Some BASIC Games Are Fun


Intruder Alert! screen shot 1

The following commentary was recorded while I played the BASIC Atari-computer game Intruder Alert!, designed and programmed for Dynacomp by Dennis Zander. Artworx licensed the game for 1981 release.

Intruder Alert! screen shot 2

Well, that's quite a grating siren sound. All right! I got it! You're alerting me that something is being intruded upon! Apart from my ears! This reminds me of Miner 2049er -- the version on the Atari eight-bits, I mean. Oh, good; it stops when you get past the title screen.

[Zander] fit the whole plot onto the next screen. Good for him. This is a video game, not a movie. Here; I'll read it in a dramatic voice. I just think he'd appreciate that. [Verbatim:] "You must ESCAPE from the DREADSTAR with its plans or the Rebellion is doomed!!! MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!" Well, this is more than a mere rip-off of Star Wars. This is a blatant tribute. [Continuing:] "(Remember the more droids you destroy and the faster you get out the better you do!)" Is this guy from England or something? He hasn't used nearly enough punctuation. I guess that by "the better you do," he means the higher you score.

[While watching the playfield slowly being drawn from the top downward:] That is awesome. I love the earnest efforts behind a lot of these BASIC games. There's an appealing, even fascinating antiquity in old computer stuff like this. The game's new to me, though, because -- well, I've never played it, of course. There's a particular kind of coolness in a well done action game that's written in BASIC. I hope this one's fun, so I can mentally add it to my ever growing list of favorites. That's one of the great things about these massive libraries of emulated games: There's always more to discover, in the context of current playing. Not that I don't have old favorites, but I associate them with the last couple of times I've played them. Fuck nostalgia.

Intruder Alert! screen shot 3

I see; only the extraneous story line steals from Star Wars. The game was actually influenced by Berzerk. Well, that coin-op was only about a year old -- probably less, in fact, depending on how long it took Zander to program this. That's my character up there [at upper left]. I don't die from walking into walls, so that's good. Oh; except for the wall of plus signs behind me when I start, apparently. Interesting decision. At least I get five men.

[While laughing:] I've got one slow projectile. Hey! You die when I kill you, Mr. Square Droid! Ya hear me? I wonder why that shot didn't take him out. Oh; I wasn't close enough. Now he's firing an asterisk at me. Sure; I can see how that could be deadly. Asterisks are sharp.

The bad guys don't move. Well, that certainly makes it easier. The game-play is slow and choppy, of course, but I expected that. Nah; I counted on it. This is a particular kind of fun that, I admit, a much younger person might not understand. Of course, present-day young people hardly understand anything, so that's...understandable.

Gotcha! Drawing their fire and then moving away is a good way to trick 'em, 'cause there can evidently be just one enemy asterisk on the screen at a time. See; while an asterisk is still in the air, you line up again with the Droid you've baited and erase him from screen memory. An enemy shot has a limited range like yours, so you can make a kill and then simply move in the opposite direction from the ex-Droid until his asterisk vanishes.

I've also noticed that you don't have to move the joystick to fire. Your deadly line launches to the direction you're facing whenever you push the button. A welcome element, that, considering the game's sluggishness, which of course includes control responsiveness. You really have to aim well, as you too can only have one projectile in play.

Intruder Alert! screen shot 4

I'm keeping my distance whenever possible. That makes it easier to dodge their asterisks. Unfortunately for them, they can't blast my death lines. I love how all of the characters are literally characters. See; with some imagination, the only graphics you really need when you're writing a game are the built-in symbols that you can type out on the keyboard. Of course, imagination on the player's part helps, too. Hell, I see a bird's-eye, bad-ass action hero with squared shoulders -- myself, in other words -- while I'm controlling my circle with the half-brackets on either side. So there you go.

You apparently die when you walk into a Droid. Okay. I just wanted to see. Too bad they can't kill each other. Nifty sound effects! Nice and boomy. You can even hear your counterpart, who I'm calling Captain Character Graphics, stomping around.

