by Tim Moriarty
(Appeared in the January 1984 issue of "Video And Computer Gaming Illustrated")
With this, our first issue of the new year, we at VCI hope to attain
equal status with such honored journals as The National Enquirer and
The Star by daring to predict the future catastrophies, triumphs and
technologies in the videogame and computergame fields.
In those areas, surprises and new directions are an everyday
occurance. Basing predictions solely on current trends will, we
know, lead to error, embarrasment. Therefore, in addition to reading
between the lines of news releases and industry forecasts, we
carefully scrutinized the alignment of the stars in the winter skies,
the arrangement of bones tossed in a pentagram, and the disposition
of the entrals of a newly slaughtered goat -- all to arrive at our
Odyssey and Mattell will strike a blow for democracy!
Odyssey's Command Center (Odyssey 3) and Mattel's Aquarius computer,
among others, are currently being marketed in Western Europe. From
there, it is only a black-market-stone's=throw to the eastern
European Bloc countries, and from there to the motherland herself,
Already, videocassette recorders, designer jeans and rock 'n roll
records are hot items in Russia's thriving black market. Computers
and videogames are destined to be the next peaceful salvos in the
The Odyssey unit and Aquarius will be smuggled (with no help or
approval from the parent companies, of course) into Russia along with
Atari 2600s and the like, further eroding the Russian peoples'
contentment with their repressive economic/social system, newly
awakening them to the decadent western pleasures of Burgertime,
Killer Bees and BASIC.
Laser Pinball games will begin to make their appearance in arcades in
the latter part of the year. Picture a rear projection, coffin-
shaped TV, with laserdisc capability, on its back. The player will
propel a ball, which acts on a principle similar to a light pen, on a
graphics field. Alternately, the entire board or certain areas of
the board will change as the player ignites designated play areas,
continuously forcing a new strategy.
With the ball's trail visible, activities will involve plotting
complex trajectories and occassional mid-course corrections,
containment, and trail-blazing. Tasks and strategy development will
be timed, allowing the player thirty seconds to complete a task, then
twenty seconds, and so on. Sound effects will be un-pinball-like,
and electronic music will also be employed. And the graphics?
Stunning, dreamlike, hypnotic.
Commodore will cut prices!
This is history as well as a prediction. The retail price of the
Commodore 64 will continue to fall through the year, bottoming out at
$99 by Christmas. In June, Commodore will announce a relatively low-
cost 128K computer in an uncharacteristic attempt to capture a
portion of the high-end market.
This concept has been tried and has not as yet gained wide acceptance,
but a few new wrinkles should make it fly. Milton Bradley, Parker
Brothers and NAP, former purveyors of this brand of entertainment,
will be shouldered out by a new company.
The board, essentially a light box with a simple microprocessor, will
remain a standard. Templates over the board surface, in collaboration
with a simple software format (cassette tape or wafer) will drive
each individual game, purchased seperately. Cards, pieces and
documentation will also be included. The pieces, with magnetic
bases, will be moved automatically, perhaps several pieces at once,
interacting, and hazards such as ill weather, the stock market, or
magic spells will come into play, depending on the game's theme.
Companies to watch!
Sente. Under the leadership of Nolan Bushnell, this company's first
releases will be a knockout. Game hardware leadership will come from
Sente for years to come. Already the company is rumoredly reducing
the costs of coin-op hardware. Their home games should be equally
underpriced and innovative. These sentiments basically echo those of
the entire industry; the high expectations may well create a 'so
Electronic Arts. One of the first releases for the company, M.U.L.E.,
is already a best-seller. Its game designers are allowed to create
without someone looking over their shoulder, so look for some
startling games. Electronic Artists will join the exclusive ranks of
Broderbund, Sierra On-Line and Synapse as solid computergame
Interplay. Judging from their initial releases for Intellivision,
there is intelligence and creativity behind their game design, as
well as a sense of fun. Distribution and packaging problems need to
be ironed out and then...watch out for Interplay!
IBM. Just for the record, okay? All of the home computer
manufacturers will adjust their strategies according to the
performance of the IBM-PC and the new PCjr, which is expected to do
well. IBM will be the acknowledged standard in the U.S. by 1985.
Its competitors will be forced to develop either peripheral devices
or computers that will be compatible with IBM machines. A year ago,
this would have been a bold prediction. Now, it's almost a fait accompli.
Companies have been promising real 3D in home videogames, but no one
has really delivered to satisfaction. Conditions of light, angle on
the television set, and quality of the 3D glasses all must be perfect,
and still eyestrain and dim graphics have resulted.
This year some enterprising company will create 3D helmets that will
accept game cartridges or tapes; the games will be controlled by
remote, hand-held devices. It will be a high-priced, cleverly
designed item that will bomb and cause the company's collapse by
Atari cuts and runs wild!
Warner Communications, Atari's parent company, will spend the entire
year with its finger on the button -- the button that will destroy
Atari piecemeal or entirety. But the button will only be pressed
once, and Atari's computer hardware development division will
disappear. Three of Atari's four new computers will be completed and
cautiously marketed...to no great success.
