Adventures in Videoland (1981/1982)   7 comments

The first, and easiest task, was watching the movie. This not only helped pass the time, but gave me a glimpse of scenes that could be used in the adventure. Rollercoaster, for those of you who missed the movie, concerns an extortionist who plants bombs on rollercoaster tracks, merry-go-rounds, and other fun places.

— From David Lubar, author of Adventures in Videoland, Creative Computing, January 1982

The concept of the videodisc was developed starting in the late 50s, going through the 60s, and was first shown to the public in 1972; however, it didn’t make it to commercial market as a format until 1978, under the name DiscoVision. Later, more famously, it become known as LaserDisc.

The very first videogame to utilize videodisc format was the gambling game Quarter Horse from 1981. It let you bet “credits” on a particular horse in a race, then show a video of the race, giving you any resulting winnings.

The very second is, oddly enough, a type-in Apple II adventure game from the January 1982 issue of Creative Computing, utilizing the videodisc of the 1977 movie Rollercoaster. The game was designed to have the Apple II hooked up to a videodisc player and then at appropriate moments in the game it would switch to scenes in the movie that matched the action in the game. Sometimes the scenes are static, sometimes they involve snippets so that there’s movement and sound in addition to pictures.

That’s a mental handful, so a shorter recap: this is a game that scavenges off of a movie made 4 years before, re-imagining various scenes as being part of an adventure game.

From Creative Computing. If the company sounds familiar, they recently came up in the game Explore where the manual dissed them for republishing old BASIC games rather than making new ones.

I had this game at the rear of my 1982 list (although publication delay puts it really at 1981) with the assumption that one day, I’d do something like Kay Savetz did and manage to hook up a real Apple II to a real DVD player with a real copy of Rollercoaster, making it the most technically complicated adventure game I’d ever played. (Of course, I don’t own any of the three, so that would have been an adventure in itself to wrangle together.)

From Kay Savetz’s video.

However, things quite recently got much, much, easier, as the laserdisc game emulator Singe added direct support for the game. Now playing was just a matter of downloading the emulator package and the game itself, which already game set-up with the correct video clips. The only difference in gameplay the text of the adventure is displayed directly on top of the video playback (in order to avoid having two screens).

The premise of the game is you’ve received an anonymous tip about a saboteur planting a bomb on a rollercoaster, and your job is to stop it.

Rather amusingly, it’s rather easy to die right away. You start on a midway, and can head north into a restaurant, where the game mentions you are hungry and a waiter asks if you want to eat. If you say YES, the game is over. (So you can experience the entire thing, including video, I have linked the appropriate place in Kay Savetz’s video below.)

The entirety of the map is not large, nor is this a long game: no doubt matching all the scenes to locations was onerous enough. And genuinely, nearly every scene and event has an image. There is the brief occasion where the game shows a person with binoculars, as sort of a “default” if there’s nothing to show…

…but otherwise, even the mundane act of putting on a uniform as a disguise is illustrated.

(That’s a depiction of “you”, I suppose. Except it feels like the person in binoculars might also be “you”? The inevitable result of using scavenged materials, best not think about it too hard.)

The game’s sequence is relatively straightforward. The uniform lets you pass into a shack, and get a book letting you know how to turn radios into jammers. There’s some coins lying around on the midway you can spend to play in a “shooting gallery” and win a teddy bear.

The teddy bear can be used to get by a belly dancer, which lets you in a storage room with a ticket. The ticket can be exchanged a game booth to play a ball-throwing game, where you have a choice of prize.

The book made it pretty obvious the radio was the right choice. With a toolbox from elsewhere you can then MAKE JAMMER and find an observation point where the roller coaster is visible. Trying to USE JAMMER gets…

…a most unfortunate result. The game is softlocked, although I didn’t know it at the time, and I wandered long enough to get a “time over” and have another rollercoaster-crashing scene.

The batteries were back at the teddy bear. If you LOOK at the bear it tells you it is the type that says “I love you” when pushing a button. So you can OPEN BEAR to get at the batteries before giving it away. Whoops!

Assuming you get the sequence right, you can save the rollercoaster and get a final scene.

The game was republished on disk later by Creative Computing, although with some slight tweaks to the text. In particular, the bear puzzle is easier, because when winning it some text is added where a passer-by complains about toys with newfangled technology. The softlock is still possible, but this is intended to hint (for someone who missed the batteries) that the teddy bear might be the kind that uses them.

It was fascinating to play insofar as we’ve only had very limited experience with moving images and sound so far, and it runs into some of the same troubles. The animated locations, for instance, play that way every time a room is entered; even when it is a 2-second clip, when I found myself passing through the same place for the 8th time (under the rollercoaster, say) the brief delay was slightly grating.

The transition from quiet to noisy (as any animated scene had sound) was also a bit disconcerting, although in one case it gave the right story effect; I was walking along the “quiet” Midway when the game decided I ran out of time and decided to start screaming along with the “you have lost” sequence.

The game’s scavenged images also made it have a problem with first person vs. third person. Sometimes, like shooting at ducks, the game shows “you” on the screen; more often, you just see locations, as if you are standing there looking around. If this was a longer game the disconnect might be confusing, but in a way this was simply a proof of concept of a genre that never emerged.

Was the project worth doing? Did it accomplish the desired functions? The main goal was to try an experiment with a fairly new technology. Here I feel partial failure. The new medium was used in an old way … the exercise has convinced me of the potential power of the video-computer connection. The fusion of these two devices will produce some spectacular results … The rollercoaster ride has just begun.

— David Lubar

If you’d like to spend a little more time in Videoland, Kay Savetz (with Carrington Vanston) has discussed it at length on the podcast Eaten by a Grue.

Also, special thanks to Ethan Johnson, friend of the show blog for information about the game Quarter Horse.

Posted August 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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7 responses to “Adventures in Videoland (1981/1982)

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  1. I saw this game playing for real (on original equipment) at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I had no idea such a thing ever existed, and my father was an early adopter (we had an Apple ][+ in 1979).

    Yes the technology is clunky, but had In witnessed this in 1982 I would have been go smacked, as would literally anyone who cares about such things in those days. Melding full motion video with a game was unheard of at the time.

    • Yeah, this is mind-blowingly early. And it doesn’t even play that bad (certainly not compared to the FMV arcade games that followed where both the actions you had to do at particular moments and their timings were always vague).

  2. A really interesting proof-of-concept. The idea did not caught up, since I have not heard of anything similar before this.

  3. The visual design of this is so interesting. Would love to see someone revisit something in this style with some updates for legibility.

    • This ended up not being terrible (and I tend to be one who complains about color clash and the like) simply because you usually don’t have to look at scrollback, and the various pictures tended to be fairly dark at the bottom part where the new text scrolls in. (See the messy last picture, “I THINK TIME JUST RAN OUT”, which is the only thing you need to read — the rest of the image is actually playing a long-ish section (10 seconds?) from the movie.

  4. Wow, I knew about this game, but I never realized it got released. Or that it was on an Apple II, I assumed ti was some arcade titles or maybe even MSX. TBH, if you did have to get it running, that wouldn’t be that bad a deal, since Apple IIs are surprisingly common, or at least that’s what I assume based on how many I saw at one computer show I went to. This does remind me that all those attempts at emulating the LaserActive have never gotten off the ground.
    I must also admit some shock that you don’t have a DVD player, since that does seem slightly out of character for you.

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