The game's speeding up as the Droids diminish. The controls grow more responsive, too. That's a pretty damn cool idea, even if it's accidental. Speaking of sped-up enemies, Adam discovered the other day that the Grunts and whatnot in Robotron: 2084 don't accelerate as you reduce their numbers, but rather, over time.

Okay; I've gotten 'em all. Now what? Well, look at that! I can leave the room, like in [Atari VCS] Adventure. I can most definitely dig it. The two screen colors even change.

Intruder Alert! screen shot 5

That's clearly supposed to be the Millennium Falcon. Maybe Zander considers it the Century Hawk. If I board it to beat the level, that means I'm escaping in it, so I'm actually the intruder in the title. Well, then, you DroidSquares had better be on the alert! Not that it'll do you any good, of course. Me and my graphic-erasing projectiles are on a mission to clear screen memory and improve eight-bit efficiency everywhere.

How funny: There's not enough room to turn your character when you're against one of the walls. That means that you shouldn't try rotating when you first enter a room, or you'll impale yourself on the plus signs. Getting kinda stuck near a boundary happens in a lot of top-down tank games, too, on both arcade and home platforms -- such as, for instance, Tank, Tank and Tank.

They don't know who they're dealing with. I don't run away from anybody. Every single one of these DroidSquares has to die before I fly away in my Century Hawk. [In an old-movie gangster voice:] Listen here, yous mugs! Yer number's up, see? [After eliminating the last enemy:] That was never gonna work out for ya, no matter what ya did. So don't feel bad. Well, ya can't feel anything now.

Check it out. I even get to see my ship flying away. Well, being character-shifted through the left border. There were only two rooms on that level, I guess. There's an ending screen, though: [Verbatim:] "CONGRATULATIONS!! You have escaped with the plans for the DREADSTAR!" Now we can build our own!

Intruder Alert! screen shot 6

Are there different types of enemy on harder levels? I see; that level was called "Sand Scout." What are the others? [While pushing F3 to cycle through the starting levels:] "Beta Pilot...Trios Warrior..." Let's try "Trios Warrior." Maybe I'll get to control three Captains Character Graphics.

No, but the game's moving faster, right from the start. That's awesome. He deliberately slowed down the action to make the first level easy. It wasn't due to BASIC's limitations after all. I guess you don't find yourself in different Dreadstars when you choose higher levels; it's just a speed thing. Oh; and the Droids can fire diagonally now! And I can't! It's the opposite of Atari VCS Berzerk.

[While cycling through the levels again:] I guess "Gamma Knight" is the hardest. Let's try the second-hardest, "Cree Centurian." Whoa! Now they're moving! Very sneaky, Zander. Very well thought-out, too, in terms of the difficulty curve from level to level. And look at that! New Droids can appear out of thin air!

Intruder Alert! screen shot 7Intruder Alert! screen shot 8

Okay; got 'em all. Let's get outta here. Hey, cool! More screens are added as you climb the level ladder! You start with less men, though. I've just noticed that I only have three this time.

Not bad for a BASIC game, man. Strategy applies at least as much as quick reactions; but that's the case in almost any game that runs slowly when compared with something written in Assembly. It certainly doesn't mean that there's no fun to be found. I found plenty just now. Even when game speed suffers at the hands of a high-level language, there can be an agreeable trade-off. Having time to focus on tactics and reflect on your next move can amount to a highly engaging game, especially if you also get to visibly blast bad guys. It's most fun when you acknowledge that the type of game is wholly different from, say, arcadey stuff.

It would be cool to try completing all five levels without losing a single man. Trying for a high score would be pointless (heh, heh), since you're always going to get the same amount; once you've beat the level you've chosen, the game ends. Of course, if time really is a factor, maybe the score will vary slightly from game to game, even on the same level.

Well, cool! That was definitely worth trying out. I can hardly wait to play the sequel, Copyright Infringer Alert!


Uploaded on 8/28/16
Written by Chris Federico
Image sources: Playfields = CF

Return to "Real-Time Reactions" Contents