The 1988 Summer Consumer Electronics Show
by Arthur Leyenberger
Something was different this year. The crowds, the excitement, the exhibitors, Atari: It all seemed so different compared to previous years. At first I thought it was just me, but then I realized it was. . . well. . . the crowds, the excitement, the exhibitors and Atari. I'll explain.
At the Atari booth there was nary a computer in sight. It was games, games and more games. There were no 8-bit computers, except of course for the XE Game System which, between you and me, is really an 8-bit computer. There were no ST computers except for a couple located in a Hybrid Arts MIDI booth adjacent to the Atari Game pavilion. And, contrary to previous years, there were no 8-bit or ST software/hardware developers located within the Atari booth to demonstrate and hype their products.
Not only was the Atari booth all games but so was the rest of the software hall, it seemed. The big exhibitors were Nintendo (rumor was it had some 20,000 square feet) and Sega (its was about half the size of Nintendo's). Funny, the relative size of the Nintendo, Sega and Atari booths more or less reflected their individual percentage of the games market. The only big ST software booth was that of Epyx, which had an array of impressive software for the ST (more on that later).
Overall, however, there were far less computer and software exhibitors than in past years. A long list of familiar names could be made of past CES exhibitors, including Electronic Arts, Mindscape, Batteries Included, Firebird, Infocom, Broderbund, Timeworks, Michtron and on and on. Some of these companies are out of the business. Others either didn't make it to the show (it is expensive to have a reasonable-sized booth) or had hospitality suites in conference rooms or at local hotels. Still others combined their resources under the umbrella of their distributor. For example, SoftKat had a booth which contained Broderbund, Electronic Arts, Data East, Timeworks, Activision and Accolade, among others.
Even such product categories as satellite dishes and porn (I mean "adult video entertainment") were notable by their low profile or absence. I suspect that is no great loss to anyone in particular.
The "excitement coefficient" was also lower this year, compared to those in the past. No major software or hardware breakthroughs were announced by anyone. Compared to the early days of the ST and when it was first announced, this summer's CES was almost dull. It also seemed like there was less attendance at the show. Usually, 100,000 people, give or take a couple thousand, roam the aisles and aisles of computers, video, audio and other electronics products. With less exhibitors and smaller crowds, there was less of the frantic, exciting atmosphere in the software hall.
This is not to say that there was no new software being shown for the ST. Just the opposite. There were quite a few new ST titles, although most of it was game software. But that's okay. The ST is a hell of a game-playing machine after all.
What Atari was doing
Almost $1 billion was spent on video games and video-game cartridges in 1987. Atari obviously wants to continue to get a piece of that market, and that's why there is such a big emphasis on video games at Atari, at the expense of the ST and 8-bit computers. In fact, Atari has set its sights on doubling video-game sales for the third year in a row.
Atari has done so well in video-game sales that it has recently joined the ranks of the Fortune 500 companies, with 1987 sales of $493 million dollars. To keep the sales going in 1988, Atari will be introducing more than 19 new games for the XE Game System. Many of these games will be conversions of licensed software. For example, Synapse's Necromancer, which appeared on disk for the 8-bit computers four years ago, will be available this year as an XE game cartridge.
New games will also be released for the 7800 and 2600 video-game systems. These games will consist of both licensed games from other manufacturers such as Exidy, Epyx and Lucasfilm, but also new games from, of all people, Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell has signed a video-game-development agreement with Atari in which Axlon will design and develop an unspecified number of video games for the 2600 and 7800 home video-game systems.
FREEDOM STICK the only infrared joystick compatible with every video game system today, brings new freedom to this popular pastime. No wires, no eyestrain. . . just more fun!
Bushnell, 45, founded Atari in 1972 shortly after introducing the video game Pong. Pong signaled the dawn of the video-game generation and helped propel Atari into what later became the fastest-growing company in U.S. history. He sold the company to Warner Communications in 1976 and in 1983 founded Axlon, which develops and manufacturers coin-operated games and designs toys for licensing.
The new products
The most exciting booth containing ST software at CES was without question, that of Epyx. Not only was Epyx a "happening" place to be (it was one of the busiest), it had quite a few excellent new titles for the ST. Several game lines were introduced, including the Action-Strategy series, Masters collection, Sports and U.S. Gold collection.
In one of the Sports games, players use their noodles in the sports parody Sports-A-Roni. This zany multi-event challenge takes place in various parts of the world's pasta capital—Italy! Players race down the potholed streets of Naples in the Sack Race, balance a pile of pasta plates near the—you guessed it—Leaning Tower of Pisa, pole-vault the Arno river in the River Jump or climb an olive-oiled pole in Verona's Pole Climb. Additional events include a pillow fight in gondolas, a boot toss amidst the lions in the Colosseumand a pogo-stick party among the Roman ruins.
