Just about the first ever video games to appear in pubs during the 70s were sports simulations — the most famous being Pong Tennis. Sports games have never lost their fascination and have continued to form a large part of the software output for home computers. Have they had their last gasp though? It seems not — just at a moment when the stream of programs appeared to have dried up, along have come a spate of exciting action-simulations to revive the genre. It seems an appropriate moment to take a look at all this sporting activity.
Over the last year many releases were directly influenced by the 84 Los Angeles Olympics, while others were more obviously traditional simulations of sports like football and car racing. Releases of arcade/pub favourites also proved popular, noticeably Pool type games.
Many sports have been used as the base for games. Some had better results than others. Not all of the sports were fast action, there have been quite a few releases of golf, cricket and darts games. In total there are about sixteen different groups of sporting activities covered. This marathon (no pun intended) roundup briefly shows what is and was available. As well as an outline of the games, I have also commented on general and individual standards. The games ranged from some excellent simulations down to some fairly yuckky ones. Onwards....
There are over half a dozen Olympic games available, the spate having been inspired by Los Angeles. Generally game play falls into two main categories. Firstly there is the arcade method of pressing two keys as quickly as possible (based on the arcade original Track and Field); secondly there is the less strenuous method of using up a fixed reserve of energy with more energy used as you increase speed etc. Neither type really allows much strategic skill to be employed, whatever the software houses may claim!
DALEY THOMPSON’S DECATHLON (Ocean) is probably the best known game of this type and it has proved hard to beat. It contains all of the decathlon events which include various running events plus throwing and jumping events. The graphics are excellent, even if Daley is white. Overall the control is responsive and the game highly addictive. My only criticism is that I wasn’t given a pole for the pole vault on many occasions! This is one of a few bugs, none of which really spoil the playability.
OLYMPIC CHALLENGE (Century City) includes most of the events as available in Daley’s. Ignore the cassette cover showing karate and gymnastics — they’re not included. The graphics are basically of the stick man type and not very convincing. The events are varied and acceptable but there really isn’t anything outstanding here.
SPORTS HERO (Melbourne House) has some very good graphics with an excellent style of running. But that is the problem, it is mostly running. The four events are the 100m, 110m hurdles plus long jump and pole vault. These are good, especially with three skill levels and Melbourne’s usually high standard of graphics, but the let down is that there just isn’t enough variation to keep the game interesting. Oddly, for some reason CRASH never got around to reviewing this game.
OLYMPICON (Mitec) is a fairly average offering which is not really very playable. The fact that it also has few events, five, severely limits the game’s addictive qualities. With so many better ones available, I wouldn’t worry over this one at all.
RUN FOR GOLD (Hill MacGibbon) is, as the name suggests, purely a running game. It differs from the other games as it is shown in 3D as if you were just running behind the athletes. The line drawn 3D runners are extremely well animated, almost lifelike. The game offers several middle distance races, and you have to qualify to move up in the world. Run for Gold also differs in the respect that you have to steer your runner around the track, which oddly gives it the feeling you might get from a road racer game. A good program, fairly serious, for runners only.
ATHLETE (Buffer Micro) offers some reasonably animated graphics, with four running events plus the hammerthrow — an odd combination. Again it’s a shame that there aren’t more events. The power reserve method is used here, more practical when using the keyboard, but not as much fun as thrashing a joystick. Generally this game is okay but not over addictive and definitely outclassed by some of the better offerings.
MICRO OLYMPICS (Database) is not only the first serious contender in this category but also one of the better offerings. It offers five running, three throwing and a couple of jumping events. The graphics are good although not quite in Daley’s or Sports Hero’s league. A key basher which shows an opponent on the screen controlled by the computer.
OLYMPICS (CRL) has got to have the widest range of events — as well as the usual it includes cycling, swimming, rowing and constantly breaks between events to rejoin a marathon. The format for all events is pretty similar and the graphics are small, unconvincing and of the block type. With this one you could train the dog to press ENTER every now and then while you go out for a run! It was a huge let down when it came out.