Taking up the slack, however, and becoming more and more lucrative as
the year goes on, will be AtariSoft. Likewise, the videogame
division will have a good year, mostly on account of dividends from
the coin-op division.
Atari will surprise the videogame world with the games that result
from their collaboration with LucasFilm. These coin-op games --
artistic successes all -- will not net the company much money, but
the technologies created will be adapted, squeezed and applied to the
home units (especially the 5200).
We're talking 3D-like, movielike games that will demand split-second
player reponse; games whose graphics will generally be better than
the laserdisc games because the graphics will have cartoon freedom,
artistic contour, and an air of unreality and fantasy unobtainable
And look for a new type of controller to play them: a push-pull
paddle controller for instant first-person altitude changes that will
make the impressionable airsick.
The bad news on the coin-op scene is that laserdisc games -- ballyhooed
as the arcade savior -- will have the same hit/miss ratio
as pinball games and videogames. Players will balk at continually
shelling out fifty cents a crack; owners will weep at the prices they
must pay for the first generation laserdisc machines.
Arcades will limp through '84, redeemed by laser pinball, three
laserdisc hits, the Atari/Lucasfilm collaborations, and one
additional phenomenon each from Williams, Bally/Midway, and Taito.
Activision barely snuffs out the Kaboom fuse!
Activision will see a relatively lean year as it hastily creates a
new game plan in the face of a shrinking market. They will once
again take the lion's share of hit VCS games, but the computer games
will be so-so performers. Like most other computer game creators,
they will shift their emphasis from arcade-style games to leisure
Sometime in the fall, VCI predicts, one of the idly tinkering
Activision designers will come upon a graphics breakthrough: one that
adds vectorlike depth and fluidity to the graphics luster of the
raster format. In the early part of 1985, this new technology will
be unveiled, with a cowl to blot out all the other sources of light,
and videogames will be reborn.
Coleco's Year of Living Dangerously
Coleco will sell just enough Adam computers to forestall utter
catastrophe (we examined Coleco's Adam gamble in our last issue), but
disaster will continue to nip at Coleco's heels throughout the year.
There will be widespread service problems with their first wave of
shipped Adam units and a precipitous downslide of ColecoVision unit
sales...with the inevitable inventory and cash-flow problems
resulting. These problems will force Coleco to abandon their
laserdisc interface plans; they will settle for releasing Dragon's
Lair in the raster graphics format, and it will be a big hit for
them. In fact, software sales will be relatively strong throughout
But the major saving grace will be AT&T; that corporation will deepen
their contractual commitments to Coleco, helping them through the bad
times, and also taking a piece of the action for themselves in
mysterious and unpublicized ways.
Coleco and AT&T will expand the scope of their games-transmission
service. Owners of ColecoVision and Adam will have the opportunity
to buy an inexpensive modem that will enhance the value of their
machines. By virtue of the numeric controller, mail (Adam only),
banking, and data sharing services will be provided, as well as the
game rage of the year's end: electronic Dungeons and Dragons and
warfare simulations, cooperative and competitive, which will be
transmitted for an hour a week. Each registered player will take a
specific and unchanging role. Alliances and feuds can be created
between game transmissions via electronic mail, but the main action
will occur during the actual gametime. Interactive fantasy Dallas.
The videogame industry will...will--!
Our crystal ball grows dim, our goat entrails grow rank. No
startling predictions on the industry as a whole will be possible;
only sweeping generalizations and unanswered questions.
The essential facts. Cartridge sales in 1983 were brisk, but
expectations were so high that the year is considered an unqualified
disaster. We will spare you the statistics: the millions of dollars
lost, the massive shift from dedicated game machines to home
computers, the inventories of unsold games reaching to the
ionosphere, the arcades that have closed, the companies that have
gone under. The consensus among industry statisticians is that there
are fifteen million videogame units sold and in American homes
(sounds pessimistic to us; we think there are more). These same
analysts estimate that some five million game units, not computers,
will be sold in 1984 (sounds optimistic to us, but we cheer the
sentiment). That's a total of twenty million game units. That's the
basis of a healthy industry, it would seem to us.
The essential questions. How many of those fifteen million videogame
units are unused and gathering dust? With the so-called disastrous
videogame year just past, how many companies will continue to create
games, and how many retailers will commit to carry the games, and how
many games will they carry?
Our predictions. We've already gone on record as saying that there
are some startling graphics and gameplay breakthroughs in the offing.
Also, it would be folly for the game companies to ignore the huge
installed base of videogame units. Thus, the hobby, the industry
will be alive and well in 1984...alive, well and sober to the
realities: never will the boom era of 1982 return. Never. The
number of serious gameplayers (hello, readers!) is large. Still
larger is the number of players who will flock to the hits. Thus,
the hit-or-miss sales atmosphere will deepen. There will be fewer
games released, but realize that the hard-core quick-buck and rip-off
artists have gone out of business or fled; the remaining companies
must surely understand that they are boring consumers to death with
their derivative designs. As it stands now, most games fall into
very clear gameplay categories. All that must change. The rewards
will only go to the risk-takers, the innovators.
Videogaming 1984: a brave new world.
Typed by Keita Iida