I know it sounds pretty hokey, but playing Sports-A-Roni is a lot of fun. This is one of the first humorous video games for the ST and a genre not seen since the 2600 game, Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes. This multiplayer game will be available by the time you read this and retail for $25.
Another game in the Sports series is Final Assault, a mountain-climbing thriller. In this game, your skill will be tested on some of the world's most treacherous peaks. Step by perilous step you'll inch your way across rock faces, glaciers and crevasses, or hang by a finger over yawning chasms, searching for a toehold.
Players may choose to practice their knowledge and skills over the training course before tackling "the big one." They must prepare well for their ordeal and carefully select the items they'll carry in their rucksacks. There are over 50 items available, everything from climbing gear to food supplies. One wrong move can spell the difference between life and death. On-screen features such as temperature, time, altitude, physical state of the climber and a safety guide will aid the adventurer in his bid for the top.
Final Assault will retail for $40 and be available by the time you read this.
Several games that were shown were created by UBIsoft, a leading French developer and distributor of home computer software. Trials of Honor is a role-playing game involving medieval pageantry. Part of the Masters Collection for the advanced gamer, Trials of Honor is an adventure game set in the Dark Ages of Europe. The action begins with a battle for a French kingdom after the much-beloved monarch has been murdered and the assassin has assumed the throne.
As the former heir to the throne, the player must journey across the realm, proving his valor and his right to assume rule. He must emerge triumphant from tests of strength and cunning such as archery, arm wrestling, a game of dice and the slaying of menacing monsters in the labyrinth. Graphics in this game are excellent, and a unique effect is achieved by simultaneously showing both the horseman's route along the countryside as well as a close-up of an animated horseman. Trials of Honor is available now for a retail price of $50.
Another UBIsoft-developed game is Ice Thrashers (working title). It is a futuristic cross between ice hockey, soccer and utter chaos. Set in the "Superconductor Age," players cut along the ice on magnetic skates to rack up points and stay alive. With a shower of ice shards, they'll evade explosive devices that appear in their path and roar up walls to recover the ball. Players travel over ramps and leap bottomless pits, hurdles and jagged ice cracks that conspire to snag unwary blades and condemn competitors to the deep freeze.
ROBOCOP? Technocop is armed with a computer wrist-watch, criminal radar locator, a hot car and other devices. Back alleys, high-speed car chases and plenty of bad guys make up this game in which five difficulty levels offer plenty of challenge.
Multiple levels take players through rookie challenges and rink riots while superb graphics and joystick controls make Ice Thrashers a unique sports-arcade challenge. The game will sell for $40 and be available by the time you read this.
Two of the U.S. Gold games are Tower Toppler and Technocop. In Tower Toppler, eight dark and deadly towers have risen from the ocean depths on the planet Nebulus. Players must destroy them by setting off destruction mechanisms at the top of each tower. Unfortunately for the player, these towers are well guarded by deadly rolling boulders, flying phantoms, flashing blockades and other obstacles. Players can fire snowball guns to freeze or destroy enemies or ride special elevators to detour the long and hazardous climb, and extra points can be gained by catching fish between the towers. The graphics and 3-D effects in this game are stunning.
The other game is called Technocop. Armed with a computer wristwatch, criminal radar locator, a hot car and other devices, the player's mission is to get the goods on the hoods and earn police badges to upgrade your officer rating. Back alleys, high-speed car chases and plenty of bad guys make up this game in which five difficulty levels offer plenty of challenge.
Both Tower Toppler and Technocop will cost $40 and be available this fall.
New Epyx games include Battleship, a computerized version of the best-selling board games and California Games, in which players compete in such "radical" events as roller-skating, surfing, skate-boarding and BMX racing. Awesome, dude. Also new are Metrocross, a skate-boarding arcade game; Street Cat, an urban multi-event game featuring felines; a martial arts game called Death Sword; a flight/combat game called Dive Bomber in which your mission is to seek out and destroy the Bismarck; and Impossible Mission II, a newly enhanced sequel to the great original which puts the player in the middle of a high-tech office complex.
LORDS OF CONQUEST
SPY VS. SPY
Epyx has come a long way from the early days of the ST in which it was taking a wait-and-see attitude on producing software for the new Atari 68000-based computer. It took its time before deciding to commit to the ST, but now that it has, the wait has been worth it. Epyx deserves your support for its excellent new software titles, and by voting with your checkbook, you can assure that Epyx will continue to release new and even better products.