OLYMPIMANIA (Automata) also entered Piman in the Olympics stakes in this five events-long potty arcade game. Definitely NOT a sports simulation! Quite silly but fun. Avalon Hill also entered Stickman in the Olympics, but this is below average and not at all addictive. That about winds up the track/field games, apart to mention the new release from Martech, BRIAN JACKS SUPERSTAR. This will probably be reviewed in the next issue, but briefly it contains eight events as you might see in a Transworld Superstars production on TV — Arm dips, Squat thrusts, Canoeing, Cycling, Football, Swimming, Archery and the 100 metres. It falls into the Daley’s method of propelling your man along. Martech say it is ‘one of the most exciting, addictive and challenging games you will ever have attempted’. My feeling is that it won’t displace Daley’s.
Of the football games available there are both arcade and strategy/simulation types.
STAR SOCCER (Watson) was the first on the scene in the arcade stakes — it was also the first to leave it. This 16K game was similar to the old ‘men on rods’ style games of the 70s. The graphics were a bit limited, little squares in fact, but in its day the game was fun and, rarely, intended for two players simultaneously sharing the keyboard.
WORLD CUP (Artic) was second to hit the scene. This is a reasonably good game, with neat graphics. Play is okay but generally things are not up to the standards of similar games for other machines. It’s a great 2-player game, with tunes and crowds creating a good atmosphere. Throw-ins etc are computer controlled.
MATCH DAY (Ocean), the most recent release, is the definitive version of football for the Spectrum, containing convincing graphics and high playability. The game turns out to be very authentic in play with corners, dribbling, passing and throw-ins all controlled by the player(s). The depth of play is excellent and generally the game is attractive and fluent. It puts similar games for other machines to shame. Ocean seem pretty good on the sports front.
Football Simulations put you in the position of running a club/team. They tend to be mostly text-only (although some games do include ‘action replay’ highlights) and involve finances, gate money, team strategy, strengths, skills and pitch tactics. Generally the aim is to get to the top of the League without going financially bust in the process. Many of these games are written in BASIC.
FOOTBALL MANAGER (Addictive Games) is probably the best known game under this heading, and is also the first, dating back to the days of the ZX81 — it was upgraded when the Spectrum arrived. All of which makes this an old game now, but still a contender in the outer reaches of the Hotline Chart. Its features are typical of the genre and it includes animated game highlights. These are shown in very simple graphics. Still popular and enjoyable.
CHAMPIONS (Peaksoft) is another early game. It is quite similar to Football Manager but contains no graphic highlights. Rioting fans and the European Cup are its two main different features.
THE BOSS also by Peaksoft is another simulation of the text-only variety. In addition to the usual factors like expenses and injuries, there are a few other features such as spying included. Basically The Boss has much less appeal than Champions, and the long wait for match results does little to help.
UNITED (CCS) is strategically a good game with plenty of factors and variables to play around with especially in the areas of team selection, buying and training. United even offers dirty play tactics to give your team the edge, with appropriate penalties if you go over the top or get too obvious. Match highlights are shown but may be skipped if you feel you can’t wait, but the graphics here are pretty yuckky, so I suggest they are skipped.
SUPER LEAGUE (Cross) is last but by no means least. This engaging game offers all the features expected in a football simulation and is pretty decent. It’s never received the hype attached to Football Manager and may therefore have been overlooked — it might be worth your while putting that right.
American Football has always had a minority cult following here in Britain, but recent exposure on C4 TV has brought it a wider audience. For computer games it offers a minefield of strategy techniques to become involved with and is more to do with generals commanding armies than men kicking a ball about....
