster

My previous post covered Bill Budge's earliest credit; Penny Arcade, a 1979 Pong-like game coded in AppleSoft BASIC featuring a variety of tables. In 1981, he created and self-published Raster Blaster, one of the very first personal computer pinball simulations, which topped Softalk Reader's Poll for most popular program of 1981, far surpassing more famous games like Wizardry, Ultima, Zork, and even Apple DOS.

Before playing that, though, I decided to briefly check out his interim titles.

The first is "Tranquility base," released by Stoneware in 1979.

It's just Lunar Lander. I like that the paddle controller is used to control thrust, but there's little of interest here.

Next, there's Bill Budge's Space Album and Trilogy of Games, two compilation disks containing a total of seven arcade-style games, both released by California Pacific Computers in 1980.

Space Album's got a nifty animated title screen, complete with a Space Invader.

First on the album is Asteroid, a poor looking and poor playing Asteroids remake.

Yes, it really does jitter like that. I couldn't find any way to thrust, the fire button usually doesn't work, and the rotational controls are screwy. Granted, I couldn't find a "clean" version of Space Album (in fact, one copy labeled as such turned out to be someone's Eamon party disk!), so some of this could be blamed on the pirates.

Next is Death Star, a copyright-indifferent rail shooter reminiscent of Cinematronic's Starhawk, but the targets can actually kill you by shooting back!

There's no blowing up the death star, though, unless I just never made it that far. Compared to Asteroid it's very playable, but compared to anything good it's nothing mindblowing.

Removing any doubt of the Cinematronics connection, the next game, Tail Gunner, is a remake of their vector game Tailgunner.

Shoot pursuing fighters, and if any make it past you, your ship automatically hyperjumps to evade. Ten misses and you lose. Cinematronics' game also allowed you to raise shields which would bounce back fighters if they got close, but that's missing from this conversion. Tailgunner was pretty boring, and so is this.

Finally, there's Solar Shootout, a 2-player game that I didn't bother my friends with.

This is a strange game, and if it's a remake of an older arcade game, then I didn't recognize its origins. You and your opponent orbit a pulsar, and are trying to shoot each other with your missiles. You adjust the radius of your orbit with the paddle, but can't affect your own speed or otherwise aim your missiles.

The other compilation disk, Trilogy of Games, also has a colorful, animated title.

The first game, Space War, is a remake of, well Space War, and I assume specifically of Cinematronic's Space Wars. It's two-players only, and once again did not bother playing with my friends.

It's the original X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter! Sort of.

Paddles, with their limited range of motion, do not allow for 360 degree rotation as needed in this game, and needing to use the keyboard to fire torpedoes is a bit awkward, but at least the '1' and '0' keys are on opposite sides of it.

Next we have Night Driver, a remake of Atari's Night Driver.

The sense of speed is impressive, but I don't really understand how the game decides where you're steering or whether you've crashed or not.

Finally, there's Pinball.

It's pinball'ish. Nothing terribly exciting or sophisticated. The physics make no sense at all, and your longevity depends almost entirely on whether the flipper shields get turned on before the ball reaches them or not. The buttons on the paddle controllers hit the flippers, but you can't sustain an "up" position like can in most pinball sims, and an advertised "tilt" key doesn't seem to do anything.

Trilogy of Games is the better package of the two compilation disks, but it's still nothing I would spend much time on, and too unsubstantial for me to bother with a number or GAB rating.

Pinball, of course, is the perfect lead-in to Raster Blaster, his first self-published game, and an enormous hit in its day.

Just as the later David's Midnight Magic was directly based on the William's table Black Knight, Raster Blaster is based on Firepower, known for being the first pinball table to feature multiball and lane change.

Unusually for a pinball sim, Raster Blaster has a difficulty setting. The sole effect of it is that in easy mode, the side drain kickers are always on, while in hard they must be switched on first by hitting targets, and in the latter mode I last about as long as a snowball in the Sonoran.

Controls use the familiar two-paddle setup. The left dial controls the initial launch strength, but I can't see what difference it really makes. Tilt has a literal meaning here; in play, the left dial's position tilts the table's angle left or right. There is no gentle nudging here, but on the flipside the table will never lock out from a tilt either. That said, I hardly ever used this feature; it's not easy to turn the dial when you're gripping a paddle controller in each hand! I can't imagine having the dexterity to recognize when the ball is headed for a drain, adjust the dial to compensate, and return your hands to the paddles in time to save the ball.

Physics are pretty floaty, very bouncy, and not all that convincing, even to a non-fan of pinball like me. Notably, if you try to catch the ball between a flipper and ramp, a pretty common move in real pinball and most sims, the ball will bounce back and forth between the flipper and ramp without ever coming to rest. The highest achievement is to enable multi-ball mode by activating the robot arms and getting a ball into each one, but I couldn't consistently hit the arms, and have no idea how you'd even hit the top arm ever.

GAB rating: Average. Raster Blaster may have been a big deal at the time, but pinball sims don't do much for me, and I can't say I enjoyed this any more or any less than David's Midnight Magic.

1 comment:

  1. LOL at that Asteroids knock-off.

    Solar Shootout looks like an attempt to rework Spacewar into something more immediately accessible, though it looks less fun.


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