Monday, December 27, 2021

Game 302: O'Riley's Mine

From 1982 to 1985, past which point we needn't be concerned with the company, Datasoft's most supported platform was the Atari line of computers. It wasn't a definite favorite as it had been with competitors such as Synapse Software or LucasFilm, as Datasoft, being more of a publisher than a development house, still had wide support for the Apple II and Commodore 64, but for these emergent years, Atari was their biggest platform in terms of numbers of releases per year.

The Sands of Egypt, developed for the TRS-80 CoCo, was quickly ported to the Atari, but I felt that a Datasoft retrospective should have an early game made for the system. 1983's O'Riley's Mine appears to be the earliest.

You play Miner O'Riley, and must clear an unending series of stages by digging tunnels to collect all of the treasures, including coal, oil, gold, uranium, rubies, and diamonds. Your main threat is the onrushing water which floods the lowest tunnels first but will rise if all of the tunnels below its level are already submerged, and you must be careful to dig your tunnels in a manner so that the main shaft doesn't flood too soon and make escape impossible. Of secondary threat are the mineshaft's monsters, who wander the tunnels thoughtlessly and can be misled or blown up with a well-timed stick of dynamite, though their speed greatly increases at night and can catch you off-guard if you aren't paying attention to the sky.

The below footage is played with red hues artificially saturated to 400% of their natural values. This was necessary because my colorblindness makes it nearly impossible to discern rubies buried in the lowest level of dirt at default NTSC color settings.


The influence from Dig Dug is undeniable, but O'Riley's Mine is a pretty different, puzzlier sort of game, as your main job is to figure out how to dig tunnels to reach the treasures without letting the water level get too high too soon. The monsters are, for the most part, a minor nuisance. The important thing is to stay away from the highest layer of dirt, and if you must dig there to snag a treasure, always go back down to a lower layer before continuing the dig (unless you're about to finish the level). The water won't flood the upper levels as long as there's a deeper one to seep into.

Here, the water will not rise farther up into the main shaft.

Now it will, sealing off your only escape.

Calamity averted, for now.

The gameplay, unfortunately, doesn't really evolve. The monsters get faster, more likely to trip you up, the dynamite gets scarcer, and the treasures more numerous, forcing you to dig longer, more winding tunnels to scoop them all up, but the basic strategy of sweeping the level side-to-side to prevent the main shaft from flooding before you need to take it up to the surface that works on the first level works just as well on the 20th. It took me an hour to feel like I mastered it, and my first and only recorded session after that took me past level 20, where most of my deaths happened due to boredom-induced carelessness.

GAB rating: Average. O'Riley's Mine would have been an okay arcade game, albeit one that would need much quicker difficulty escalation in order to keep the quarters rolling in, not to mention better graphics to draw players to begin with, but its value as a home game leaves a lot to be desired. Its depth and challenge just isn't what it ought to be. Oil's Well offers a comparable experience despite the absence of a digging mechanic, and provides a much more satisfying challenge. Or there's Dig Dug itself, which Datasoft even published after converting to diskette format.

1 comment:

  1. The gameplay with the water looks interesting, shame they did not do much with it. I remember a flash game where you had to go as deep as possible, and then manage realistic "underground" water by digging in a way that they don't drown you. And nowadays, of course, there is Noita for water-management-in-hostile-underground gameplay.


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