Accolade, maker of the best golf simulation game, Mean 18, was showing Test Drive, a driving simulation that allows you to drive five of the hottest cars in the world. The five cars include a Ferrari Testarossa, Lotus Turbo Esprit, Porsche 911 Turbo, Lamborghini Countach and—what else?—a Corvette. A detailed "spec chart" is provided for each of the cars, and authentic graphics, sterling sound and lifelike animation are used to heighten the thrill. Test Drive retails for $40.
The other new Accolade game is Bubble Ghost. This clever and imaginative game will fray your nerves as you direct a bubble-blowing ghost through 36 hazard-filled chambers. You'll thrill and chill as the fragile bubble comes dangerously close to walls, burning candles, knives, pins and assortment of other obstacles. Fans located throughout the chambers generate turbulence and even monsters get into the act as they try to sabotage your ghostly efforts. Bubble Ghost was one of the best-looking games at CES and a lot of fun. It is available now and costs $35.
Activision has changed its name to Mediagenic, which better represents its new role as an umbrella company for several software lines, such as Activision, Gamestar, Infocom and Rainbird (formerly Firebird Licensees). The Rainbird label was showing three new titles for the ST. Starglider II is a solid 3-D version of the original, great ST game. It is a fast-paced game, combining spectacular graphics, digitized sound effects and smooth animation. It really shows what state-of-the-art ST software can look like.
Players fly around alien deserts, destroying Egron patrol craft and rescuing alien colonies under Egron attack. Multiple planets populated with aliens each possess their own unique characteristics. The futuristic spacecraft is complete with a three-dimensional instrument panel and sophisticated weapons console, and the graphics and animation are smooth and realistic.
Starglider II is the first program released from Rainbird Software that runs on both an Amiga and Atari ST from one disk. It will be available by the time you read this for $45.
Another new Rainbird game is Carrier Command, a strategic warfare simulation that includes arcade action and three-dimensional graphics. The player controls an aircraft carrier with a squadron of remote fighters and an amphibious assault division whose mission is to recapture a fallen carrier, gain control of a strategic island and fight it out with the enemy. You can control up to four amphibious vehicles simultaneously and conduct war maneuvers in a huge territory that includes 64 islands. The game sells for $45 and comes with a fully illustrated mission briefing and operations guide, audio cassette sound track and sticker.
Rainbird also introduced a medieval melodrama-based game called Black Lamp. Here, the hero, Jolly Jack, is pitted against a host of animated animals and characters including skull-dropping buzzards, evil eagles and spitting witches. The player's quest is to find the enchanted lamps and ultimately the black lamp which is guarded by a ferocious fire-breathing dragon. Reward for success is the hand of the Princess Grizelda, and the price of failure is death. The price of admission to this once-upon-a-time tale is $25.
Electronic Arts was showing two new games for the ST. Rockford is a sequel to the excellent Boulderdash which has been available for the 8-bit Atari computer for a couple of years. In this new ST game, players accompany the world's greatest archaeologist, Rockford, through a series of five exciting locations, each with a unique set of demanding challenges. With the choice of four levels of difficulty, the mission includes the exploration of the Cavern of Craymar, on a quest for the Pharoah's gold pieces. Other locations include the Sunlit Seas of Tiresius where the player must find the fabled Emerald Erasmus and the Kitchens of Kyssandra where you search for the "apples of eternal youth."
In order to escape alive, you (that is, Rockford) must utilize a combination of strategy and speed to collect the required number of treasures in the allotted time. Of course you must avoid the falling rocks, maddening monkeys, fearsome fish and poisonous pizzas. Rockford is now available for $30.
Desktop Publisher ST is a full-featured, fully integrated desktop-publishing program tor the ST computer.
The revolutionary design of the Ergostlck fulfills the goal of optimizing the operator's hand-eye coordination while minimizing both physical and psychological fatigue.
Electronic Arts was also showing Lords of Conquest. This game is currently available for $20 and can be compared to the board game, Risk. It is a classic strategy game in which the action takes place on a world map. The computer adds greater game depth and variety compared to the board game and up to four players can play at once. Each opponent chooses home territories then tries to protect his holdings while conquering territories belonging to other players.
Strategically important resources such as gold, herds of horses, iron, timber and coal are randomly distributed throughout the on-screen map's territories. These resources may be used in exchange for important forces such as foot soldiers, cavalry, fleets and cities, thus making resource-bearing territories prime targets. Lords of Conquest provides four levels of game complexity to choose from, which results in a game's duration of from 20 minutes to several hours.
