Bring me the head of Nolan Bushnell!
I have fond memories of the Odyssey². As I mentioned below, I was a poor-ass kid growing up. My father bought me and my brothers an Odyssey² for Christmas one year, I believe in 1984. The system itself was released originally in 1978, so we’re talking bargain-bin, unload-it-fast sale kind of gift. The only game cartridges I had for it were “Speedway! / Spinout! / Crypto-Logic!” and “Football!”. Don’t forget those exclamation marks. (!) They make the games more exciting. (!)
Those four games weren’t much fun. The first (the 3-in-1) was the pack-in game, and it was notorious for being poor quality. The football game was also notorious for having a pretty severe bug that forced you to wait something like 30 seconds between plays. But if it wasn’t for “Football!”, I wouldn’t know how to multiply by seven.
And the actual fun part I remember comes when either my brother or I realized that you could fuck with the way the games operated by removing or inserting the game cartridge without turning off the console first. This is also called wrecking the console. But we thought it was hilarious. “Spinout” was particularly funny because when we turned the Odyssey² on and then shoved the cartridge into the slot, we got a race track that was filled with what looked like random junk and gibberish across the screen. Our racing cars had magical powers of being able to race through walls too, or so we thought. In reality this was just the Odyssey²’s built-in character set displaying some of its “graphics” in random locations and the game code not working right due to it not being loaded properly.
But still, it was a hoot. But that wasn’t what killed the Odyssey². No, I had a tall glass of water on the go somewhere near the TV as we were playing dodgeball or soccer (non-video game style) in the basement one day. The ball hit the water, the water fried the console… the end.
Many, many years later when I started getting into video game emulation on a PC, I gained a new appreciation for the Odyssey². I always saw it as a crappy system that should have never been birthed, but considering that it came out in 1978 and was meant to compete with the Atari 2600, it was actually pretty damn good.
I mentioned that some of the graphics came from a custom character set. The idea behind this was to pre-make some commonly used graphics like people, trees, balls, etc and then store them in a character set (or font if you will) so that the system wouldn’t have to render them in real time. This actually provided quite a substantial speed boost over the Atari. The Odyssey²’s sound was also way better, and it did not have screen flickering like the Atari had. To top it all off, the Odyssey² had a full keyboard for input as well as the joystick, and there was a speech addon released for it as well, which added digitized speech to certain games.
But there were better systems just around the corner and not too many people ever bought an Odyssey². Now let’s take a look at the reason why we’re here… the golf game. (!)
“Computer Golf!” (yes, of course it has an exclamation mark) appears at first blush to be a straight up copy of the dreadfully terrible “Golf” for the Atari 2600. It has basically the same appearance, with a top-down view of the course except for the golfer, which is viewed from the side.
But do you know what? This game can actually be played. Control is like “Golf” for the Atari 2600, in that the single joystick button controls the swing, and holding it longer will result in a more powerful swing. But this game doesn’t feature a golfer hellbent on getting the golf ball as far away from the hole as possible. The swing direction of the club actually changes depending on where the hole is, which, you know, means that you can make progress.
There’s even this cute little gag where the little blocky golfer dude flips his shit and throws a tantrum when the golf ball hits a tree. Or when he hits a tree. Actually it gets less funny every time he does it, and actually he does it a lot. Actually, if you need to clear a ball away from a tree, he fucking does it constantly which adds several strokes and seconds to your round. So that detracts a lot from this game. There’s also a pretty major bug where you can win a round by positioning the tip of your pixelated club over the hole in a certain way. I won my first two rounds that way… it was kind of a downer.
Bugs aside, this is obviously an improvement on the Atari game, right? Obviously this game’s programmer sat down with Atari Golf from 1980, had a good cry, and came up with ways to improve on what was obviously a broken and shitty game, right?
No, sorry. Guess again.
“Computer Golf!” came out in 1978. Two full years before the abomination “Golf” appeared on the Atari 2600. So if anybody copied anybody, some dimwit at Atari copied this game and decided he would fuck it up and then some just because he could. And that’s why I said “Bring me the head of Nolan Bushnell” at the top of this post. Meh.
Back to “Computer Golf!”… overall, it’s not a bad game. It’s surprisingly good for a 1970s era golf game, I’d say. It can be played, it can be enjoyed. Nuff said.