AMERICAN FOOTBALL (Argus Press Software) has got to win the prize for the biggest box I’ve seen in ages! The game is a tactical simulation rather than a player-controlled action game. As is usually the case, then, the graphics are pretty simple, more of an adjunct so that you can see visually the effect of whatever tactic you decided upon. A lot of the game’s content comes with the detailed booklet, which excellently teaches the basic principles of this extraordinary game. American Football is a very good simulation of an increasingly popular game.
US FOOTBALL (Softstone) is basically a ‘football manager’ with some American thrown in for good measure. There are few commands and the game is quite inferior to the Argus offering.
While I’m on the subject of specifically American games, Imagine (now under the Ocean umbrella) has just released WORLD SERIES BASEBALL, which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. In a sense it is a follow up to Ocean’s Match Day in playing style and in the excellent graphics. Well worth the price.
MATCH POINT (Psion) is the only offering here. A direct descendant of the old video ‘Pong’, with its cleverly designed 3D graphics it’s a quantum leap over the ancient flat bats and ball TV games of the late 70s. Hitting the ball is a little difficult at first but when mastered, some excellent rallies are to be had. I find the auto-changeover sometimes confusing. If, after a hard match you find yourself suffering from ‘tennis elbow’, then you can sit back and watch the computer play an exhibition match. Match Point is a worthwhile addition to any sporting library.
Although it isn’t quite tennis, a new game from New Generation promises all the thrills of a fast ball game in the form of JONAH BARRINGTON’S SQUASH, which is previewed in this issue by Lloyd Mangram.
Just a quick mention here for BOWLS (Lotus Soft). This unlikely action simulation of the sedate game is rather dated now, and has anyway been withdrawn. Basically you play by determining the direction of the throw using cursor keys. Strength is selected by the weight of bowl used. A pleasant change from saving the world as we know it, but hardly addictive. This is probably due to the fact that bowls is a game of feel, difficult to achieve by pre-set selections, and so it lacks atmosphere.
Casting my mind back several months I can remember my first, very short and painful attempt at skiing. Have no fear as this too is a sport you can enjoy at home.
HORACE GOES SKIING (Sinclair) gets us off to a light-hearted start. This is a vertically scrolling game in which you guide Horace downhill, through the gates and avoiding the trees. It’s inter-woven with a frogger type game. It isn’t in any sense a serious sports simulation. Today it is dated but still playable, although it was never addictive.
SKI STAR 2000 (Richard Shepherd) is the only really serious attempt to implement a skiing simulation. Since it was reviewed in CRASH, Shepherd still haven’t released production copies — we can only hope it will be out soon. It’s a line drawn 3D game in which your view is of the oncoming obstacles. It also incorporates an elegant course editor, which uses icons to redesign the course. This is a very brave attempt which has addictive overtones that can be increased by playing it with friends. Great for a night out on the Piste.
KUNG FU (Bug-Byte) (or, as one reader corrected, Karate) is another unlikely sport to become a computer simulation. Bug-Byte have done an excellent job in creating a highly original and playable game.
The graphics are large, clear and well animated line drawings of the oriental experts. Aiming accurately placed strikes and kicks at your opponent until he collapses is the object of the game, while retaining the correct defensive tactics. It makes a nice change from the violence of shooting aliens. The movements are nicely responsive and the attacks well performed — in fact the movements are very stylish. Unfortunately the game gets a trifle repetitive as you progress, but this is only a slight quibble.
There could be more attempts in this area now that Bug-Byte have shown the way. I suppose you could include BRUCE LEE by US Gold, but this is definitely an action arcade game, which precludes much of the genuine skills required in Kung Fu. Bruce Lee is also reviewed elsewhere in this issue.
There are quite a few games of this type about, the better ones tending to maintain a high level of atmosphere which is partially due to good graphics and ‘real’ features such as ball spin. Arcade Pool was of course a popular pub feature and the computer simulation became popular with software houses quite early on in the age of the Spectrum. It took a bit of time until the quality of graphics matched the requirements of a smooth ball movement, however. All the games mentioned have the ability to vary the strength of the shot.
