At least the second talking coin-op is a lot of fun

The King and Balloon arcade cabinet

If you've read other entries in this column -- "Real-Time Reactions" -- you can safely skip the following introductory paragraphs (those before the first screen shot). I'm including them in every applicable article, so they never get separated from their context.

While writing The Classic-Gaming Bookcast and, for the Orphaned Computers & Game Systems website, more than a year's worth of articles (from May 21, 2015 to August 15, 2016), I went to great lengths to compose prose that flowed more smoothly and rhythmically than anything else ever written about video games, sparing the reader textual speed bumps like misspellings, grammatical errors, redundancy, unnecessary word repetition and inapt punctuation, and even exhibiting the audacity to implement alliteration, clever-clever humor and, would you believe, lyricism. Every chapter or article entailed endless editing and eternally deliberated word choices.

On a related note (just trust me; I'll tie the topics together in a jiffy), I'm incessantly insistent with myself that I live in the moment. Time is never recoupable, whereas, say, money always is; so the very process of any creative undertaking must be enjoyed, the importance of the finished product recognized as fallacious. Rushing to render results for the recreation of others destroys one's own present. I consequently consider myself to be my own primary readership. Who knows; I might go back in a few years and attempt to read my stuff objectively. It's especially true, then, that pressuring myself into "just getting it done" would defeat the purpose, turn my live-in-the-moment pleasure into fill-in-the-blanks labor.

I managed to stop having fun writing articles anyway, owing to a different kind of self-pressure. I had to be honest with myself about this. You see, knowing what a persnickety reader I am -- especially of my own material -- I grew fixated on getting every phrase absolutely perfect, every joke indubitably fluid. When one has reached a very high standard (as you probably know), he can't go back to being so-so. He must abruptly behave in a most uncharacteristic manner if he wants any hope of changing work back into enjoyment. Fun is always recoupable, too, but only if a radically different approach is taken, at least in cases like this.

What you're about to bite into, then, are the fruits of a new method. I'm hoping to make the process fun for myself again. While playing the game under discussion, I now record myself talking about it (also filming the game-play for the hell of it; this isn't to mention that the camera has a decent mic), extemporizing endeavors at being enlightening, descriptive and / or, at the very least, goofy. I then transcribe the audio word for word, leaving out the "uhs." Even if it doesn't always flow seamlessly, involve the best word choices or, for that matter, make much grammatical sense, what I type is what I've said. It yields prose that's just as original as before, I think, even if it's not as instructive; I'll include a link to the game manual whenever possible.

As my writing is obviously better than my speaking, given the time spent on the former vs. the improvisation of the latter, there will doubtless be some accidental humor at my own expense. The truly funny part, however, is that this sort of article might well be more fun to read than those on which I've worked tremendously hard. If it's not, however, then it's not. I can't care. Video games are fun, so writing about them should be, too, if one is going to bother at all. I really like to write, so I'll keep bothering for my own amusement and, perhaps, Adam's. Enjoy the first be-bop game literature you've ever read!

King and Balloon screen shot 1

The following commentary was recorded during a few games of King and Balloon, a Namco coin-op that was released in America by GamePlan, and which was the second ever to speak. Sun / Taito's tedious Stratovox, also known as Speak & Rescue, was the first talkie, as it beat King and Balloon (titled King & Balloon in Japan; in that version, the king -- the only speaking character
-- has a funny Oriental accent) by a couple of months: summertime versus autumn, 1980. I'll close this paragraph with the phrase "as far as I've determined," since I'm aware that describing anything video game-related as the "first" is injudicious. One never knows what he'll find out tomorrow or next year.

[While configuring the controls in MAME:] Left, right and fire. Simple enough. I dig being able to use my favorite single-button joystick, the Atari CX-40. Thanks again for this keen Stelladaptor, Adam! [Owing to its USB output, the adapter allows an Atari 2600-compatible controller to work with a modern PC.]

This'll be fun. I've never played this one before. Hmm. It's like Galaxian. In fact, in a lot of ways, it is Galaxian. Well, both were developed by Namco. [After a few seconds of playing:] There's a couple of major differences between the games: I'm battling armed hot-air balloons instead of aliens, and when one of 'em manages to weave past me, whoever's in it grabs my fat friend by the hair and attempts an abduction. I almost admire his nerve too much to shoot him and save my pal. And those are some impressive balloons! That tub of lard is bigger than they are, and yet they whisk him away with such ease!

