Our next whale of 1984 is a landmark - Evryware's The Ancient Art of War, and being a new company to the lineup, this means playing a selection of its ancestors.
A literal Mom & Pop shop, their early chronology is murky. Their official site lists "CP/M games" as their earliest products, and a flyer scan at MOCAGH lists six such games for Heathkit DOS and CP/M.
Of particular note are two of Robert Lafore's Interactive Fiction titles - Six Micro-Stories and Dragons of Hong Kong. At first I assumed that these were the initial releases of the games, but following some lines of inquiry, including Jason Dyer, I now believe it more likely that Lafore self-published for TRS-80 as early as 1979, and by 1980 had a publishing deal with Adventure International including Apple II conversions of select titles, while Evryware licensed select Heathkit conversions around 1981. Regardless, it is difficult to justify my initial hypothesis, and therefore consider these games unimportant as ancestors.
The others are arcade-style action games which appear to be Evryware originals (using a broad definition of "original"), but I wouldn't know how to begin emulating them, and based on scant Youtube footage it doesn't look like I'm missing much.
An interview describes the severe limitations of the Heathkits, which they soon abandoned in favor of IBM's PC, making them one of the system's earliest adopters as far as gaming companies go.
Game 368: Sierra Championship Boxing
The chronology here is still a bit unclear - Mobygames puts its release at 1985, and indeed most versions' ingame copyrights match that, which would place its release after Ancient Art of War. However, Evryware lists it as 1983, the Murrys' interview expressly places it as their first PC game, and there are extant copies with an ingame 1984 copyright, though said copies appear to be "unclean" pirate DOS conversions with some reliability issues.
I assume the Murry's claim that Championship Boxing was first is correct, but I will play the 1985 booter version on the assumption that it is a more pristine dump. One detail concerning emulation is that Championship Boxing clearly looks much better in composite mode than in RGB, but you'll need an unofficial DOSBox branch, such as DOSBox-X, to use this.
|"The gym" reminds of Wizardry's training grounds.
|Options galore, but single matches are the only gameplay currency.
Sierra Championship Boxing reminds me of SSI's output at the time and
could very well have been published by them - ultimately more of a
stats-heavy simulation than a game, the system modeled here is a single boxing match fought under simplified WBA rules, and despite some graphical window dressing, everything here is in service to that. There's no career mode, no championship mode, no tournament modes, and for that matter no "winning" apart from tabulating the match-to-match victors.
More likely, though, you want to simulate a fantasy match, like the mythical Marciano vs. Ali "superfight" that fans have debated since the 70's.
To that end there are 40 included historical boxers, from the terrifying Victorian-age bareknuckle god John Sullivan to then-undefeated Carl "The Truth" Williams. The roster also includes 15 middleweight and lightweights, including future undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfeld, plus a kangaroo and a 98lb palooka thrown in for good measure. You can, of course, make your own boxer, and if you want to max out all of his stats and whup right through the historical roster one-by-one, you can do that and pat yourself on the back and call yourself a winner.
But "winning" hardly seems like the draw here. Even the option to fight the matches yourself seems to be thrown in
begrudgingly - the default mode of play is to choose the match parameters and sit back and watch the action. The manual even says you'll save money by watching computer-simulated fights instead of buying tickets to real ones! To be fair, I'm sure the computer smells nicer.
Two other play options supplement the hands-off "simulation" mode. There's "strategy," in which you play the coach and may instruct the boxer's strategy between rounds.
For the life of me I can't tell what difference it makes what you pick here - I suppose that your boxer shows a slight preference toward offense or defense depending on what you pick, but the fights all look like incoherent flurries of limbs to me, and no strategy available seems to be especially advantageous to a situation. For instance, you can favor attacks to the head or attacks to the body, but since the AI defends both about equally it barely matters. Not once did the strategy "go for the knockout" actually result in a knockout, which I found are rare except for in extended matches or in grossly mismatched ones, and the one time I picked "take a dive" my boxer actually did score a knockout.
Then there's "arcade" mode, where you directly control your boxer.
And.. oh dear, this is a mess. Actions assigned to function keys, really? At least you can rebind them to any keys you like. As long as they're other function keys.
You can choose between two fighting styles - "Slugger" and "Boxer," and the manual explains that "Boxer" style is more technically oriented while "Slugger" style is about mindless hitting, but in practice I have no idea what the actual difference is to the player. "Boxer" mode does come with a "reflexes" sub-option which seems to be a proxy for difficulty.
Regardless of your style options combination, this display is an unplayable, unreadable shamble.
Am I hitting? Am I missing? Am I getting blocked? Who knows? No matter how much I punch I never seem to get tired, but neither does my opponent get hurt. And in the end, I'm the one who gets knocked out, which would be fine except that I have no idea why.
Defensive fighting is no good either. Punches come out too fast to react to, so mostly you're just blocking or dodging nothing, and half the time that you do get lucky and block at the same time your opponent hits, you're blocking in the wrong direction.
Arcade mode can be played with two players, but the second player uses the strategy mode and watches the AI control their boxer.
GAB rating: N/A. As a game, Sierra Championship Boxing is terrible. But all signs indicate that rating it as one misses the point - this isn't meant for the Karate Champ crowd. Like SSI's lineup, this is a product for sports nerds who obsess over stats and data, a simulation rich with customization options, and happens to also come with animated graphics that are above-average for the era.