POOL (CDS Microsystems) has been out for ages now. It’s a good version with accurate ball movement and simple, yet nice control. Cueing up is achieved by moving a cursor around the edge of the table. Despite its age it’s still a playable version, and has proved enduringly popular.
POOL (Bug-Byte), another OAP, is a less close copy of the original. It allows positioning of the cue ball before taking a shot. Even so, this is not an easy game. The graphics are clear, a bit on the large size though, and not very colourful, exhibiting some flickering when in motion.
POOL (Abrasco) is now unavailable, but I’ll mention it anyway for the sake of history. This game allowed a league to be formed — a nice feature. The graphics were adequate although ball movement was too rapid. Overall a pretty reasonable version.
VIDEO POOL (OCP) is a recent addition, and is probably the best of the lot. The screen editor allows trick shots to be set up, and game variations include ‘pot the ball in number order’. The graphics are smooth but not over colourful — lack of colour is a feature of all these games, but more would probably cause messy attribute problems (Oh for a Spectrum hyper plus).
SNOOKER (Artic) was the first Spectrum Snooker game. It’s got all the right colours but the ball movement is a little on the sudden side. Direction is not controlled in the more normal manner of a moving cursor dot but by a cursor controlled direction indicator line. This is okay but it doesn’t have the ‘right feel’.
SNOOKER (Visions) is another unavailable game. It used a cross wire to indicate cue ball direction. The graphics were fairly average but the game did incorporate ball spin, a useful feature, and it remained a decent game in its day.
STEVE DAVIS SNOOKER (CDS Microsystems) is the follow up to their Pool, and a worthy one too. The game contains good graphics and has high playability, allowing the use of side spin, screw and top — factors which all add to the interest of the game and the skill obtainable. Cross wire control is used here too, it’s fast and effective. On the whole the use of colour (rather essential in snooker) is good, with only some doubts between yellow and green.
Golf was a ‘natural’ for the computer from the word go. The real problem lies in how realistic the simulation can be made to feel and how many real elements, like wind, can be incorporated without making the game pointless to play.
GOLF (Virgin Games) is, like so many of its colleagues, written in BASIC. This isn’t always quite the drawback it might seem, but in this particular case the program crashes if the wrong input is used — and that definitely is a drawback! As a result of the BASIC and the way it has been used the graphics are drawn with aching slowness and look a bit boring, which tends to make the game the same. Options are given for handicap, club selection, direction and strength of shot, and great play is made of the wind variable — too much though, the game can quickly become unplayable, and the direction compass idea is the most cumbersome of them all.
ST ANDREWS GOLF (Artic) is a reproduction of the classic course. Well known parts of each hole are shown and so is a bit of the history. Again, the graphics are rather simple. Club options and directions are featured, as well as a close up section for the green shots. This game is more elegant than the Virgin one, but it still leaves a bit to be desired.
ROYAL BIRKDALE (Ocean) is another version of golf featuring a famous course. This program sports its best feature at the start — the screen picture. Also written in BASIC, this (for Ocean) early sports simulation is also their worst, and it doesn’t rate very well against the other golf programs. Direction and type of shot are the main variables here.
With HANDICAP GOLF CRL, of all people, broke the rather boring line of golf games. The graphics cannot be described as ultra-brill but for BASIC they’re good and they certainly walk all over the other golf games. This is a very scenic version with animated caddy as well as player and some neat little touches throughout, especially in the playing mode. Even today, there’s still nothing to touch it.
CRAZY GOLF (Mr Micro) is not a traditional style golf game as it’s based on the ‘Blackpool’ front crazy golf course scenario. The idea happens to be a good one, but the uninspiring graphics spoil what could be something worth playing.