Electronic Arts is now distributing SSI software. Its new titles include Shiloh: Grant's Trial, Warship and Heroes of the Lance. All titles are either out now or will be very soon and retail for $40.
Broderbund was showing a fantastic new game called Typhoon Thompson in Search for the Sea Child. This is a graphic arcade adventure game written by Dan Gorlin, author of the masterpiece game Choplifter. The program's title and story line are strongly reminiscent of an adventure movie, in which our hero, Typhoon Thompson, must rescue an infant boy on a remote planet. In order to accomplish this feat, Typhoon must deal with mischievous sea sprites, ancient technology and spirits from a long-dead civilization.
The 3-D graphics are very realistic and utilize the ST's capabilities well. Further, the mouse control of the jet sled feels just right and adds to the game's verisimilitude. Typhoon Thompson has a suggested retail price of $35 and will be available this fall.
Broderbund was also showing Star Wars and Downhill Challenge. Star Wars is a fast-paced arcade adventure based on the arcade classic and movie of the same name. You'll have to use the Force for this one. Downhill Challenge is an interactive skiing simulation and a good one at that. Realistic 3-D animation is used, and the player can choose from among downhill, slalom, giant slalom and jumping events. In each event there are separate runs for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers. Star Wars will sell for $40, and Downhill Challenge will be $30.
A new company, First Row Software, introduced its first ST game called Prime Time. This is a humorous role-playing game that gives the players a chance to become TV executives. You run a TV network, cancel shows, do lunch and say things like, "It's all up to you, babe." Prime Time sells for $40 and is available now.
Data East was showing several new ST game titles. Platoon is based on the movie of the same name and offers the user with a strategic military combat simulator of the Vietnam experience. As in the movie, and in real life, the game does not have a winner. The user parallels the movie's combat experience in various steps by trying to have his platoon of five men survive the missions, keep their sanity and return to the base intact.
There are six sections to the game, each consisting of increasingly arduous situations. The first section requires the soldier to successfully lead his platoon through a jungle, pick up a box of explosives left by a previous platoon and blow up a bridge. While in the jungle, the platoon encounters armed patrols, booby-trapped trip wires, hidden assassins and deadly snipers. I won't spoil it for you by mentioning the other five sections, but they are increasingly difficult to master.
Other new Data East games include Speed Buggy, a racing skills game and Lock-On, a flight simulator. Platoon, Speed Buggy and Lock-On are all available immediately and list for $40.
Titus software, a French company, had three new ST games. In Fire and Forget you are the commander of Thunder Master, the world's ultimate fighting machine. Your job is to find and eliminate all forces of the Inter-Galactic Liberation Organization. They have guerrillas, mines, bunkers, tanks and helicopters all bent on your destruction. Not to mention their tetranuclear propulsion missiles. You can get help from the magnetic levitation unit, Thunder Cloud, and together you can win the battle to save the earth, all for just $40.
Crazy Cars is a racing game that lets you use a Mercedes 560SEC, Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari GTO or Lamborghini Countach. Realistic sound and colorful graphics accompany you as you drive some of the world's fastest cars. There are 72 levels and players start with the Mercedes and work their way up to the GTO. If the players are good enough, that is.
Off Shore Warrior is a driving game of sorts, only the game involves boats instead of cars. It's the future and the extraterrestrial pacifists have taken control of the economic, social and political life of Earth. Since there is no longer any violence on the planet, the natural aggression of the human inhabitants must be released, and therefore this sport has been created. Armed with one boat and two missiles, all warriors enter the arena knowing that only one can leave alive. All it takes is $40 for you to participate in this futuristic action.
Mindscape introduced Captain Blood, a futuristic science fiction game for the ST ($50). The game uses both fractal and vector graphic techniques to produce some of the most stunning visuals ever seen in a computer game. The program has everything from suggestive humor to complex game play. It seems that Torka, Captain Blood's solar system sweetheart, has promised to bear him 1,000 little Bloods. But there's a hitch. Half a dozen Captain Blood clones are scattered around the galaxy and they're sapping his energy. Your mission is to search the stars for the pesky clones and destroy them. Got it?
In other news, Taito announced that it would be releasing several ports of its arcade games to the ST. These will include Alcon, Bubble Bobble and, my favorite, Arkanoid. I consider Arkanoid to be sort of a "Breakout Elite" Sierra On-line said that they would be introducing a sequel to Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards for the ST called Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.
