Friday, March 20, 2015

2010: The Graphic Action Game

Movies, or rather motion pictures - being generally held by lofty entertainment philosophers as "the highest of the arts" - might not suffer the transition to the world of gaming gladly. Genre transitions are perhaps not that obvious at first glance. A second glance, however, might tell a different tale.

ColecoVision made sure to squeeze the most out of their 2010 license.

The Coleco design team created not one, but two movie tie-in games. Even the most jaded among us must tip our hats to the team. The movie itself is somewhat thin on plot, and managing to create even one game from the meager helpings would be tough indeed—the only thing coming to mind would a Jupiter Lander type piloting game, but such a game would be completely disconnected from the story. The design team at Connecticut Leather Company however managed to create not one movie tie-in game, but two (!). This article will shed some light on one of them.

The very, very simple title screen.

The name of the game is very much a misnomer. The game is not really packed with walloping action, nor is it very graphic. The player will find most, actually all of the action at the circuit boards. Some players might recognize the circuit board mini-games, they are in fact variations of Teruo Matsumoto's circuit board game. The game exists in several different mutations, and has been popular ever since it was created in 1974. Today many players might recognize it as one of the 'hacking games' that are part of the 'console hacking' portion of several first-person shooters.

The main game screen.

The game itself is precisely that: a series of circuit board games loosely grouped into five separate groups, namely Communications, Reactor, Engines, Life Support, and of course the main computer HAL 9000. These groups can be seen on the main screen.

The end of a successful misson.

The manual gives a bit of back story and presents the setting of the game. Discovery's orbit is decaying and you have arrived just in time to save her from a fiery doom on the surface of the Jovian moon Io. To achieve this you are assisted by the horribly-named repair drone/robot Waldo.

The circuit board with the various CITs.

When the player places Waldo on a damaged circuit—visible on the Discovery as white points—the view changes from the main overall view to the circuit board view. Here, the player sees the circuit board and every circuit (or CIT as it is called in the game) that makes up the board. The player must then guide energy flow from the left side of the screen to the opposite side, passing through every CIT on the board while doing so. When a damaged CIT is encountered it will blow, and Waldo can then replace it with one of the three CITs available. The CITs themselves do not have any designation, and are distinguished only by their patterns. When all the damaged CIT circuits are repaired and energy can flow freely across the board it is declared fixed, and the view changes to the main view again.

The end of a disastrous mission.

This action is then repeated on every circuit board seen on the main screen. If the player manages to repair all the boards before the Discovery crashes onto Io's sulfuric surface victory carries the day. If not, the Discovery will become a yellow heap of scrap metal on the surface of the Jovian moon.

And that, needless to say, it what we do not want.

The Package

Game package contents.

The game package itself is fairly elaborate compared to the usual slim pickens of the games of the day. In addition to the module, an 'engineering repair manual' and a 'Discovery repair manual' was shipped in the game box.

The 'engineering repair manual' presents the basics of the game; how to insert the module, how to power up the game, and how to actually play it.

The 'repair manual' again has a message from commissioner Thomas Charles from United States Space Commisson, the message being separated into a series of nine confidential transmissions. The players who are familiar with the other official 2010 game from ColecoVision - 2010: The Text Adventure Game - might recognize the name. Indeed, the same commissioner is, for wont of a better word, the same. In the other game, commissioner Charles has his full name proudly on display: Thomas Rae Charles. Not to be confused with Ray Charles, who was a kick-ass rhythm and blues powerhouse.

Discovery XD-1 exploded view.

The map is not much more than an exploded view of the Discovery XD-1 space ship. A nice touch is the names of the personel: the people on the Discovery map are the people who created the game. Keen observers might also note the centrifuge is placed horisontally in the schematic, not vertically as it is "supposed" to be. Even keener observers might notice the vertical centrifuge is a post facto diversion from Clarke's novel, which explicitly mentioned the centrifuge being vertical, not horizontal. Kubrick's movie never made the topology of the Discovery very explicit, either. His answer to Hyams' probing question regarding the inner layout of the space ship is rather telling: "who cares?"

Even more pedantic observers might feel compelled to point out there is no way to place a centrifuge of the size depicted in the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie inside the hull of the Discovery, horisontally, vertically, or otherwise. This was already mentioned by several astute movie afficionados in the 60s, but non-functioning topologies are a common thing in many movies, especially within the genre of science fiction. To make matters more complicated director Peter Hyams added even more corridors inside the already bulging Discovery hull. None of these are shown in the schematic, however.

Usefulness aside, the map makes great nerd wall art.

Final Message

There are some nice little touches in the game, small tidbits that will bring a smile on the face of the most hardened nerd.

The first one that needs to be mentioned is the pause music. When the player pauses the game, the music that is heard is a sloppy, almost drunken-sounding rendition of the song "Bicycle Built For Two", the song that HAL started singing upon being disconnected. The song has a long history in computer music, and was in fact the first piece of music ever sung by any computer anywhere, ever.

The other tidbit is the hidden message in the game. If you manage to power up all the five communication circuits on the highest difficulty setting - Level 4 - and them press both fire buttons simultaneously, you will be greeted with a hidden message.

No, we will not tell you what it is.

Where Are We Today?

There are ways to play the game on modern systems, using any one of the plethora of ADAM emulators that are available. However, since the ROM images required to play these older games mostly exist in the legally dubious twilight zone of distributed media, it is recommended you try to find an original ADAM and an original module.

If you can manage to do that, fire the system up and enjoy the game for what it is: an enjoyable time waster.

Images copyright ©1985 Coleco.


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