Many of these programs verge on being arcade games rather than sports simulations, but I’ve included them because I haven’t played on many of them for a while — so there! The usual features are several tracks upon which to race, usually based loosely on the real thing, opponent computer-controlled cars, road hazards including water, oil and night driving.
CHEQUERED FLAG (Psion) was probably the first true car simulation. It’s well implemented with adequate graphic presentation. The game itself is pretty good, but is a little too serious if you are looking for race fun, as you are the only car on the track, racing against the clock. It is improved by playing in groups and trying to improve times of the various tracks offered.
FORMULA ONE (Spirit now Mastertronic) was the game that promised all but gave substantially less. The ill-fated ashtray — sorry, steering wheel — was a joke. So instead of rolling it over the keyboard as intended, the keys have to be pressed — and control is appalling. Mind you, the 3D works fairly well.
POLE POSITION (Atarisoft) — the ‘real thing’ — eventually arrived almost a year late and generally was not up to the standard expected, or up to that of the original. However, it is still above average as a game, graphically reasonable with good colour. The car doesn’t handle all that well though and its high price knocks it on the head.
ENDURO (Activision) is another expensive official game. The 3D graphics are fast and smooth but not strongly detailed. This is less of a ‘cockpit’ view game. Keyboard response is good and so is car control (rather vital in such games). Enduro’s strength is in some of the features retained from the original such as twilight and night driving. Again an above average game hammered by its over-pricing.
RALLY DRIVER (Hill MacGibbon) is a more serious simulation which is half educational in aim. The game is well programmed and contains too much content — yes, that’s too much. A co-driver is a must to read the map if you are going to get round safely and fast. This one, too, is rather expensive, but you do get your money’s worth, loads of features — a real driver’s game.
GRAND PRIX (Britannia) is now very dated. The graphics were a brave attempt at the time, but even then they failed and are certainly poor by today’s standards. Another drawback is the unrealistic way you have to slow right down to overtake another vehicle safely, and in the end the game becomes repetitive. Only one track.
SPEED DUEL (DK’Tronics) was released as a competitor to Pole Position many, many months before the Atarisoft game. It was and is pretty average all round with fair graphics and a completely uncontrollable car. Several tracks and ice/water features, but they make little difference.
FULL THROTTLE (Micromega) is a biker’s paradise and it remains a great game with excellent 3D graphics which are smooth and very fast although not very colourful. In my opinion this game out-accelerates all the others. Features 39 other riders, several tracks and some hazards.
FORMULA ONE (CRL) is more of a team simulation. The actual racing plays a fairly small part overall. In fact this is just as well because you don’t race — you watch it. The idea is to spend money on the car and driver, but these parameters do not seem enough to me. Pit stops are player controlled, but the graphics are nothing special. A change from actually racing and not too bad a one at that.
Digital Integration still haven’t finished their long-awaited TT RACER, which is expected to be a direct competitor to Full Throttle. Either the opposition has scared them off, or they have spent the time making it far better. It really should be out soon!
Like the sport itself, most of these games seem to be yawn-inducing. I’m sorry, I don’t find cricket the least bit interesting, but others do, and so it’s only fair to give them a chance.
HOWZAT (Wyvern) is endorsed by Brian Rose (England). He called it ‘addictive’. I disagree. This version is simply not interactive enough. All you do is to select a team and initiate play. I think the atmosphere is lacking and the poor graphics do nothing to help. At least it does have some graphics.
CRICKET (TJ Owen) has no graphics, being text-only. Consequently you would expect it to keep you busy with inputs, but in fact there’s not that much in it. Addictivity is low due to lack of user involvement. This cricket is for fans only, I’m afraid.
ASHES (Pulsonic) does contain some graphics, but they are merely little unanimated stick figures. Like the other games, Ashes is typical of computer cricket games, just too cold (even in summer). At least you do have to press ENTER to bat or bowl a ball, so there is something to keep you awake, and you can play around for ages adjusting your stick men on the field.