Spectrum Holobyte will be the first software company to introduce a game created in the Soviet Union to the U.S. market. Called Tetris, it should be out by the time you read this. Cinemaware, publishers of Defender of the Crown, said it will port all of its games to the ST by the end of the year. These will include King of Chicago, Sinbad, Rocket Ranger and The Three Stooges.
Camerica has introduced a new remote controlled joystick. Called the Freedom Stick, this product features a wireless remote control technology with an infrared system. Players can move up to 20 feet away from a TV screen and can use the built-in automatic rapid-fire switch for high-speed action. Interestingly, the Freedom Stick is the only currently available joystick that is compatible with every major video-game system. Atari, Commodore, Nintendo and Sega games can all be used by this one joystick through the use of the supplied adapters.
The Freedom Stick was developed in Canada by Camerica Corporation and is marketed in the U.S. by Camerica, Ltd. The stick is in the stores now and can be purchased for $70.
Another new joystick was being shown at CES by Wico, the company that pioneered the development and marketing of professional-quality joysticks and controllers in the early 1980s. Called the Ergostick, this $25 controller is ergonomically designed to comfortably fit the users hand. The Ergostick is literally formed around the human hand and features a soft, skinlike texture for better gripping. The Ergostick fits easily in both large and small hands and puts the fire button directly adjacent to the index finger. It is meant to be held in the left hand while the right hand operates the vertical part of the stick.
Timeworks was demonstrating its Desktop Publisher ST program, a full-featured fully integrated desktop-publishing program for the ST computer. Publisher ST includes fully integrated word processing, page layout, typesetting and graphics functions all in one package. The program appears very easy to use and quite powerful. Some of the major features of the program include a full GEM interface with pulldown menus, icons, scroll bars and dialog boxes, flexible page layout to let you overlap, reposition and resize your text, columns and graphics, built-in fonts that range in sizes from seven to 72 points and high-quality output to a dot matrix or laser printer.
Text can be imported from First Word Plus, Word Writer ST or any ASCII file so the program can work with existing word processors. Graphic files can be imported from DEGAS, NEOChrome and Easy Draw file formats. Further, you can view, edit and layout pages in actual-, double-or half-size windows. Publisher ST is available now and retails for $130. It is clearly the best desktop-publishing program currently available for the ST.
Timeworks also announced that a complete line of desktop-publishing accessory packages will soon be available to work with Publisher ST. These packages include three graphics and illustration packs, two font packages and one package with design and layout ideas for all types of business, school and personal documents. Each accessory package will sell for $40 and is supported by the Timeworks full-time customer technical support team.
People, Places and Things is an art portfolio with over 240 ready-to-use graphics for all kinds of business, home and school applications. Symbols and Slogans is another portfolio of 450 camera-ready graphics designed especially for commercial and business applications. Education Graphics contains over 290 illustrations, symbols and graphic elements for educational applications from nursery school to university level.
Each of the two Font Packs contain eight unique typefaces, from ten point to 72 point. And with each typeface you can choose bold, italic, underlined, outlined, shadow and super- sub-scripted characters. These additional fonts can be combined with the original Publisher ST fonts to create thousands of type-size combinations from which to choose.
Epyx was showing Art and Film Director, the two-in-one package that offers a comprehensive solution to the art needs of computer users. Art Director is a full-featured paint program that uses all of the power of the Atari ST to create dazzling works of art. Menus and icons appear on-screen, so even beginners find it easy to practice at being a master. Computer artists choose from a variety of shapes, lines and colors from the palette, and such features as stretch, bend, bulge, spin and rescale can be used to enhance the pictures.
Film Director then uses true cell animation to transform artwork into stunning graphical presentations. It's easy to automate many of the repetitious steps required by traditional types of animation. A library of music and sound effects is also included in the program to create just the right ambience.
Art and Film Director is a single package that will retail for $80 by the time you read this. The combination of the two programs makes for a powerful package.
Companies mentioned in this article:
550 S. Winchester Blvd.
San Jose, CA 95128
Broderbund Software, Inc.
17 Paul Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
230 Fifth Ave., Suite 1100
New York, NY 10001
Data East USA, Inc.
470 Needles Drive
San Jose, CA 95112
1820 Gateway Drive
San Mateo, CA 94404
600 Galveston Drive
Redwood City, CA 94063
First Row Software
900 East 8th Ave.
King of Prussia, PA 19406
3444 Dundee Rd.
Northbrook, IL 60062
3885 Bohannon Drive
Menlo Park, CA 94025
444 Lake Cook Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
Titus Software Corporation
20432 Corisco St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
6400 West Gross Point Rd.
Niles, IL 60648