I guess the fat guy is actually the king. That makes sense. Those king types have a lot of food available. So why is he hanging out in a big, empty aquarium beneath my cannon? Does he want to get kidnapped? Anyway, when you've shot the balloon in question, the liberated king uses his faggy parasol to float back down into his fish tank.

So why did I go to all that trouble to rescue him? Is it really my job to protect him? He can get flown into the ozone layer and dropped into the Xevious ocean, for all I care. Then I'll be the king! The giant men pushing my cannon, or perhaps trumpet, back and forth just haven't thought this through. Especially considering the king's annoying voice. Shut up! I am helping, you squeaky blob!

King and Balloon screen shot 2

Well, at least he thanked me. He sure is polite, for a king. Maybe that's why I'm guarding him. I'm impressed by his good manners. He sounds so surprised when he has to cry for help again, though. He knows by now that they intend to capture him. Maybe you should leave the fish tank and go inside one of those castle towers, dumb ass. Or hit 'em with that giant umbrella!

Two of those abnormally nimble and speedy balloons can merge into one! What creepy technology the castle invaders have. That's a third non-Galaxian element, then. Pretty damn cool. This easily has enough differences to be its own game. It's actually really good. I'm having a lot of fun. According to the settings, an extra cannon will show up at 10,000 points. I started with three.

Speaking of the dip switches, I should have turned the king's voice off. The speech was presumably supposed to be a coin-snaring novelty, but it wasn't necessary. It's a good game by itself. The voice is funny the first million billion hundred times, but it's set a bit too loud, compared with the actual game sounds; so its shrillness trumps the technological innovation, and it just winds up being annoying. No biggie, really, as it's an extra-gamical trimming.

The game is more exciting than its cutesiness suggests. It's definitely not a piece of cake. I'm sure the king would like one, though. Anyway, the gunners in those balloons are good shots. The only reason I haven't been killed is that I, like Flynn in Tron, play video games better than anybody. Well, I guess we can't both be number one. No problem; I've surely surpassed him since 1982.

King and Balloon screen shot 3

This game came out in 1980, so you'd think that the speech was programmed somehow; but that sure sounds like a real voice. They must have digitally sampled it and then synthesized it. That's commendable. It was early for that type of thing. Oh; you lose a turn when they get away with the king, but not when you get shot. In the latter case, you're just delayed for a second.

That balloon got by me, but it failed to land on the king. Now it's just hanging out in the tank. He's going right for it, too. Look at this royal pain in the ass. What, do they have sandwiches on board or something? Get away from the balloon, you dope! So you're gonna walk right into it. That's brilliant. Maybe you're retarded, and I'm only defending you because I feel sorry for you. You didn't even want the job, did ya. It was just an inheritance thing.

He doesn't sound too disappointed when I haven't set him free and they escape with him. I would have been like, "Thanks a lot, asshole!" His "Bye, bye!" was downright cheerful. This proves my observation about his retardation. What kind of king says "Bye, Bye"? I guess he thinks he's going on a fun trip. Hell, maybe he is, and I'm the retard for staying here. That king is having me on! He's one of them! Well, isn't that a fine how-do-you-do! That evil, helium-sniffing imposter!

Wait a second. Now there's a replacement king. Either the balloon people have a stockpile of fat retards equipped with faggy parasols and yellow king-wear, or he got away somehow and walked home. He just climbed right back into the fish tank, too, didn't he. Unreal. This must be some kind of game to him!

King and Balloon screen shot 4

Three balloons can fuse into one now! I see; you have to nail it three times. It's cool when extra stuff pops up as the game goes on. It indicates that a lot of thought went into the details, especially when the additions are made gradually. Also, the balloons bob and swing in a unique way. I've never seen that kind of enemy movement in a game. And check that out. Clearly, on later levels, they can fly away diagonally when they've stolen the royal retard.

Yeah; this one's a blast. It really takes some skill, if I say so, myself. Not that I should be surprised, as if Galaxian itself doesn't, but it's quite a bit more involved. I dig the rescue-somebody element. It keeps the game from being just another slide-and-shoot-'em-upward, y'know? And gunning down an abductor so the abductee falls back to temporary safety predicts the slightly later Defender. Anyway, that king's gonna be screwed if the sequel has hang gliders in it.


The King and Balloon manual

Uploaded on 8/29/16
Written by Chris Federico
Manual source: Archive.Org
Image sources: Playfields = CF
Arcade cabinet = Tritech Auctions (Cleaned up by CF)

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