TEST MATCH (CRL) was the first of the lot, and as with their Handicap Golf, probably the best. Strategy is limited, but there is a graphic field with a funny running cursor for the bowler. Participation is also limited beyond choosing bowlers, and the game runs largely by itself.
SHOWJUMP (IMS) is a clever simulation using split screen graphics. The layout of the course is shown using rather simple graphics. At the top of the screen is the horse and rider. A pointer moves around the course as you control the horse and jumping can be observed at the top. The actual horse graphics are nicely drawn and stylishly animated. Control is not too easy, and thus it makes the game fairly hard. Nothing outstanding, but still a fun idea. Interestingly, IMS were the first I know of to use the split screen idea, which has recently reappeared in Grand National and World Series Baseball.
DERBY DAY (CRL) is a gambling game with horses. The game is a bit on the simple side, using simple graphics (BASIC). In a nutshell, you are betting on flies crawling along a wall. An option to choose the horses and their odds is an interesting feature, but generally this ‘family’ game is boring.
RACING MANAGER (Virgin Games) is a game I don’t think you can get any more. It was a half-text/half-graphic simulation in which you managed a stable, trained horses, brought them to a peak of fitness and then entered them for races. There was a betting and prize money element and the races were shown graphically over the full length or just the last few furlongs if you preferred. The strategy elements weren’t bad, but the graphical end left a lot to be desired.
RACING PREDICTIONS (Buffer Micros) is not a game — it’s a program for calculating which horse has the best chance of winning a race. Of course, it’s only based on the input information which is basically speed and weight factors. Don’t expect to win a fortune — use the results as a guide not a definite bet. Horse racing or any other sport is never definite, it’s not based on logic. If it was, the bookies would go bust overnight. When was the last time you ever saw a bankrupt bookie?!
GRAND NATIONAL (Elite) is the very newest program about horses, this time over the ‘sticks’, and topically enough, released in time for the Grand National (which is taking place any second as I write this). That is reviewed fully, elsewhere in this issue.
An unlikely sport to become a computer game, but then few people thought it would make a good TV spectator sport and it has done.
DARTZ (Automata), like their Olympimania, can hardly be considered as a serious contender as it’s more concerned with drinking alcohol than with throwing darts. At first the game is fun but the random elements tend to hammer the addictiveness.
CHAMPIONSHIP DARTS (Shadow), now deleted, was more of a real game. A simple system of pressing a key to freeze a sweep line chose the darts board segment, while a second sweep bar could be frozen to choose which ring within the segment the dart came to rest in. Although this was a decent simulation, it could hardly have been called exciting.
ERIC BRISTOW’S DARTS (Quicksilva) could be summed up similarly. The game is well laid out, with a good board, but you don’t have a lot to do. If you want a treble twenty then you input T20. Aim adjustments are possible using the keys but the game just doesn’t give the player enough to keep him happy. A useful feature, though, is the ‘checkout’ which calculates finishes, ie 29 could be S17 and D6. Unless you happen to be a darts fanatic, there isn’t any way this game could be called addictive.
Finally, there is DARTS (Mr. Chip). I’ve not played this one before and sadly my copy would not load, so you’ll have to find out for yourself what this is like, but don’t expect too much in the way of speed and excitement — perhaps just a little tension.
RUN YOUR OWN LEAGUE (Silicon Joy) is not a game, but an applications program that does just as its name suggests. It is good at what it does and will no doubt be an aid for club secretaries who happen to own Spectrums. It will give fixtures and keep league positions, providing printouts (if you own a printer of course). Kevin Tomms (of Football Manager fame) says that the program is not necessarily related to football, and may be used for any league table sport.
That just about wraps up Grandstand for today. There seems to be no falling off in the popularity of sports simulations, especially in view of the fact that programming techniques and graphics have improved vastly since so many of the above-mentioned games appeared, that many of them could be safely redone. Certainly in the area of golf, there is room for a really great version.