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 Predictions '84!

    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, Russia.

  • 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 cold war.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    Electronic Boardgames!

  • 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 what' reaction.

  • 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 manufacturers.

  • 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.

    3D Helmets!

  • 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 year-end.

    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 anywhere else.

  • 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.

    Laserdisc fizzle!

  • 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 utilities.

  • 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 the year.

  • 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

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